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Truth deepens the value of grace.
In Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, Jesus shows that there is
no part of our self–no matter how dark or unsavory–that his grace is insufficient to redeem.
Their conversation follows an interesting trajectory.
He asks for a drink. She’s surprised he’s even talking to her because Jews and Samaritans
don’t speak, much less a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman. He suggests if she had any idea
to whom she was speaking, she would ask for living water and he would give it to her.
It is well-known that when he uses the words “living water,” she likely took this to mean “running
water.” But he has something different in mind.
Here’s the thing: She says, “Sir, give me this living water…” He had just told her that if she
asked for it, he would give it to her, so whatever he did next must somehow honor this request.
His response to her? “Go, call your husband and come back.”
Jesus’ response to her request for living water was to shine a light on one of the darkest corners
of her life. Her response that she has no husband is met by Jesus pointing out the
uncomfortable truth about her checkered relationship history of five failed marriages.
I doubt that in ancient Semitic culture they had the same idiom that we do about how you
shouldn’t bring up politics or religion in most conversations. Even so, to change the subject, she
brings up both! She describes him as a prophet, then wants to have a conversation about where
it is that people ought to worship, and how their respective people groups interpret things
differently. You know Jesus must have struck a nerve when it felt to her like a conversation
about political and religious disagreements would lighten the mood.
But let’s not hurry off from what Jesus brought up. When she asked for living water that would
address her deepest thirst and help her become like a fountain overflowing with life, Jesus’
starting point was the part of her life for which she must have had the most shame.
In other words, there is no corner of your life so dark that the light of God’s love is insufficient to
Jesus didn’t build up to the hard stuff. Jesus marched straight up to her darkness in the same
boldness with which he one day stepped out of the tomb. It wasn’t too much for him to handle.
God’s grace is so amazing because there aren’t any limits to what it’s capable of healing. In
coming to God, there isn’t any part of you that has to remain off-limits for you to be welcomed
into God’s life. You can approach God truly and authentically because your hard truth doesn’t
overwhelm grace. Your hard truth provides God with an opportunity to show that grace can run
even more deeply than you imagined it could.
Mark Adams is a minister at the Kings Crossing Church of Christ in Corpus Christi, Texas. He
met his wife Carolina while they were students at Harding University. They have one son,
Xoaquin. Mark holds degrees from the Harding School of Theology and the Hazelip School of
Theology. You can follow his blog or podcast at his website: kingdomupgrowth.com.
I think the prevalence of modern artificial light sources in our world sometimes impedes the
richness of what it means to call Jesus “the Light of the world.” Even in 1925, only half of the
homes in the United States had electricity for light. For the vast majority of human history, if you
wanted light in the darkness, you either needed the sun or you needed fire.
Some of the more obvious qualities of fire are rich for application about what it means to know
Jesus. Fire burns hot. While it can be handled safely, there is still a need for great caution in its
use. The light from a flame illuminates what we want to see clearly, but in doing so it may also
reveal what had been kept in darkness intentionally.
Though I have limited knowledge of Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 AD), I have found some of his
insights meaningful about the fire of God’s presence, especially in light of the Lord’s Supper. In
one of his hymns, Ephrem picks up on the familiar story in Isaiah 6 about Isaiah’s dilemma.
Isaiah had a heart for serving God, but was also aware of his unworthiness. Using tongs from
the altar, one of the Seraphim took a burning coal and touched Isaiah’s lips and purify him for
God’s purposes. Ephrem notes:
The Seraph did not touch the coal with his fingers.
It only touched the mouth of Isaiah.
[The Seraph] did not hold it, and [Isaiah] did not eat it.
But to us our Lord has given both.
(Hymns on Faith 10:10)
Apart from that difficult passage in I Corinthians 11, I don’t think I have much thought of
Communion as an inherently dangerous activity. Ephrem would challenge us to consider the
gravity of being able to receive the presence of Christ within us and surviving. What the Seraph
could not touch and what Isaiah could not consume–the presence of God–we consume in the
bread and the wine. Yet what ought to kill us instead invigorates us. It’s a divine mystery!
People will always have an uncomfortable relationship with the revealing effects of intense light.
Jesus indicated that many will prefer darkness for fear of their lives being seen for what they
are. But following Christ means coming into the light, and in so doing, also to become light
As many of us have sung at countless devotionals, we really do want God to light the fire in our
souls. We want to draw from God’s burning passion to seek out those who don’t know him. We
take seriously the sacred task of being God’s messengers, handling the fire of God’s word with
care. We remember our dire need for God’s purifying presence in our lives so we can be
counted worthy of the task. We step out into the darkness, holding the torch of God’s light,
trusting that God will reach those who are yearning for the warmth and clarity that God’s
presence will bring.