As part of our gatherings at Capitol Hill Friends, we share a meal and read and discuss Scripture. This Sunday, we read the fourth chapter of John, which features the iconic story of Jesus speaking with the woman at the well. It also includes a brief story about a royal official who comes to Jesus seeking healing for his son who is gravely ill.
Superficially, the Samaritan woman and the royal official have virtually nothing in common. The woman is about as low as someone could be in the Jewish worldview. The very fact that she is a Samaritan should make her out-of-bounds for Jesus and his disciples. Jesus is a Jew, and Jews do not associate with Samaritans, who are considered essentially "untouchable."
Besides the fact of her being a member of an untouchable, outsider group, the Samaritan woman is a woman. Strike two. Women have no status in the ancient near-East, and it is scandalous that Jesus would approach her and speak to her in public. And if that is not enough, it turns out that this particular woman has been married five times, and she is presently living with a man she is not married to. Despite all of these barriers, Jesus approaches her and reveals his true identity to her. He changes her life, making her the first apostle of the Good News to the Samaritan people.
The royal official, on the other hand, is close to the top of the social pyramid of his day. Presumably he was the equivalent of a presidential adviser or diplomat. He had all kinds of connections to call on and commanded great respect. Nonetheless, he could not save his boy. His son was so ill that this wealthy, powerful, well-connected man approached an itinerant rabbi, begging him for help.
While it was Jesus who took the initiative in speaking with the woman at the well, the case of the royal official is different. In the former case, Jesus is the person with higher status, and he humbles himself to speak with the woman at the well. In the case of the royal official, however, Jesus has lower status. In his desperation to save his son's life, the royal official must humble himself to ask for Jesus' help.
The circumstances of the woman at the well and the royal official are vastly different, but their spiritual condition is the same. Both of them, high and low in the eyes of their society, are broken-hearted. Each of them knows that they are unable to meet the demands of this life on their own, and they find that Jesus is the one who can speak to their condition. Jesus knows them and loves them. He reveals God's love. Jesus can do this because these individuals are desperate for what Jesus has to offer.
In The Message paraphrase of the Scriptures, Matthew 5:3 is rendered, "You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you, there is more of God and his rule." During our discussion of Scripture at Capitol Hill Friends, we realized that we are a community of people at the end of their rope. Capitol Hill Friends is a place for the broken, the wounded, the screwed up, the desperate.
Capitol Hill Friends is a place for folks who are on the margins in a variety of ways. We sense that business as usual is not working in our lives. We know that we cannot make it alone, and so we reach out to God and to one another. We are learning that we cannot make it on our own, that we are dependent on Jesus and his Holy Spirit to guide us and fill us with his strength.
It is by imitating the humble brokenness of our crucified Savior that we find true strength. It is in opening up and making ourselves vulnerable that we discover God's love for us. God yearns to draw us close and heal us, if only we will accept this love. God's heart is broken for us. And as we turn to embrace him, we realize that God was there all along. Long before we realized our need of him, Jesus was desperate for us. He died for us.
We are waking up to our own desperate need of God's mercy. No longer acting as if we ourselves could save the world, we are catching glimpses of the boundless love that God has for us. As the Holy Spirit comes among us, we sense in our hearts the way Christ loves us. We experience the way he lays his life down for us, and we hear him calling us to follow him. Like Simon and Andrew, we are called to lay down our nets and join the Master in becoming fishers of people.(1)
We stand on the edge of a great decision as a community. Will we own up to our woundedness, presenting ourselves to Jesus for healing? Will we commit ourselves to the work of embodying the Reign of God, here in Washington, DC? Will we embrace Christ's call to boldness, inviting others to join us as his disciples? Will we let God transform our desperate hearts, making us people who yearn for the restoration and reconciliation of all people in Christ?
1. Mark 1:17