By: Janet Mendenhall
We are creatures of comfort. Our bodies want to be comfortable: air conditioning, beds and pillows that note and remember our sleep habits, fabrics that wick moisture away, cars with seats that massage and conform to our bodies, shoes filled with gel.
I remember when it became popular for young folks to exclaim, “Awkward!” at, well, awkward moments in their lives. Perhaps naming it before someone else could name it for them took some of the sting out of the discomfort of the moment. We do not like awkward encounters, moments, or conversations, and generally go out of our way to avoid even the slightest chance of them. We do not like being uncomfortable.
We can purchase our way into complete physical comfort. And, unfortunately, it is almost as easy to ensure our social comfort. We do this by avoiding people who make us uncomfortable: people with different backgrounds, values, ideas, beliefs, even skin. We have become good at separating ourselves from folks not like us. We can move to the other side of town, not go to “those” schools, not play at that park, not go to that church, not shop at that store, not go to their party.
We have convinced ourselves we deserve to be comfortable. Advertisers have added their persuasive pitches. We have shared our secrets to coziness, lulling one another into a comfortable stupor. Even the church has often validated our quests for individual comfort: homogenous Sunday School classes, traditional or contemporary services, and separate outreach ministries.
I don’t see Jesus seeking comfort. Instead I see: catnaps in capsizing boats, tables of tax collectors, parties with prostitutes, challenges from church leaders.
And a well-side chat with a Samaritan woman.
His encounter knocks me out of my carefully constructed comfort zone.
Jews and Samaritans were not on cordial terms to say the least. There was much animosity and disagreement in religious thought. Jews, as the apostle states, had no dealings with Samaritans. None. And she was a woman. Jewish men did not speak to women in public.
And so Jesus greets this Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob. Awkward. Perhaps. But we can learn three helpful hints from Jesus for finding comfort in an uncomfortable encounter
Potential discomfort one: He is tired and thirsty and has nothing with which to draw water and so he asks the woman for a drink.
Hint one: When encountering folks who are different from you, perhaps marginalized and maybe even skeptical of you, acknowledge your own weakness and appeal to their strengths. Jesus was thirsty and needed her help.
Potential discomfort two: After Jesus reveals what can only be supernatural knowledge of this woman’s past and current life, she supposes Jesus to be a prophet and poses a theological question regarding the distinction between the worship of the Samaritans and the Jews. Jesus acknowledges the difference, but quickly moves toward language that is inclusive and inviting and focuses on a new reality regarding a unified worship.
Hint two: It is fine and even helpful to acknowledge differences, but it is better to move quickly to areas of common ground and the hope of a spirit of unity.
Potential discomfort three: The woman believed when Jesus revealed his identity as the anticipated Messiah and hurried to tell the folks in her town. They came to Jesus and asked him to stay with them. He stayed for two days and shared his heart with them. Many heard and believed in him.
Hint three: Don’t hit and run. Stay and arrange more conversations. Get to know them. Build a relationship. Share your heartfelt words of truth.
Are you a creature of comfort? Before you plump up your pillows and plop on your Posturepedic, take a water break and have an uncomfortable conversation or two. It might be the most refreshing thing you do.