“As vapor rose through the clouds and began to condense, it deposited its moisture on tiny bits of airborne debris, ranging from submicroscopic … nuclei to pollen, spider webs, volcanic ash, steamship exhaust, Saharan dust, even the pulverized ferrous salts of meteors disintegrated in the atmosphere.”
In his book Isaac’s Storm, Erik Larson describes the formation of the hurricane that devastated Galveston, TX, in September, 1900 – killing some 8,000 people and with a swipe of its fist destroying Galveston’s hopes for a golden future. Submicroscopic nuclei, pollen, spider webs, volcanic ash, steamship exhaust, Saharan dust and pulverized ferrous salts of meteors disintegrated in the atmosphere. Seemingly unrelated objects – “airborne debris” – as Larson calls it, swirling together and building on each other to produce the deadliest natural disaster in our country’s history.
“Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman … .”
A woman! Heaven forfend!
We may not have been surprised if John had said that the disciples were astonished that Jesus was speaking to a Samaritan. We know that the Jews and the Samaritans were fierce tribal enemies. But the disciples’ astonishment had a much more specific mark — Jesus was talking to a woman. A person who in the eyes of her culture was of low account, low importance. The juxtaposition of Jesus – their leader – and this woman must have been startling indeed. In the disciples’ minds, these two people didn’t belong together – they were disparate.
Years ago, my parents went to Daddy’s 50th reunion celebrating his University of Kansas class graduation. When they went to the banquet, Daddy noticed that many people were sitting with the same people, in the same cliques they had had in school. Daddy turned to Mother and asked: “So how long is this going to go on?”
What about us? Have we at times done that? Gone to school, to professional events, to church and looked around to see where we want to sit. Looking for others who would boost our seeming importance simply by our being at the table with them.
Janet Hagberg, in her work Real Power: Stages of Personal Power in Organizations, analyzes the evolution of personal power. She calls one stage “power by association.” Sometimes we approach decisions about where we want to be seen, with whom we want to be seen based – at least unconsciously — on where we will come across to others as important.
When airborne debris results in a hurricane, the destruction is often deadly and massive, obviously. But Jesus released a different kind of force when he spent time with the woman at the well. Jesus found her important enough to talk with her for some time and to share with her the news of all news in the history of the world. Their encounter set free a force for good. The woman came to know Jesus for who he is, and she spread that good news throughout her town. The coming together of these seemingly disparate people created a force that changed the lives of all those in the surrounding area and ultimately our own lives.
And with God’s help, we can do that, too. When God brings us together with another person who doesn’t appear to be in our socio-economic realm, who doesn’t seem to be our intellectual peer, from whom we are not likely to gain power, God can help us to embrace that person, spend time with that person and watch as the airborne debris of our lives takes off and washes the world clean with fresh love.