Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Forgotten Jug

In John 4, the gospel writer tells of a woman’s chance encounter with Jesus at a well.  When the woman departs, she leaves her water jug behind.

Why did she leave her jug behind?  What does it mean?  That one seemingly extraneous detail drives me crazy.

One tradition is that the jug represents the Samaritan woman’s former ‘evil ways’ – having way too many husbands and boyfriends for any one woman to have – that she is symbolically and then really leaving behind.  It’s a creative reading of the text – I don’t know of anywhere else that a jug represents the ‘container of evil’.  But hey, it’s a theory.

And then there is the view that she left the jug as a symbol of all that we leave behind to proclaim the good news.  The Samaritan woman is the first evangelist, the first proclaimer of Jesus as Messiah in John’s Gospel, and as such, maybe she is a prototype.  God calls the unlikely to proclaim the unknowable in ways unpredictable.  The Samaritan woman’s story certainly says all that.

But for all the good news, the woman will still, at the end of the day, need her jug.  So why leave it behind?

My own guess is that the jug is left behind because this is no time for containers or containing . . . life-giving water in the person of Jesus Christ is running wild in Samaria . . . and this God will not be contained . . . not in old ideas about how the world is, not in old ideas about how God is . . . and not in old ideas about how we are to view or treat each other . . .

Jesus is our spiritual makluba*, our spiritual child-delighting, grown-up shattering upside-down God . . . who brings us the good news we never expected, often in a way we never wanted and usually from people we never intended to know.

When I think of water, I do not think of the safety of the drinking glass or the carrying jug . . . I think of the dark sea into which Jonah’s pride cast him . . . I think of whale bellies and other scary-safe places . . . I think of tides whose pull I cannot ignore . . . I think of oceans too vast to see, to deep to know . . . too much for me to swallow . . . and so I float . . . for what else can I do?

Maybe, just maybe, John meant the forgotten jug to remind us that God, like water, will not be contained . . . that God, like water, goes where God wills . . . into the glass of our very selves, through the cracks of our brokenness . . . or in a tidal flood sweeping us along for the ride.

Maybe, just maybe, the woman left her jug because she had come to a new truth . . . who, caught up in a tidal wave, brings along her jug?

Maybe, just maybe, God has been waiting all along for us to come to know a simple thing:  I do not carry the water . . . it carries me . .

As Alla Renee Bozarth wrote, To feel alive, important and safe, know your own waters and hills, but know more.  You have stars in your bones and oceans in [your] blood . . . 

*makluba – an upside down rice dish from the Middle East

1 comment:

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