Bearing Witness: We Have to Let Him See Us First
For Jesus, everyone is chosen.
We are used to “the chosen people” being a finite category, an exclusive category: that’s what the name means.
Israel was the original chosen people.
Perhaps we might also think of those who have fulfilled some religious formula to attain salvation as chosen.
We often act as though our particular corner of our particular denomination is chosen.
There is often a sense of those who achieve worldly success with money or fame as being chosen for greatness.
But Jesus chooses everyone, even and especially the rejects and outcasts.
To be chosen means to be special, to be set apart, and that specialness and singling out for attention remain even though Jesus’ choice is universal.
We read about it throughout scripture. Jeremiah talks about the experience of being chosen even before we can display any merit or even any personality when God says to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jeremiah 1:5).
In Ephesians, Paul tells us that “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” (Ephesians 4:23).
And Jesus tells us himself in the gospel of John, “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit.” (John 15:16).
The woman in our story from the gospel of John today is considered anything but chosen by her society.
She has been pushed from pillar to post all over town by having a series of husbands, possibly by being widowed, possibly in other circumstances.
The honor/shame culture in which she lives has devalued her with each new partner until her current partner does not even bother to marry her.
You can see how isolated she has become by the fact that she is not welcome to draw water from the well in the cool of the early morning with the other women of the town. She must travel to the well alone and bear the water back to her home in the heat of the day.
Those are all the ways in which she is unworthy in her own society.
And then there is the ethnic and gender divide that separates her from Jesus.
He is a Jew, she is a Samaritan, and in those days that distinction was very sharp both religiously and politically.
And she is an unaccompanied woman talking to an unaccompanied man she doesn’t know, a situation that could only push her farther from whatever slim shred of respectability she still maintains.
Even without knowing her story and its shades of disgrace in the eyes of her society, the gospel says the disciples are shocked to find Jesus talking with a woman, any woman.
This woman both in her life and on the day she goes to the well has traveled as far as possible outside the circles of power and chosenness in her society.
She is outcast in the literal sense, cast out of every desirable physical and social space.
And who does she find when she can go no further from the inner circle?
Jesus is waiting for her.
Think of the places in your life in which you feel the furthest from grace.
Think of the parts of yourself that you hide from yourself and God.
What are the times in your life and the characteristics of yourself that you think are the most God-forsaken?
Go that far and beyond, and you will find Jesus waiting for you, waiting to tell you that you are chosen.
There is no place in the world or within ourselves, no place of sin or fear or pain that we can go, that Jesus is not already there waiting for us.
Jesus is there waiting for this woman and for us outside all the circles of propriety and all the rules of society. He breaks through all of them to have conversation and communion with us.
What are the rules we have set that Jesus has to break through to get to us?
How are we limiting our experience of God because we are trying to limit how God can encounter us?
Perhaps we assume we will only have meaningful spiritual experiences in church.
Perhaps we assume we will never have meaningful spiritual experiences in church.
Maybe we assume that important spiritual experiences must always be positive—it is very easy to get into the habit of chasing the spiritual high and forgetting the value of the wilderness.
God can be present to us in anything, in beautiful things and painful things, in people we love and people we hate, in life-changing moments and in the ordinariness of life.
The fewer rules we set on the ways in which holiness can manifest to us, the fewer boundaries Jesus has to break through to share the living water with us.
Because Jesus is tired.
The gospel says so.
“Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well.”
He asks the woman to give him a drink. He has no jar so he cannot get it himself.
How is Jesus asking us for water today?
It might be in the obvious and important ways—the presence of Christ in the poor and the hungry crying out to be fed, nurtured, and valued.
But Jesus might also be asking us for water in another way.
Jesus and this woman get so involved in their conversation that she never does draw literal water for him.
And yet he seems refreshed.
When the disciples arrive, he tells them that he no longer needs food because he’s already gotten sustenance from this conversation.
Jesus, in all his power and glory, hungers and thirsts for our company.
Jesus’ thirst can be quenched by conversation with us, conversation in which we ask him questions and go deep into spiritual meaning with him.
Jesus is refreshed by giving us the living water. We are not the only ones having our thirst quenched by receiving the living water from him; our acceptance of his gift is how we offer care and love back to him.
Perhaps the most frightening and arresting part of this story is the clear and full knowledge Jesus has about this woman the moment she comes into his view.
We spend most of our time and energy on this planet trying to craft, cultivate and display a sanitized image of ourselves to the world.
We work very hard at projecting outward an appearance of success, of stability, of niceness.
Sometimes we do it with such dedication that even we forget that it is a mask.
We think we’ve hidden the parts of ourselves we consider evil or bad so thoroughly from the world that we almost convince ourselves we’ve hidden them from God.
But of course that’s not the case.
Jesus displays here that there is nothing we can hide from him.
In order to be in true encounter with him, we have to be willing to be stripped bare in front of him, to have all our pretenses fall away.
But here is where we have such a role model in the woman at the well.
According to her society, she has more to hide than most.
But instead of reacting to having all her secrets laid out with fear or shame or anger, she greets the moment with liberation and joy, seeing Jesus’ knowledge of her as a gift of living water.
In fact she is so overcome with celebration that she immediately runs back to town, to all the people who have excluded and demeaned her, to share with them the good news.
The gospel says, “She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!’”
She leaves her water jar behind at the well. All other priorities have been abandoned to share this joyful good news with the world.
Would it be possible to greet the knowledge of our exposure before God with a sense of freedom and joy?
There are no more boundaries, no more limitations.
We have been met by Jesus in our darkest place, told we are chosen and loved, healed and refreshed by the living water, and energized by the remarkable message we now have to share.
How could this be anything but exhilarating?
We must allow Jesus to be a witness to us before we can become an effective witness to him.
That is the first meaning of being called to “bear witness” to Jesus Christ–we must first bear his witnessing us in all our sin and all our virtue, all our indifference and all our passion, all our darkness and all our light.
We must allow him to penetrate to our depths, to break open the space within us that we fear and are ashamed of.
That is the place where he plants the spring of living water that gushes up to eternal life.
Jesus tells us in John chapter 8, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
He tells us in our gospel today that we must worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.
May we greet our terrifying freedom, the terrifying freedom of being fully known, fully chosen, fully loved, with as much joy as Jesus has in giving it to us.