March 7, 1999
Wesley, Doncaster East
© John M. Connan
Some years ago Rotary International began a widespread inoculation campaign in developing countries in an effort to eradicate disease. I think it began in the Philippines. What other countries it was taken to and how successful it was I don’t know. But it was a sincere effort to ensure good health and long life for many people. If you had the choice of doing something similar to help millions of people, what might it be? If you had more than enough resources – people and money - at your disposal to help the greatest possible number of people in developing countries, what one single project would you take on?
In fact, the most useful project to help the greatest number of people would be the provision of clean, unpolluted, disease-free drinking water.
We can do without food for some time, but we can’t do without water for very long at all. Some 50% of our bodies are water. Without water we’re in real trouble. And so is every other form of life on this earth. Water is the solvent all life needs to carry chemicals to living tissues. Water is lifegiving and life sustaining.
Middle-eastern women went to draw the day’s supply of water from the wells early in the cool of the day. This was partly to escape the noonday heat, partly for modesty’s sake to avoid being seen by men. They went in groups to socialise, to share the gossip, give and receive advice.
The woman Jesus met at the well at midday had obviously gone to avoid the attention of the other women. What they said about her wasn’t gossip. What they had to say wasn’t polite –even if it was truthful. She went in the blazing heat of the day to avoid the hurt.
As far as men were concerned, they didn’t mind the way she lived. It suited their needs. She was available. That suited her – to a point. She needed a roof over her head. She needed food. She needed shelter. She needed a protector. She needed water. But she wasn’t proud of the way she lived.
The stranger, the Jew, at the well - was there something he could do for her? Was there some advantage to be wrung from him?
But before she could leverage anything from the situation, she found him asking her for a drink.
It’s a strange thing. When we ask for help or advice, we often put people at ease. “Can you tell me..? Could I borrow..? What do you think..?” We put ourselves under obligation. In a sense we’ve put ourselves at their mercy. We’ve put ourselves in the inferior position, and offer them the superior position. We build up their self-esteem.
William Temple wrote: “The way to call anyone into fellowship with us is, not to offer them service, which is liable to arouse the resistance of their pride, but to ask service from them” (Readings in St John’s Gospel, p.65).
He tells of a social worker who had comfortable accommodation where he needed nothing his neighbours could supply. He chose, instead, to go and live in a workman’s flat. The first evening he wanted a hammer to hang pictures, and went to borrow one from the flat below. Relationships changed. Others could do something for him.
Then the woman found Jesus turning the conversation to a deeper level – to the state of her life. She was by turns embarrassed and amazed. Embarrassed because the Jewish stranger knew her most intimate secrets. Amazed because he said nothing in condemnation. He accepted her as she was – even if she knew he was leading her to look honestly at the way she was living her life. Acceptance, then a new beginning.
Nobody liked Wesley. His mother called up the CEBS leader. Thrown out of Cubs, Scouts, another boys’ club. Would Jenny take him on?
The very first night Wesley came to CEBS Jenny learnt why nobody would take him on. He was dirty. He was untidy. He stank. He couldn’t sit still for more than a minute. Then he went wandering, poking others, disobeying. Whenever it was his turn in team sports, he wouldn’t take his turn.
The other kids complained. Matters reached a head when one of the adult leaders came to Jenny and said, “Either Wesley goes or I go!”
Jenny called the adult leaders and CEBS team leaders together. She told then his background. Nobody cared about him. Not even his parents. This was his last chance. Did they remember the train trip, when his father complained about having to take him to the station? Did they know that when they got back, no one was there to collect him? A leader stayed with him an hour, waiting. As each car approached, Wesley said, “This’ll be my dad.” When he was eventually picked up, all his dad said was “Get in the back.” Neither an explanation to the leader, nor thanks for waiting.
They decided that whether at CEBS or at school, whenever they saw Wesley, they’d say, “Hi, Wes!” It would have been dishonest to say, “It’s good to see you.”
If he did anything worthwhile, no matter how small or how briefly, they’d affirm him.
Gradually he began to do what was expected of him – and more. Within nine months you couldn’t pick him out of the crowd.
One day his mother rang. Wesley had been under a psychiatrist. Would Jenny go and see the psychiatrist? He wanted to know what had changed Wesley.
Acceptance changes people. Acceptance brings people to the point of wanting to know why we are the sort of people we are.
Jesus broke through the defences the woman had built up over the years. She went home. Others came to Jesus. They said, “We know he really is the Saviour of the world.”
The remarkable thing often overlooked in the story of this woman of very dubious moral character is that she is the first recorded evangelist – the first to share how she had found a new beginning and a new life in Christ, and how he could quench their for God’s love.
How do we share our understanding of life, our faith, our belief that Jesus is Saviour? It might begin as simply as asking a neighbour for help. It can proceed through acceptance and genuine concern for others. It can reveal to them an unsatisfied need, an insatiable hunger, an unquenched thirst. Then they may come to realise their need, their hunger, their thirst can be met by Jesus. And they may say, with the Samaritan villagers, “We believe, not because of what you told us, but because we’ve come to know for ourselves that Jesus is Saviour of the world.” They may discover through their own experience that through Jesus they have a life-giving and life sustaining relationship with God himself – a relationship that changes everything about them.
Can you say, “We believe, not because of what you told us, but because we’ve come to know for ourselves that Jesus is Saviour of the world”?
Have you discovered for yourself that through Jesus you can have a life giving and life sustaining relationship with God himself – a relationship that changes everything about you?
A Lenten question. You have your own Lenten answer.