Saturday, November 06, 2010

The woman at the well

"Love the sinner; hate the sin."

I often hear that catchphrase from Christians, telling fellow Christians how to treat people. (Joel Wentz writes eloquently about the phrase, and the avoidance behind it, in his article for Relevant Magazine titled Christian & Gay?.)

The Samaritan Woman at the Well, by Annibale Caracci
Jesus is usually given as the exemplar of this approach. Often, the passage quoted is the story of His dialogue with the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar.

We're told this story gives us guidance as to how to treat others... lepers, outcasts, pariahs... with compassion.

But sometimes I think we forget a crucial thing.

I'm not sure we're really supposed to identify with Jesus in that story.

I think maybe we're supposed to identify with the woman at the well.

When that realization hit me, it just about knocked me flat. How could I have forgotten?

Something weird often seems to happen when God gives His people a job to do.

It happened with the children of Israel. They were chosen, yes — but they were chosen to show God's character to the surrounding nations. And the Old Testament is filled with stories of how they focused on the fact they were chosen, and forgot what they were chosen for.

And it still happens, every time we Christians strive to take the gospel message to people who haven't received it, but in so doing we forget that we are only recipients ourselves. (And believe me, I'm including myself in this.)

We expect our words to cause the person to change their ways, and we're angry when they don't... it's almost as if we're saying "clean up your act, and then God will want to hang out with you."

It's as if we've forgotten that we're only clean because He cleaned us up... not because we did it ourselves.

I can't help but think we'd do a better job emulating Jesus' compassion for the woman at the well if we identified less with Him, and more with her... because that's who we are in that story.


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