I was sitting at a restaurant in one of those long tables where everyone is packed together and you are caught in the conversation next to you. The woman sitting next to me, seemed tired and distant. In the middle of the meal she blurted out to a friend: “I do not think I can take any more.”
This woman’s family was in crisis, her 15 year old granddaughter was pregnant and the 16 year old father refused responsibility. Her 45 year old son had relapsed and was drinking heavily once again. She found that she was ineffective in addressing both situations and her futile attempts were causing further problems. The entire family dynamic was in chaos and falling apart.
I caught the reaction of friends, a few seemed surprised, a couple had that cruel look of satisfaction, the “I knew your family was not perfect” look while others were genuinely distressed. The lady had that long far away, hopeless stare, you know the one: face drawn, eyes downward, her fist clenching a tissue that had caught hundreds of tears.
One kind woman in an attempt to comfort patted the woman hand and used that old saying: “It is O.K., God does not give you anything that you cannot handle…” I had to bite my lip, I wanted to scream – no, no, no! We are not guests on Survivor, Redemption Island. God does not sit in heaven creating unconquerable obstacles courses for lives.
The statement is like saying God knows that I can swim, so for the fun of it, he will just throw me overboard and for the fun of it, hang a 200 lb weight around my neck. Yes, for many of us, for some, right now, there are times when life seems burdensome. Money is short and you cannot pay the bills.
You cannot seem to make your bosses happy at work, they pick constantly, you have made bad choices that affect you today, children and grandchildren engage in destructive behavior. You cannot take it anymore; you are carrying far too many burdens. Like that woman at the Flying Star or the women carrying the water jug to the well.
Today’s Gospel offers a different glimpse of what God gives us. An unnamed woman, going through her daily routine, who carries the burdens not only on her back, but on her face and through her life. She suddenly learns something about herself and more importantly, something about God. It is interesting that through the centuries, she has been portrayed in the most negative of terms.
Some have insinuated she was a woman of loose morals, married numerous times – imagine big earrings, heavy make up, skimpy outfits – she was socially unacceptable. The text emphasizes that she probably lived on the fringes, not only because she was a woman, and a Samaritan, but because she was at the well in the middle of the day.
Most women of the village draw water first thing in the morning, while it was still cool. She was out alone in the heat of the day. Was it because she had a checkered past, or was it because she was living a sinful life. Even among outcasts, this woman seemed to be an outcast.
We often form instant opinions of people, we read a few lines and determine she was morally corrupt. But we do not really know her life, what caused her to come out in the middle of the day. Maybe she endured a terrible life because of her birth, her status, she never had any options.
Could it be that because she was poor, and a woman, she was doomed to victimization by a social system where she could not be nothing more that an object that served the needs of the males of society?. Possibly like many of us, she did not want to be alone. Or she endured the life before her because this was the only path to survive. And when you live only to survive, you are not living, you are just surviving.
Tired she bumps into Jesus. On that day, with all her burdens, maybe she spoke to Jesus because he was the only one who cared, who would listen. You wonder, why today, why this man. And how does Jesus respond to this outcast?. Jesus talks to her, he accepts the woman as she I, with all the worries on her face. He looks into the eyes of the individual and meets her as she is—refusing to give into stereotyping or judgment or expectations.
Jesus does not tell her, you know life is rough and that pitcher looks pretty heavy, God wants you to carry it. That although her life is terrible, God will only give her what she can handle - so deal with it. Jesus sees something more beyond the obvious.
He knows her life, her pain, her missteps, her tears, her life, her desired to be loved. Jesus sees her, not as the world sees her, but as God see’s her. Jesus in essence tells her – “I know exactly who you are and it is ok. I know you, you are a woman, you are a Samaritan, I know your past and know what you are going through and you know what, it is going to be ok, I am here.
He then tells her I am the hope you are looking for. You are important, despite your situation, despite your past, you will always be a precious child of God. I am here for you, and you will be O.K.
It must have felt like heaven. The one who knows all she ever did, all that she is, and all that she can be, let her know that she was not alone, that she could go forward. Jesus probably performed one of his greatest miracles, no, he did not move his hands and immediately changed her condition.
He made her realize her importance to him, to God, and that realization assured her that she could face anything. She became new, filled with hope, filled with strength. She could walk away from the well. This tired woman, runs off in such excitement, she leaves the heavy water jar at the well.
We often face that glaring midday sun, when we go through the day carrying our burdens, wondering how we are going to make it. Waiting for us is Christ. Christ, the one that renews and gives hope. When we feel that we cannot take it anymore, when we feel like that weight is too much to carry, Jesus looks for us and assures us that it will be o.k. And when we approach him, like that woman, there is acceptance, not embarrassment, nor judgment.
We are more than a collection of deeds and misdeeds, our lives are more than a life full of burdens that we have to shoulder. When we feel that we cannot take it anymore, God is there to help us, not to burden, not to judge, not to create obstacles.
This knowing relieves a huge burden; we are secure with our past and confident in our future. Jesus loved everybody he ever met as if that one were the only person in the entire world. He loved all as He loved each. Every person who looked into the eyes of Jesus found an affection looking back at them which said in powerful ways, "What happens to you makes a difference to me."
Jesus knows each one of us, our past, our troubles, he sees our butterfly inside of the cocoon, the robin inside of the egg, the forgiven within the sinner, the spark of life instead of darkness of sadness. A plain, everyday woman who struggled, who cried, went through the endless cycle of hurting, realized that she could walk forward.
Today that greatest of miracles still occurs, because what happens to you, makes a difference to Christ. No, our burdens will not magically disappear, but knowing that we are not alone and that we will make it, allows us to leave that 200 lb weight at the his feet. The love of God known in Jesus Christ is not one filled with “God only gives us what we can handle.”
The love of God is a love that meets us where we are, that speaks to us in the glaring midday sun, a love that eases the burdens when we cannot take it anymore.
Jesus speaks to each one of us, like he spoke to that woman at the well: “I know who you are, I know what you are going through, I am here and it will be ok. When we realize this, you we can leave it at the well, and go forward, knowing. Because there is only one thing that God gives us more than we can handle, and that is - love.