Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
One sure sign of spring in my hometown was the return of the old men to the benches outside the courthouse. I was never certain where they went in the winter. It was not entirely clear what they did for a living. But they would appear yearly some time after the arrival of the robins and before the trees leafed out.
The men would tell old stories. They knew every bit of gossip in the courthouse. Of course they started most of the rumors themselves. While the daily newspaper might report the facts of a crime, these guys knew all the background, which was helpful, since they were always on the jury or a cousin to someone involved in the case. If you ever wanted to get elected to an office, you had to first curry favor with the bench crowd. There was a certain time in the afternoon when the benches would empty. Anyone sitting there after that was suspect.
In John 4, Jesus stops at Sychar in Samaria. He plops down at Jacob’s well at high, hot noon. What follows is the encounter with the Samaritan woman, but first I want to focus on Jesus’ actions. He sat by a well with no bucket at the least-visited time of day. What was he thinking?
He could have wanted to get away for some quiet time. He did that often: send the disciples away on an errand in order to just have time to himself for his own thoughts. Or he could have wanted to be there for whatever folk might come out to Sychar’s courthouse square at the least social hour of the day. I think the latter. I think this story illustrates an intentional act by Jesus to make himself available to the most vulnerable and least accepted people of that village.
Stories reveal our true selves. Our public story may be that we are the rich young ruler who has much to give up for the gospel. Our internal story may be more like that of the woman at the well: a story that requires us to believe that God can love our unlovely mess.
It is spring now. It’s time to get our faith out there. It’s time to reveal our real story and be open to where God may want us to be. The benches and wells are waiting.