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Defining Reality

Have you ever noticed how some people seem to live with a clear sense of reality, and a few who, well, seem to live a surreal world? The one who has defined reality can live with confidence, purpose, and clarity. Unfortunately, the people who live outside of reality tend to find themselves confused, in denial, and often in conflict… primarily with themself!

John 4:1-26 (Click on the link the see scripture) is a story that is often used to model how to engage in sharing our faith, and it certainly provides some excellent insight into this. The story is commonly termed "The Woman at the Well." As I have been reading it recently, I have noticed that perhaps it has another insight for us, as it contrasts two people who live with a different sense of reality.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the one who is living with a keen sense of reality is Jesus. We see from the introduction to the story that he is crystal clear on what He needs to be doing and how he needs to be doing it. We read (vs1) that the Pharisees are trying to stir up a petty dispute between Jesus and John the Baptist about who has the most converts. Jesus isn't interested in the silly, petty games – he is clear on the reality of what he has to do – and so prepares to head for Galilee. The route that Jesus took from Judea to Galilee was 'as the crow fly's, yet it was a route that was unusual for a Jew to take… because it meant going through Samaria. The hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans was that most Jews would travel around Samaria – adding days to their travel time – to avoid putting a foot in Samaria. Jesus didn't care about these prejudices; he was clear that his reality was to expand the kingdom further and that there were people in Samaria who needed to know the Messiah. Jesus lives, thinks, and travels with a clear sense of reality. He soon meets someone who doesn't – a woman whose name we do not know.

While we don't know her name, we do know that she is perplexed and probably very hurt. Her pain was presumably caused by some poor choices that have had repeatedly debilitating consequences. There are four things about this woman's story that suggest that she is not living in reality.

1. She has misplaced priorities (Vs. 9). As Jesus was able to focus on primary things, she was caught up with secondary issues that would never allow her to grasp a keen sense of reality. Amid the midday heat, a bucket-less Jesus is thirsting for someone to pull some water from the well. Rather than helping him and meeting this need, this lady focuses on religious and gender-specific differences (vs9). I have experienced that when we focus on petty differences that separate, we are never clearly able to deal with and respond to reality.

2. She was ignorant of spiritual reality (Vs. 11). Just because we don't know about something doesn't mean it isn't real. Nobody knows what they don't know… and our best hope is to admit that we don't know much. Unfortunately, the lady isn't able to do this. The lady entirely misunderstands Jesus' offer of the beautiful gift of eternal life because of her ignorance of the beautiful and profound invitation that Jesus is making. Jesus offers her everlasting life in heaven, where she can be full and healed and whole, but she initially misses out because she can't understand what he is talking about. While knowledge is certainly not the answer to all our problems, remaining ignorant gives us little chance of responding and reacting well to reality.

3. She wanted a faith that met her convenience needs, not her real needs (Vs. 13-15)
Jesus explains to this lady that relationship with him means she will never thirst again – meaning that once she experiences his grace, she will never crave for the things of the world again. This lady had all kinds of cravings and needs to be met, healed, and forgiven. Still, her only response to Jesus' invitation (to paraphrase) was, "that it would be great if I was never thirsty again, I wouldn't have to make my way in the midday heat to this well again!". She wanted an answer that met her perceived, self-centered needs, perhaps at the expense of meeting her actual needs. If we are primarily focused on having our comfort needs met, we will never engage in reality.

4. She didn't know how to deal with her shame (16)
In response to the lady's answer as to her marital situation, Jesus calls her out. Not in a judgmental way, just with the truth. He lets her know that she has had four husbands and is now involved in another relationship. In verse 19, she acknowledges that Jesus is right but quickly (vs. 20) changes the subject. Why? Perhaps reality was too complicated for her to deal with. She was ashamed, and her shame kept her from reality. How often does this happen to us? We justify, defend, blame when we need to own up and confess. Forgiveness means that shame need not prevent us from entering into reality.

Despite wrestling with God about the reality of the Messiah who stood right in front of her, this lady ultimately submitted to the reality that Jesus was the Messiah. She soon brought many from her town to faith in Christ. I suspect that she spent the rest of her life living in the reality that only Jesus can define for us. How about you? – How are you dealing with reality? Are you wrestling with it? Do you deny it, or are you living within it, pursuing the best plans that God has for you?

Live in reality.

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