By John Flowers
If you are like me, then you aren’t excitedly looking for ways to isolate yourself from others right now. I am looking for ways to connect with people through the social distance.
This novel coronavirus is cramping my style.
I assume that there will be some folks who don’t find that same sentiment lingering in the inbox of their heart. As an extrovert, I know not everyone is like me. Some of you may have said a special prayer of gratitude to God for shutting down the draining and unreasonably long meetings by which your day-to-day life seemed to be ceaselessly plagued.
For me, as an extrovert, I know that when I live in forced or self-imposed isolation, it can get bad quickly. The only relational entertainment available is the imagined conversations that I want to have with people. Not the actual people I long to see. When I get deep into my own mental space, it can be a tough place to navigate. I know that I was made for community. But when that is unavailable, I am often tempted to assume that it’s because I’m not worthy.
When Jesus showed up in John 4 (vv. 4-42) at Jacob’s well, He encountered a woman who was self-isolating. Either by local pressure or out of defense for her own sanity, she was not with the townspeople for the ritual patterns of life. She was alone. Why?
This woman (let’s call her Abigail, a common name back then) was called out by Jesus for having a pretty rocky past. She had Elizabeth Taylor-like marriage numbers. Abigail had 5 husbands and was currently cohabiting with a man who was not her husband. I’m not sure why they weren’t married, but we can use our sanctified imaginations to suss it out a little.
According to Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Abigail would not have had grounds to terminate a marriage as only a husband was granted the right to issue a written divorce statement. She would have either been handed a divorce paper, or her husband would have to die for her to be released from the marriage covenant.
So, we are looking at a woman who has had 5 husbands. This means she was probably seen as either a curse for husbands who die or not worth keeping around as a wife/mother. This is a terrible place to be! She has been rejected or released 5 times, and won’t get a commitment from the man with whom she currently lives. Perhaps he was stringing her along because he feared dying or that she wouldn’t measure up. She was likely being taken advantage of in order to try and feel some affection, appreciation, and approval from a man. She was probably feeling trapped in the relationship because there were no more options in her town, and she didn’t have any leverage to make the relationship legal.
More than likely, she was in a position of being disowned by almost everyone she knew. Whether her fault or not, she was painfully distanced from so many families in her community.
Abigail is not getting water with the other women of the town of Sychar. She may have been officially uninvited, or she may have been protecting herself. She may have been trying to avoid physical harm as much as relational and emotional damage. If she was caught in the act of adultery (living with the new man), she would have been stoned to death.
Then, Jesus sits down with her.
Abigail, perceiving that He is a prophet, implies a question to Jesus that is incredibly telling and important.
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (John 4:19-20)
She wants to know if this spiritual authority will approve of the most important aspect of Hebrew life – worship. She tries to justify and qualify herself based on the history of Israel and the well itself. She says that she thinks that worship in Samaria is acceptable, but didn’t know if she was once again going to be rejected. Was her worship worth God’s time? Could God still accept her?
Abigail had a lot of evidence that she didn’t measure up, wasn’t wanted, and that her history spoke too loudly for anyone to approve of her.
I know I have felt rejected and like a disappointment to others. Maybe you have, too. Maybe we are about to encounter the Messiah without knowing it. Maybe we are all a little bit like Abigail.
Here we are, sitting with Jesus at a well, hoping that we are also accepted. Hoping that in our distance, there is some love that can make it to us. Hoping that our effort, our worship, our weakness will be somehow acceptable to a perfect God.
The good news is that we are accepted through Jesus. I have to remind myself routinely that 2 Corinthians 5 is true. Not only am I claimed by God as His own righteousness through Christ Jesus (v. 21), but I am also no longer regarded after my flesh, but after the Spirit of Jesus (v. 16)! The parts of me which don’t measure up are not the measure that my Father is using.
I, like the woman at the well, have the opportunity to take my broken and humble story and turn it into a call for everyone I know to receive their own acceptance in the Messiah. During these days of a little extra distance, the Worthiest One of all is sitting down with you and with me. He isn’t standing at a distance, but is with us, empowering us with love for both ourselves and for all those within a 6ft radius.
Will you join me by taking your living story to others?