“I can see that you are a prophet”. John 4:19
Can you think of anyone now who will give a straight answer to a difficult question? Think of the interviews you have seen on the television news or heard on the radio. Time and again people will be asked for a straightforward answer, “yes” or “no”, and they will avoid the question completely. There are times when there is a temptation to shout at the radio in the mornings. The interviewer will ask something and the answer will go along the lines, ‘Well, I think the question we should be asking is this, and then the person being interviewed will talk about something completely different. Even church authorities are good at answering questions they weren’t asked.
Before one becomes too cynical about political leaders, it is important to realise that this tendency to avoid questions is nothing new. In Bible times the human tendency not to accept responsibility for things was every bit as strong. Look at what the Samaritan woman did when faced with a difficult question. Watch what happens when she is challenged by a matter that makes her feel very uncomfortable:
Jesus told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
Now watch what happens:
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
An evasion worthy of a Government spokesman. She is in a difficult corner, so shifts the discussion onto different ground. Jesus discusses the question of worship with her, but then the thread of the conversation is lost. The story continues, “Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?’
What other words passed between them? Saint John doesn’t elucidate. What can be assumed is that Jesus shifted the questions back to difficult matters and didn’t give the woman a second chance to avoid the challenge because there is an immediate change in the woman. The story continues, “Then, leaving her water jar, 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?”’
Confronted with the truth, the Samaritan woman, like modern politicians, sought to shift attention to other matters. How like her are people now? She knew the truth about herself, and each of person knows the truth about themselves, and yet people pretend that God doesn’t know. People pretend that they can say one thing and do another. What sort of faith is it if it is a faith that says God can be fooled?
“I can see you are a prophet,” says the woman, and, having said that, she tries to move the discussion away from herself. Had she thought seriously about what she meant when she said Jesus was a prophet? Did she seriously think her ruse was going to work?
How often are people like her? People hear the Scripture readings Sunday by Sunday, and there are times that they make them uncomfortable. There are times when people would rather not hear what God is saying. Then they stand and say the Creed and the prayers, and sometimes, maybe too often, they are like that woman. She declared her belief in Jesus, people declare their belief in God, but inside they want the awkward questions to go away.
The difficult questions don’t go away. The questions about how life is lived; the questions about what of their lives people give to God, if what is offered God is not something that makes brings joy, then maybe not enough is being given; the questions of what people try to hide, thinking that God doesn’t know—the questions remain. One can go home and go back to one’s own life and think that by avoiding questions they will go away.
The woman’s response is very different. She leaves her water jar, for a moment she sets aside the things of everyday life, and she goes off, obviously filled with joy, to tell her community about this Jesus.
Despite her evasions, despite her attempts to avoid the hard questions of Jesus, the woman faces the truth and her life is changed. Dare people allow this to happen in their own lives? Or are they like the politicians who think that avoiding questions is convincing?
At the end of the story, the woman is able to sincerely declare her faith in Jesus. When people declare faith, can they do so with complete sincerity? If they can’t, then it’s time they started looking at the difficult questions.