Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners


Mess Happens

Painting by Paolo Veronese, c. 1550

A friend likes to say, “Small people, small messes.  Big people, big messes!”

Have you ever wondered where God is in all of it?

One of my favorite stories from Scripture is of the woman at the well (John 4).  If there were anyone who walked around with a great big sign on her forehead that reads, “My life is a mess,” she would qualify.  She has been through a string of dead-end relationships, each of them a failed experiment in so-called “love.”  When she comes to the well at midday all by herself, she is hot, tired, sweaty, and very much alone in her mess.  She is probably one of many people, regardless of their circumstances, who walk around in a low-grade depression, disappointed by the way life has turned out.

Yet Jesus meets her there.  Right in the middle of her mess he meets her.  He doesn’t offer a magic wand to make the mess go away or promise that he will be the one to clean it all up.  He doesn’t shrug off the mess as if it doesn’t matter.  He doesn’t pretend that the mess is not there. (Have you ever been in a long conversation with someone only to discover in the mirror later that part of your lunch had been stuck to your face the whole time?)

If anything, Jesus may actually be the first person to tell this woman that she has a great, big sign on her forehead that reads “My life is a mess.” Only, thankfully, he doesn’t use those words.  Instead he simply tells her the truth that no stranger just passing through could ever guess without a direct connection to the soul: “You’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.”

And then, if this woman with five husbands and a live-in lover is willing to try one more time, Jesus offers her Himself.  ”Living Water,” he calls it- as opposed to the same old, dreary water she has been drinking from other so-called “wells,” which always leaves her emptier than before.  This time Jesus invites her to try her luck on a Love that can actually save.

Does this woman’s mess disappear after she meets Jesus?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  The text leaves us free to speculate.

What changes is the woman’s ability to tell the truth about her mess.  In the new-found light of how God sees her she can share her story freely and without shame.   She can acknowledge the mess that is there and the One who helped her see it while loving her all the same.

I used to think that the best indication as to whether Jesus had really “met” a person is how neat and tidy their lives appeared and how well they told their story about how Jesus had cleaned up their life  (helped them get sober, healed them from sickness, turned their whole life around, etc.).

This story tells me otherwise:  ”The woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.  Could this be the Christ?””

No slick testimonies.  No dogmatic apologetics.  No pretenses, even, that the stranger at the well is beyond doubt God Himself.

Why?  Maybe because the person who has met Jesus is often the one with the spaghetti on her face and the red sauce running down her bib, who now knows it and can laugh- all because of the One who knew her through and through and loved her all the same.



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