Look Around You

This is the sixteenth message on Jesus’ encounter with the woman at Jacob’s well recorded in John 4. I missed the last two weeks due to work load and may miss again next week  due to travel. I am sorry.

Dear Friends:

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’I sent you out to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor” (Jn 4:31-38).

“There is a time for everything,” said Solomon (Ecc 3:1). For the disciples, it is time to eat.

They’re still missing the point of Jesus. He has just revealed himself to the woman as the Messiah, but they see him as no more than a teacher. . . “Rabbi,” they call him.

They offer friendly blandishments, “Eat something. You have to keep up your strength for the journey.”  People are always urging him to do something, “Save the wedding reception” (Jn 2:3-5); “Give us a sign” (Jn 5:30);  “Make a good showing in Jerusalem” (Jn 7:3-6); “Come home with your family and straighten yourself out” (Mk 3:20-21, 31-32).

His schedule isn’t our schedule for sure. “My hour is not yet come” he tells his mother at the wedding reception. “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here” he tells his brothers who are trying to goad him into a public display of his powers (Jn 7:6). He rebukes those who try to stop him from blessing children (Mk: 10:13-16). He stands still on the road to Jerusalem waiting for a blind beggar to catch up with him while the disciples urge him on (Lk 18:40). He stays two extra days along the Jordan rather than go to the side of his dying friend after he has learned of the illness (Jn 11:6).

The disciples are thinking that they are on a retreat from the stress of ministry in Jerusalem. Jacob’s well is just a rest stop on the road to Capernaum where they will unwind, do a little fishing, and make some plans. Whatever their work with him is leading up to will occur in the future. They think that it’s not only not the time for ministry, but it also isn’t the place and how could a Samaritan woman be worthy of Jesus’ time and attention? They clearly don’t want to think about it, so they say, “Let’s eat.”

Something is energizing Jesus and he doesn’t hide it from them. “I have food that you know nothing about.”

They grope through the dark tunnel of literalism. “Surely no one else has brought him something to eat.”

He makes it plain. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” He isn’t here to line up with our interests. He’s here to line us up with his interests. That’s what it means to be a disciple.

He tells them, “You think that you have work to do and time to do it. Four months from now everything will be ready and you’ll reap the harvest. But I’m telling you the time is right now.

“Look around you,” the grain is ripe and ready to be cut. Quit thinking that you can only harvest what you’ve planted and watered.This is grace that I am talking about. The harvest isn’t dependent on your work. It depends on your willingness to take the opportunity that the Father gives you to introduce the souls that he’s prepared to him.”

This is a lightning bolt of a message in any age. We plan, we prepare, we work hard, and fix a time in the future when it will all come together. We do this personally, we do this professionally, and we do it institutionally. Somehow though the arteries carrying the fresh blood of the Gospel harden and our attention, individually and communally, turns from living to preserving.

This transition is very seductive. “We have to take care of ourselves and keep our strength up,” we say. “We have to eat before we work,” literally as well as figuratively. Then we get together and form an enterprise and say, “We must have a profit margin before we can have a mission.” But inevitably we come to focus more on building strength than expending it. The margin never seems quite large enough for the uncertainties of mission. So we turn to re-paving the parking lot rather than building launching pads, and establishing endowments rather than surrendering all.

We dream and fund-raise to build mega-barns (Lk 12:16-21). Meanwhile sparrows fall while we accumulate pennies (Mt 10:29-31), and the principal of the”the widow’s mite” (Lk 21:1-4) becomes no more than an illustration for offering appeals to other people.

Jesus is going to send the disciples out like lambs among wolves, with no equipment, and no advance planning, and only the peace of fellowship to be their guide. He will tell them, “Don’t be looking around for a better house, better meal, or a better class of people, but stay and bring them healing and the good news that the kingdom of God has shown up in their town and household” (Lk 3:6-11).

But now at the well, he’s telling them “lesson one” in spreading the Good News is to look up from your lunch, your Bible, your bank statement, your retirement plan and even your prayer and see who is around you because that is who needs a Savior now, not four years, or even four months from now.

If we don’t take that “look” to see who around us is ready for “harvest,” then we are no better than the scribes who knew Bethlehem was the place of Jesus’ birth, but made no effort to see for themselves, or the religious scholars who keep spiritual knowledge to themselves, but don’t act on it and keep others from acting on it (Mt 2:1-6; Lk 11:52).

There is an exposition of this in the Letter of James that challenges motivated, organized, “just-get-it-done” types to trust grace, not their good intentions and abilities.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”­ yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for that person it is sin. (Js 4:13-17)

We are to do the right thing for God when it needs to be done instead of  planning out our future with the specificity of “this is what will happen and this is when it will happen.” Rather, we are to submit ourselves completely to God and do what he shows us needs to be done in the moment (Rom 12:1-2). This does not require strength and endurance so much as it requires the discipline of alertness. As Solomon noted, “Again I saw under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor riches to the intelligent, but time, and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time” (Ecc. 9:11-12).

Too many of us spend our time and efforts trying to figure out the specifics of the future and our place in it instead of submitting all things to God and living for him in every moment of our lives. So we are fearful and tentative because of what we don’t know much of the time.

Jesus’ original and unadorned teaching turns us to a different truth that should cause us to look around ourselves and look for opportunities for God everyday in the people who he puts into our lives. “I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, or what you will drink, nor about your body, what will you put on . . . your heavenly Father knows you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have trouble enough on its own. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mt 6:25, 32b-34).

The day may be hot, our throats dry, our feet tired and sore, and the people we’re seeing along out path are neither who we expect or want to see in our human frailty and limited perspectives, but our heavenly Father has other plans and no “write-offs.” Jesus is driving the point home to his disciples that we are only indulging out pride, if our following of Christ is conditioned on expectations of future service and success.

There are no perfect days on earth, or even ideal moments, and the Lord knows that there are no perfect people. What matters is the immediacy of his power and presence in the hearts and actions of surrendered men and women who reach out to give Jesus’ love and hope to those who do not know him or have forgotten.

The entire power of the Gospel is embraced in this statement of Jesus: “Your Father is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:35. Cf Mc 6:8). By its very terms, that statement requires us to look around and do what we can now. Four months from now who knows where we will be, but right now someone needs to know the grace and truth of Jesus so tell them in actions and words if necessary. Another lesson from the well.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,

Kent

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