aren’t we made for more than this? John 7

read John 7.  Sometimes we feel like we were made for more than this.  Some of us walk around waiting to be “discovered” – as if casting agents roam the streets salivating for a glimpse of us.  Most of us feel sure – especially when jobs like toilet cleaning or diaper changing are on offer – that people underestimate our value.  As the days slip away, and wrinkles crop up, we wonder if we aren’t missing out on something – like a Broadway career, a primetime t.v show or a political office.  Sometimes people egg us on down this road to grandiosity by telling us “the world” needs us.  Sometimes we hoist our ambitions so high we can’t even see them.  There is a strange trembling balance between enjoying every aspect of our life – with the serenity of a monk who can wander in a garden gazing at little flowers –  and yet using our gifts in wild wonderful risky ways.

Has anyone ever said to you: “you can’t become famous if you hide like this!!!!”  Or have you heard the thought in your own head?  “What am I doing hiding like this??  I need to go out, out, into the wild blue yonder, and …..”  It’s not quite clear what is waiting for us, Out There, but its call is loud, clear and persistent.

Jesus’ brothers said the same thing to him:  “You can’t become famous if you hide like this.”  It’s somewhat ironic, given that Jesus ended up becoming one of the most “famous” men who ever walked the earth – even measured by the world’s standards.  The fascinating thing is that his brothers didn’t say it out of well-meaning intentions, as in: “we know, dear brother, that you are the Son of God, and we want everyone to get a chance to know you, because you are so wonderful.”  Nope.  They said it because “even his brothers didn’t believe in him.”  John 7:5.  It’s interesting, right?  The people who told him to “stop hiding” did it out of a negative heart.

Why?  I love Jesus’ answer.  It’s sounds like something straight out of  Codependent No More.  “Now is not the right time for me to go, but you can go anytime.”  John 7:6.  It’s that, “you can do what you want, but I’m doing something different” philosophy – the one that’s so hard it has people buying books by the millions and attending Al-anon meetings in droves.

So this is where the text gets really strange.  After putting up this big stink, and saying he couldn’t go because the world “hated” him, Jesus goes anyway:  “after his brothers left for the festival, Jesus also went, though secretly, staying out of public view.”  John 7:10.  He must have heard a lot about Himself.  John says not one person “had the courage to speak favorably about him in public.”  John 7:13.  So Jesus goes up to the Temple and begins to teach.  Why did he go, right after telling his brothers he wouldn’t?  Was he doing what the rest of us do – sitting on our high horse long enough to make the point – and then scuttling off to go do what everyone else does?  No, because unlike us, Jesus is perfect.  He says here that his message is not His own: “it comes from God who sent me.”  John 7:16.  So apparently God can tell us to stay when others go; and to go after others have gone.  God seems to have his own timetable.  We’ve all heard the expression: “he beats to a different drum.”  Usually it’s said by a frustrated father, trying to find a silver lining in his son’s drug-infested rebellion.  But Jesus, unlike the rest of us, really does beat to a different drum.  He listens to the sound only of God.  We, too, would be perfect if we did that.  But who can?

The good news is, we may not always, or often, obey God, but we all have thirst.  If you don’t believe me, pay attention to how your heart leaps up when you hear Jesus say these words: “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me!  Anyone who believes in me may come and drink!  For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.'”  John 7:37-38.

We’re all thirsty, and we’re all sick of having everyone around us turn off the tap.  They’re hungry, tired, grumpy, mean and just plain tired.  They can’t fill us – not for long, anyway.  Why?  Because we all have an insatiable thirst.  It’s not just the alcoholics who can’t stop – their thirst may be more obvious because it makes them stumble, fall down, lose their jobs, families and health – but the rest of us are insatiably thirsty, too.  And no one, no one, can satisfy us fully.

How do we know?  Because we feel RELIEF when we hear that there is someone to whom we can take our thirst, who will always give us a drink.  Thank goodness, our heart responds, when we hear Jesus say this.  We try to suppress our knowledge of the depth of our thirst, but it’s there, all the same.  And the more we walk this earth; the more our hearts are broken; the more people abandon and betray us; the more we discover how badly we abandon and betray others – even the ones we love – especially the ones we love; the more we discover the depth of our thirst. Because those heartbreaks start to give us a hint of what we’re really thirsty for.

It’s not, ultimately fame that we want, because if we think about it, we all know fame is fleeting – plus, it’s a pain in the butt, because honestly, who wants to be disturbed by fans every time we go for a stroll.  What we really thirst for is righteousness.  We thirst for a perfect world.  We thirst for belonging.  We thirst for a love that never walks into the arms of another woman, or another man.  We thirst for integrity.  We thirst for people who say something – and mean it.  We thirst to be able to love others in a selfless, giving way.  We thirst for health.

In other words, we thirst for the impossible.  No wonder we try to deny our thirst.  It’s overwhelming.  Our need is overwhelming – and the thought that hounds all of us is that maybe, just maybe, there is no one who can satisfy our thirst.  There is nothing to quench it.  There is no eternal love.  We are just dust and unto dust we shall return – and what could be thirstier than dust?

But no one has ever spoken like Jesus.  John 7:46.  No one has ever promised the impossible before – and actually done it.  Lots of people promise the impossible: “I’ll love you forever.  I’ll never leave you.  You’re all I’ve ever wanted.”  They may mean it.  They may not.  But they never come through.  So here, at last, is the one person we can finally trust.  Here, at last, is the person who offers living water – a solution as infinite as our need.  Here, at last, is the one who poured out Himself as a living sacrifice – so that streams of living water could flow from our hearts.  Here at last is the man we are thirsty for.

As always with the things of God, the most horrendous parts of us – our never-ending insatiable thirst – turns out to be the most beautiful.  If we didn’t get our hearts broken by thirsting for the things of this world, things that disappoint us, we wouldn’t cry out, like men crawling through the deserts: “HELP ME GOD”  And if we didn’t cry out, we wouldn’t find Him. We are crying out of our brokenness.  We are crying out because we discover how stuffed full or pride we are.  We are crying out because, yet again, we do the very thing we don’t want to do.

The deeper our thirst, the more deeply He can satisfy us.  We were made for the kind of rivers Jesus gives us.  Our hearts are dried up riverbeds, cracked and swollen, waiting for streams of living water to come flowing through them, overflowing not only our lives, but those of every person with whom we come in touch.

And with those streams of life, we discover that it doesn’t matter what we do or where we are.  God transforms the mundane, so that even toilet scrubbing can be done with joy – at least, unless our hearts are breaking at that moment over something else. And he leads us on His timetable, just as He did Jesus, so that when the time is right – and not a second before – He gives us beautiful opportunities to use our gifts for His glory, not our own.

But we don’t need to show ourself to the “world” in order to find something we can’t find from God.  We don’t need to do anything just to prove things to those who rejected us.  Rejection causes heartbreak, yes.  But our heartbreak is just the opening up of a deep fissure into our ever-present thirst.  Our heartbreaks seem like the worst thing, but they’re really the best, because they open us up into more of Love.  We are made for more than this.  We’re made for Him.

And by the way, I don’t know about you, but I’m not very good at trusting God, or doing things for His glory instead of my own – but I’m really really good at getting my heart broken.  The good news is – that’s all we need.  A broken heart opens us up to the Person for whom we’re made.

posted by Caroline Coleman in on April 12, 2012

on seduction: John 4












read John 4.   Flirting is fun but it has a dark side.  We’ve all seen the aging actresses who look like caricatures – applying too much make-up in a vain attempt to recapture the days when men whistled when they walked by.  But is this problem restricted to aging actresses?  Or is it all too easy to become dependent on our ability to seduce others; to think we’re nothing unless we’ve got suitors; to be so eager to please, we lose sight of ourselves?

Is this the kind of thing someone like Jesus understands? Have a look at these words of Jesus to the woman at the well:  “You’re right when you say you’re not married.  You’ve had five husbands and the man you’re living with now is not your husband.”  Anytime we’re tempted to think the Bible isn’t relevant, passages like these remind us that it’s far more relevant than we care to admit.

The woman’s answer sounds, to me at least, flirtatious:

“Oh, sir.  I can see you must be a prophet.”

You can almost hear the flap of her eyelashes as she compliments the Son of God.  You can’t blame her.  She probably only has one way of relating to men – trying to seduce them.  It is significant that when she returns to her village she says that Jesus has told her “everything she’s ever done” – that’s probably because in her eyes, seducing men is all she thinks she’s ever done.  She’s probably good at it; the five husbands suggest she was an Elizabeth Taylor in the making.  She might have once been beautiful.  She might still be beautiful.  She might have had an absent, abusive or distracted father and have spent the rest of her life trying to get her father’s attention through seducing other men.  She might have had a critical mother.  Who knows.  There are many pathways to becoming the woman at the well, but it only leads in one direction: a constant thirst for more empty adulation.

No wonder the woman at the well responds when Jesus tells her: “those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again.  It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”  John 4:14.  This woman knows what it is to be thirsty.

We all want a life in which we have something we can count on to feel “good.”  We want a life with a fresh bubbling spring within us, on which we can draw anytime we thirst.  We don’t want to be dependent on things outside ourselves.  But if feeling good is dependent on the reaction of other people, we will always live in insecurity.  Like vampires, we will always thirst for more.  If seducing is our game – whether literally, or just getting people to smile when they see us, or to say, “beautiful” when we walk by, or to turn a head – we can never rest.  Two texts are never enough – we need four.  When we get four, we need eight.  One date a week feels like a failure.  When we have two dates, we wonder what to do the other five days.  Being dependent on the reaction of others is just another form of addiction.

The woman is “surprised” Jesus talks to her because she’s of a despised race.  John 4:9.  The disciples were “shocked” to find him talking to her because of her gender.  John 4:27.  But when we see this woman’s addiction, we shouldn’t be surprised.  Jesus calls her “dear woman” – but it’s not because he buys into her seduction game.  It’s because to Jesus, no matter how many husbands she has had; no matter how many men she has lived with outside of marriage; she is “dear.”  He loves her in a way no man has ever loved her, or could ever loved her.  Jesus loves her in the way she has always wanted.  He loves her because He is love.

And so Jesus reveals His identity to her.  He removes His fig leaf, as it were – to a person of a despised race and gender.  He tells her “I am the Messiah.”  Removing your fig leaf is the very definition of intimacy.  Why does Jesus tell her who he is?  He gives her Himself for the sole reason that she wants Him.  He satisfies her because she is thirsty.  Her thirst meets His provision because that’s what God does.  The woman at the well thirsts for true intimacy – and so she gets it.  She’s removed a lot of literal fig leaves in her life, but this is the kind of fig leaf we really want – Jesus removes His mask.   When this chapter opens we see Jesus in his full humanity:  He is “tired” from his long walk.  He sits “wearily” beside the well.  It is “noontime.”  But the moment the woman at the well affirms her faith in the coming of the Messiah, Jesus reveals himself as fully God.  It is, in its own right, a kind of personal transfiguration.  Jesus takes off his humanity and reveals himself as the Son of God to a lonely woman living with a man not her husband.

In other words, Jesus “gets his shirt wet” here.  He puts his words into action.  He has said on the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are those who “know” their need of God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.  Matt. 5:3.  Blessed are those who are “hungry” now, for they shall be “satisfied.”  Here he meets someone who knows her need of God: “I AM the Messiah.”  John 4:26.  In revealing Himself to someone who says she is looking for the Messiah, He lets her “see” God; he satisfies her hunger by giving her Himself.

The woman goes running.  She tells everyone in the village those haunting words: “come and see.”  John 4:29.  The people come “streaming” from the village to see him.  They beg Jesus to stay, and after listening to him for two days they affirm: “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves.  Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”  John 4:42. This is the evolution for every believer – we hear the testimony of others; we go to see for ourselves; and then we have our own experience of the living God; we “know” He is the Savior of the world.

The experience of coming to faith, in other words, is a kind of “seduction” – a completely satisfying one.  We hear, see and taste for ourselves the “goodness” of the Lord – and we are hooked.  But unlike other forms of seduction, which steal our identity because we become dependent on something outside ourselves – this seduction restores our identity because it fills us from the inside out.  God gives us the love we’ve always wanted but have never been able to find in our fellow humans.

The key to the difference between God’s love and all other kinds of love lies in Jesus’ first words to the woman at the well: “Please give me a drink.”  John 4:7.  The words are a foreshadowing of Jesus’ words on the cross: “I am thirsty.” John 19:28.   God became thirsty so that we would never thirst again.  The reason God can fill us is because God took on our emptiness.  He thirsted so streams of living water could flow form our hearts.  He experienced thirst on the cross, in order to satisfy us.  He went to hell so we could go to heaven.

And through thirsting, Jesus is able to restore us to satisfying relationships.  The moment the woman at the well meets Jesus, she returns to her village, and is received positively.  Later in the chapter, the father who believes when Jesus tells him to go home to find a healed son – he “and his entire household” believed in Jesus.  When we enter into true intimacy with Christ, we discover that He enables us to have more intimacy with the humans around us.  The new intimacy comes not through seducing them with our own charms, but through sharing the love of Christ – a love that is a “just because” love.  We find a new intimacy that comes not through masking our imperfections with charm, make-up, fluttering eyelashes, easy compliments and seductive undertones, but that comes despite our own imperfections.  The intimacy comes through sharing the grace, mercy and love of the only Perfect One.  We begin to learn how to lay down our pride.  We become, in a very real and profound sense, brothers and sisters with those who share this love.  We find in Christ, and through Him in others, the love we’ve always wanted.  We dip into a well that runs deeper than we can fathom, a well that will fill our every bucket to overflowing, so that we discover we need to find new buckets because our old ones break from the overabundance of fresh, bubbling, exciting, satisfying, consuming, giving, receiving and fulfilling love.

posted by Caroline Coleman in on April 5, 2012