I'm going to call her Edna, which is not even close to her real name. Edna, God bless her, was an elderly woman of boundless, sometimes misdirected, energy; strong opinions and a stronger need to express them at all times (a trait she and I share, it seems); and the remarkable ability to cause annoyance in even the most saintly of her fellow churchgoers. Usually, when she spoke, people would nod and then change the subject so as not to get swept up into an unwanted conversation. (Which is a real shame, by the way, and something I absolutely regret having participated in.)
Enter me, at home on a visit, age 22. Fresh off a couple years of short-term mission work that had been preceded by a year at Bible school. Either out of kindness or a misunderstanding of the amount of Bible knowledge one is able to pick up in three short years, the Bible class teacher that day had sought me out before class to encourage to feel free to jump in to the discussion and share my thoughts.
|Do you know what happens when you Google "Jacob's|
Well"? You get a bunch of pics of the swimmin hole
in Wimberley, Texas. This pic is just a well. Source:
Dora Lupeanu on freeimages.com.
Did I even stop to think before words came flying out of my mouth? I did not, and said something like, "Jesus was afraid of the Pharisees? Where did you get that idea?" Edna insisted that of course Jesus was afraid, because he had to be afraid sometimes, but I wasn't having any and told her that was ridiculous--surely the guy who argued with Pharisees in the temple every day, the guy who had turned and walked away from the mob who tried to throw him off the cliff, the guy who knew what his ultimate destiny would be--that guy did not go hide in Samaria because he was scared.
Meanwhile, my dad is sitting next to me grinning very much like a Cheshire cat--I'm pretty sure this was the moment for him when all that time & effort put into keeping me alive until adulthood suddenly bore fruit--and the Bible class teacher changed the subject. (He and his family are wonderful people, by the way, and I'm far from being the only young person he encouraged to find their feet with Biblical things by speaking up in his class. It's still a highlight of any visit home for me to spend a few minutes chatting with him.)
Edna spent the rest of the class writing me a long note about why I was wrong. Neither of us changed the other's mind that day, and indeed I still firmly believe that Jesus went through Samaria because here were people, and especially this wounded woman, who needed to hear his message of hope. He wasn't acting out of fear, but rather was doing exactly what he came here to do. I would just say so much more kindly now, if Edna were still on this earth to hear me say it.
And perhaps that's the real thing I learned that day and am still desperately trying to apply to my own life. This journey that we're on is full of twists and turns and sometimes the road leads to unexpected people and places. Perhaps the best gift we have for our fellow humans is to take a moment to hear one another's stories, to offer a moment of hope and kindness, to look one another in the eyes and say, "I see you. You are real. You matter."
Which is exactly what Jesus did for the woman at the well. And although I didn't know it at the time, it's exactly what Edna and the others in the room that day were doing for me.