(Less than 1900 words – excluding Bible Verses)
I am a failure at this blogging thing. When I bought the domain, attempted to design the website, and started writing my first post I had every intention of blogging once a week. What a spectacular fail! I am a year in and this is my twelfth blog. But, you know what? I’m ok with that. It’s been a terrible twelve months for everyone and I believe we should allow ourselves some grace. If we didn’t, despondency and regret may be long lasting symptoms of the virus.
To combat my own regret and embarrassment, I’m deciding to view my failure and unreached goals as the starting point for the next season. I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do but I absolutely learned from the attempts I made.
The original aim for this blog is to research and consider what Christ has done for those people who choose to believe in a spiritual sense and what he has done for the greater world in an historical sense. Some of my posts have touched upon this but mostly, I’ve written about what I was studying in the Bible.
As clunky or too-lengthy as my posts may be, they were richly rewarding to study and compile. Every word I wrote served to build upon my foundation of faith. Every thought I had urged me on to another and every post I wrote helped me to clarify my understanding and belief in the Word of God. I may be time-poor and have incorrectly prioritized my daily activities but I have given as much as I could to each post.
To say that I want to post more in my second year is obvious. If I do succeed in that wish or not, that is yet to be written. I’m not the first person to fail at something and, I’m sure you will agree, I won’t be the last. Life is a series of failures and achievements and, as my daughter often reminds me, we are able to learn from our mistakes. Thankfully Christ, who experienced human emotion, grief, pain, and temptation in fullness, is able to make use of all of our failures if we choose to let him. He is after all, our redeemer
“He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down…” Isaiah 53:3-4a
The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines redeemer as a person who ‘redeems’.
The word redeem means: to buy back, to get or win back, to free from what distresses or harms such as: to free from captivity by payment of ransom, to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental, to release from blame or debt. It is also to change for the better, repair, restore and to free from a lien (financial charge) by payment. Redeem also means to atone for.
If you are familiar with the character and witness of Christ, you won’t be surprised to know that Merriam-Webster specifically uses Jesus as the example for Redeemer.
“Then they remembered that God was thier rock, that God most high was their redeemer” Psalm 78:35
Easter is upon us. It is a time when the Christian church recognizes and celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is significant because the world would not have Christianity if the world did not have the resurrection. If there was no resurrection there would be no hope in life eternal life – that God would redeem us to himself. Christians believe by intellect and experience that Christ’s redeeming powers have transformed their lives, thus the reason they believe.
Put like that the Christian theology seems simple, yet convolute at the same time: so many questions! Even the statement that ‘God would redeem us to himself’ sparks off many questions such as: why do we need redeeming, and does God even care?
I don’t plan on addressing such questions in this post, instead I’d like to draw your attention to one recorded encounter a woman had with Jesus in the New Testament for here we see Christ’s ability to love beyond human expectation, prejudice, fear and worry as he transforms a person from ‘failure’ to life.
In this, the longest recorded conversation Christ has with a person, Jesus turns personal failures into fuel for joy. It is a wonderful example of the personal change and experience that Christ offers to those who choose to believe. It is the story of the Samaritan woman at the water well. John 4:1-42
The basic story is this: Jesus happens upon a woman drawing water at a famous well and asks her to provide him with a drink. She wonders why he would ask her and Jesus’ response “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water”, sparks off a conversation that moves from practicality through to theology, confession, faith and eternal life. During the conversation Jesus tells the woman ‘everything she ever did’. When confronted by her own failure, Jesus’ offer of ‘living water and hope’ is the reverse to the condemnation and judgement she was living under. So moved by his love and respect towards her and by his own admission of his status of messiah she rushes back to the village overflowing with joy to rouse her neighbors to come and meet him. When the villagers see her, they agree to go with her to meet Jesus. Upon meeting him they too are convinced and choose to receive Jesus’ offer of the ‘gift of living water’.
It’s a remarkable story where many people’s lives are changed but none so much as the woman.
Up until this point this woman’s life had been marked by failure. In a time when it was important to be married and monogamous she was living with her fifth and unmarried partner. Such lifestyle choices would have negatively affected her social life and status in the village. I’m sure she was the source of much town gossip and rumor; could this be the reason she was alone at the well when Jesus met her? Respectable women would have gone in a group and at a cooler time of day to draw water. Outcasts and victims of gossip, often prefer to avoid and work by themselves. (The story makes no mention of other people at the well, rather it reads like a private conversation between she and Jesus, which is why the assumption can be made that she was alone.)
If she was indeed an outcast, the woman’s return to the village with the intention of bringing people back to meet Jesus shows a remarkable inner change: she was overflowing with love and forgiveness desiring nothing more than to share the joy and hope that she herself had received. She did this in faith and without fear, embarrassment, shame or rebuke from the villagers. Jesus had redeemed her failures and she no longer had to hide in the shadows. The woman believed she was valued, respected, and honored by God. Her failures no longer ‘held her back’ and she could enter into a new identity and calling, which is why she felt confident to share her experience with the villagers. For them to listen to her and respond in such a way, the change within her must have been obviously apparent…and desirable. To them, she appeared a new and different person and they had to see the person who could do such a thing for themselves.
But this seems like such a big change in a person, can such change come simply from a conversation?
Any faith-filled person would say that yes it can however on closer observation it becomes evident that it wasn’t just what Jesus said to her, it was also what he did. In speaking to her, Jesus broke two unwritten, yet serious, social customs and law.
Firstly, he spoke to a woman. Social custom was that men did not speak to a woman they did not know. To do so was an act considered dishonorable and inappropriate. This explains why when Jesus’ disciples return from buying food in the village “they were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, ‘what do you want with her?’”
Secondly, he spoke to a Samaritan. Common Jewish thought and law was that the Samaritans were a people to be avoided and any encounter with one would make the Jewish person ‘unclean’.
The Jews and Samaritans had a very long and complicated history between them. They were very distantly related: the Samaritans were descended from the northern tribes of Israel and Judah remained as the southern tribes. However, over centuries the Samaritans had become their own nation and warred with the descendants of the southern tribes of Israel. They had also intermarried and assimilated with foreign nations and foreign idols. As a result, those Samaritans that clung to their Hebrew faith and long history had different customs, traditions and views about the scriptures than their ‘southern’ neighbors. Such differences, and the history between them, created feelings of prejudice and contempt, thus why the Jews treated the Samaritans as ‘unclean’. (Unclean in the Biblical sense meaning dirty, evil, and causing impurity which required ceremonial cleansing at the the temple.)
Understanding this, can you imagine the surprise the Samaritan woman at the well would have felt when Jesus spoke to her?
How much more surprised would she have been when this stranger spoke to her in such a respectful and intelligent manner? They even discussed theology at the highest degree and it profoundly affected her.
A major difference between the shared faith of the Jews and Samaritans is their understanding as to where the Lord’s Temple should be. The Jews believed God chose the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Samaritans believed it to be Mount Gerizem in Samaria.
The woman questions Jesus, desiring to know which belief is correct. His answer is clear and it changes her perceptions of the two belief systems. It also reveals to her God’s ultimate plan for equality and acceptance for all peoples. It is a startling revelation to her, filled with promise and hope. For within it, the woman recognizes Jesus’ call for her to walk free from her failings and come to God as she is, for her future and the future of those around her can belong to God.
Jesus said, “Believe me dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem…But the time is coming – indeed it is here now – when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship that way.”
Notice how Jesus doesn’t say that the Father is looking for those with perfect lives to worship him? Instead, Jesus found a person so affected by failure, he asked if that person would like to receive the gift of life that would allow that person to worship God in humility and fullness. That gift is the gift of grace.
In grace, God can redeem all our failures and mold us into the person he created us to be…if we let him.
Onwards, to new beginnings.
Thank you for reading.
May you have a happy and restoring Easter.