On Friday evening I was watching the local news when it was reported that Giant Eagle would be closing two Toledo area stores around May first. As the camera was facing the Rossford store, the reporter interviewed two customers in the parking lot for their reactions. One said that they were saddened because that is where all of her friends shopped. The second customer said they couldn’t figure out why a store would close when it was doing so well.
Before I continue, I have to acknowledge that I don’t have any ‘inside’ information regarding the store. However, as the reporter mentioned, the area is saturated with big named grocery stores in Walmart, Meijer, and Kroger. I have my doubts that the store was doing well. Businesses that are doing well are not usually closing their doors.
During my years in the business world, it was widely understood that struggling organizations would not let it be known to their customers that they were having financial difficulty unless it was absolutely necessary. Such a perception leads to decreased sales. People generally want to shop at successful stores. So even though the budget for Giant Eagle was more than likely taking a hit, there were customers under the impression that the store was doing well.
We do the same thing in our own lives. Rarely do you see or hear someone sharing their struggles openly. Most people want to be seen as strong, which often translates as taking care of things without outside support. They won’t ask for help until they’ve hit rock bottom. They won’t ask for directions until they are dizzy from going in circles. For some it would be a sign of weakness, unacceptable.
Jesus sat at the community well in the town center as the Samaritan woman came for water during the noonday heat. Notice that she and Jesus are the only two people in this setting for conversation. Most people typically went to the well in the cooler morning or evening hours. This seems to indicate that the woman didn’t associate well with the community. Maybe others have seen glimpses of her skeletons within the closet that does not shut tightly.
It might make us squirm a little when the phrase ‘skeletons in the closet’ is mentioned. You know what I’m talking about…the actions that only a few of your closest friends know about, a relationship kept under wraps for any number of reasons, an embarrassing habit that is kept under lock and key by the immediate family. You are safe as long as the skeleton remains confined to a small controlled group of people.
Secrets are like living in the desert without water. They make us vulnerable and choke joy from our lives. We are only as secure as the weakest link who takes our water from us. What if someone were to tell the secret? How quickly would it become gossip? What would it do to a reputation? And so the person with the secret lives with anxiety, thirsty for peace, but giving their water to the one who might talk in order to buy their quietness. Unforgiven secrets steal our life.
The woman came to the well at noon so that she didn’t have to listen to the whispers and see the stares directed toward her. Jesus said to the woman, “everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again but the living water that I give will gush up to eternal life.” She was thirsty for peace. Her spirit was parched for acceptance. She desperately wanted this living water.
And then Jesus poured a few drops of living water on her tongue but in a way she wasn’t expecting. He exposed her secret. He told her that he knew she had 5 husbands and the man she was currently with was not a husband. Imagine her shock! She intentionally went to the well at noon to prevent facing the shame and guilt of her past and now a stranger from a foreign land knows!
Oh the pain of facing our imperfections, our insecurities, and our sins. But Jesus handled the situation differently than the others in the community. He didn’t judge her or condemn her. He didn’t stare or laugh at her. He didn’t start spreading rumors or gossip. Instead, he understood her pain of not being accepted for who she was. He was gracious to her. And he is gracious to us.
No matter the mask that we attempt to use to hide our own pain and sin, Jesus already knows it. We may be able to fool those around us, but we cannot fool God. He knows us better than we know ourselves and he is more gracious to us than anyone else (including ourselves). We are often our own worst judge.
The woman recognized him as the Messiah and went to tell others about him. They in turn came to Jesus and also believed thanks to a woman who was freed from the desert of hiding skeletons. She went to the community that snubbed her. The living water of Jesus washed away the shame and guilt placed upon her by her community and herself. No matter what they said, Jesus loved her. And that’s the life-giving water that matters. Amen.