The definition of treason is the action of betraying someone or something. When my kids were babies and we took them in for their booster shots my wife would leave the room. (Thanks, Honey.) I got the job of holding my children while the nurse poked them with a needle. It was the worst. The look of confusion and then betrayal on their faces as they registered the pain would break my heart. The look screamed even louder than their voices, How could you do this to me? I trusted you!
I call this loving treason. I was doing something they clearly didn’t want, because I loved them. I think God commits loving treason all the time. When God doesn’t follow our plans, or turns out to be different than our conception of Him, or when He allows something painful to happen to us, we can feel betrayed by God. Like He committed treason against us. Which can be especially annoying and confusing because we know how much He loves us.
I find Jesus committing loving treason in the story of the woman at the well. He does so on four levels: cultural norms, tradition and history, personal life, and intimacy with God. Give John 4:4-26 a quick read. Go ahead, I’ll wait. (No, really. Go read it. It’s the Bible—kind of important.)
More than a drink of water
In John 4:7-9 Jesus quietly rejects cultural norms. Male rabbis would never speak to a strange woman, much less become unclean by sharing a drinking vessel. But Jesus rejects both the cultural and religious norms when, as a Jew, he asks to use the same cup a Samaritan was using. This was as scandalous as it would be for your pastor to be seen buying a beer for someone at a local bar. And yet it seems Jesus not only disagreed with the norms that culture and religion tried to impose on Him, He went out of His way to publically break them.
I believe this is still the case. Is there anyone with whom you would be embarrassed to be seen by church members? That is where Jesus would be. What type of person would cause you to raise an eyebrow if you saw them with a church member? That is where Jesus would be asking for a drink.
The label game
What about denominational norms? I don’t think they would escape His rejection. What if Wednesday night came around and instead of going to prayer meeting at your church Jesus went to the large non-denominational church across town for their Wednesday night Bible study? Would it increase your discomfort if you found out He never brought up the Sabbath?
What if “the true church,” which most denominations try to define as themselves, has only one label, one moniker, one designation: the Bride. And what if the Bride includes anyone in love with God? Adventists and Methodists and Episcopalians and Baptists and Muslims and Hindus and…? What if God cares more about the heart than the label?
It is tempting to argue against this suggestion by citing our history and heritage and how we are a called out people. God doesn’t just accept anyone. There is grace but there is also law. Our tradition is of a denomination separated from the masses, a remnant.
Beyond history and tradition
It’s the same argument the woman in John 4 uses with Jesus. She links her history and traditions to Jacob and draws on the importance of this traditional spot, where Jacob and his family drank. By doing this she is asking Jesus if He is greater than her history and tradition. He doesn’t deny the treasured history, but He does make it plain that her history is not as big as His present.
In loving acts of treason Jesus will call us beyond our history and traditions. We call it progressive revelation, moving beyond what we have always known into what may seem new.
Are we holding on to our history so tightly that we can’t see God moving in our present?
Messing with tradition and history is one thing, but then Jesus starts meddling with the woman’s personal life. In verses 16 and 17 Jesus goes right to the heart of her insecurity and hurt by asking her to call her husband.
I don’t think He asked this to make her aware of her sin. I’m guessing she was very well aware of her position. (And the truth was that women couldn’t divorce, only men—so she was much more victim than whore.) The last thing Jesus ever does is pile on more guilt. I suggest He asked her that to expose her greatest need. His truth lays bare the lacking, the pain, the sin, and the need in our lives. Sometimes rather than comfort and soothe, He uncovers and unwraps. Which almost always feels like betrayal.
Imagine how she feels. In the middle of a good theological conversation, just as things are getting hopeful, Jesus brings it crashing down—reminding her of her pain, her rejection, her deepest sense of need. The fear that she isn’t good enough, the ache that won’t go away no matter how many men she has in her life, no matter how many times she tries to make it work. He puts his finger right on the wound. It’s like a 1 – 2 punch followed by a kick to the gut. He knocks her off balance by rejecting her norms, and betraying her traditional expectations. Then when she raises her defenses to protect herself He knocks the wind out of her with a shot right to the gut.
Dangerous yet good
But wait! This isn’t how Jesus would act, right? He isn’t supposed to knock people around. He’s meek and mild and safe. It is Jesus the Lamb who also chooses the title Lion of Judah. I haven’t tangled with a lion before, but lions aren’t tame. They are wild, fierce, and often dangerous. Maybe what Mr. Beaver says of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and Wardrobe is also true of Jesus: “Of course he isn’t safe, but he’s good.”
In his interaction with the woman, as in our lives, He goes even further in His acts of loving treason. In John 4:21 Jesus confronts her intimacy with God. Again, not to destroy it but to strip it down to reveal it so He can deepen it.
According to how I read this story, Jesus seems less concerned about the forms of worship than about Whom we worship.
Four times in two verses He mentions the Father, the object of our worship. He draws the woman’s, and our, attention away from ourselves (and our religious forms) and toward the God whom we are worshiping.
Today, in your church, would Jesus care about the order of service? If the sermon was put first, would He care? Or even if there wasn’t a sermon? Would He care about the place of worship? Would He rather we gather in a church building? A house? Out in nature? Would He want you to spend an hour sitting watching people on stage, or would He suggest something different?
I’m not suggesting that sermons, or order in our services, or music style is bad (or good). I’m just pointing out that God might not be as concerned about these things as we are. Many of these things have been given significance by our preference and choice. And while that does give them value it doesn’t make them holy.
Not a statue
I fear that when we smear our theology on Jesus like plaster, it binds Him in a hard and well-defined shell. There He stands, like a pretty sculpture, all smooth and painted, comforting and safe. Once our understanding of Jesus and the Christian life is established, we tend to ignore or tune out new information that doesn’t fit our model.
And here is the tragedy in all this: there is little that is compelling or interesting or life changing about this beautiful statue of Jesus. His influence and impact on our lives, relationships, and events is shallow and limited. This plaster statue has little to offer us when we face the deep things in life, the hard questions, the pain and struggles.
So where is the good news in all this? Where is the loving part of Jesus’ loving treason? In verse 25 we see the woman standing quietly in front of Jesus. The shock of having her expectations betrayed four times is washing over her. Maybe hurt, at least a little confused, she boldly clings to the idea that there will come a Messiah, a Savior, who will make all this clear and sort all this out. In one short verse, verse 25, Jesus blows apart all the plaster layers in two thunderously powerful words: “I am!”
The loving part of treason
Freed from our smallness, He is big enough to wade into our situations where things don’t make sense. He is strong enough to face and defeat our fears and doubts. He is brave enough to go into the dark places of our lives. He is wild enough to tame our crazy hearts. He is passionate enough to catch our attention and steal our breath.
If the thought of God seems boring or irrelevant to life I say the god you are thinking of is a fake. I don’t believe anyone who had an encounter with Jesus could describe Him by saying “Meh…”
Jesus polarized people, a nation, and then history. He is Messiah—a Savior bigger than our theology and traditions and preferences. He is a God who moves between heaven and earth—and He is still moving today. In our families, our churches, our schools, in acts of loving treason He reminds us that He is I am—not what we were expecting, but exactly what we need.
Author Shayne Daughenbaugh is a youth pastor at the College View Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.