When I think of Billy Graham, this is what I think about. His voice can immediately bring me back to my 7 year old self, and the joy I felt in being able to publicly say how much I loved Jesus and knowing how much He loved me. To be clear, it is Jesus who is the focus of those memories, Billy Graham was the vehicle by which I got there. Do I agree with everything Billy Graham had ever said or written. No, but then I don't agree 100% with anyone. I actually don't agree with God 100%, either. He is still working with me on that. I struggle and rail and argue, and He patiently, oh so patiently, teaches and guides.
Was Billy Graham perfect? Oh, for Heaven's sake, no. He was human. None of us is perfect. We cannot be. As human, we our prideful and short-sighted and selfish. We think we know more than we do. We think we are better than other people. We think we are right more often than not. And since we are human, we are mostly wrong. Every single one of us. Even those among us who achieve fame. If we think Billy Graham was supposed to be perfect because he proclaimed the salvation of Jesus, we are mistaking the message for the messenger.
In the past two days, I have come across references to the story of the woman at the well three of four times in completely different instances. When a seeming coincidence like this happens, I have learned to sit up and take notice, because more often than not, there is something there that I am to take notice of. I wondered, though, why this particular story? It's one I am very familiar with, but the story was not feeling particularly pertinent to what was going on in my life at the moment. So I sat with it for a while.
I have an extremely wide and varied readership, so some of you might not know the story. (If you want the real Scriptural version, rather than my admittedly idiosyncratic retelling, you can find it in John 4.)
Rather early in Jesus' ministry, Jesus and His disciples were up in Galilee, and people were being baptized. The pharisees (the religious rulers) heard about this, and were probably starting to cause a stir, so Jesus decided to head back down to Jerusalem in order to talk with them. To go from Galilee to Jerusalem, meant traveling through Samaria, which lay between them. [The Samaritans, while having Jewish roots, were separate from the Jews. They saw themselves as the practitioners of the true Jewish religion as opposed to a compromised religion which was brought back with the Jewish remnant after their return from exile. The Jews did not see this quite the same way, and saw the Samaritans as worshiping the wrong god at the wrong place. It would be accurate to say that they didn't really care for each other at all, even though they shared the same roots.] It was midday, and Jesus and His disciples stopped to rest and eat some food. While Jesus' disciples were off in the nearby town buying food, Jesus goes to Jacob's well to get a drink. At the well He meets a Samaritan woman there to get water. [Sorry, another aside. It is usually assumed that since this woman was gathering water in the middle of the day, when no one else was, that she was a shunned and looked down upon member of her society. Since she was also a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that, it would be extremely unlikely and unusual for a Jewish rabbi to even notice, much less speak to her.] Jesus asks the woman for a drink of water. She is surprised, and asks why He is even talking to her. Jesus replies with a seeming non-sequitur, about living water. After some back and forth, Jesus tells the woman some truths about her past and her present, and ultimately says that He is the Messiah. The woman is surprised and amazed and excited. She goes off to tell the village about who she has met, and ultimately many of the Samaritans come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, because of the woman's testimony.
I realize that many of you might be feeling as though I'm playing the bloggy version of the old Sesame Street game of, 'One of these things is not like the other,' with the story of the woman at the well being the thing that doesn't match in a post that seems to have started out telling you some of my spiritual journey to Jesus at a Billy Graham crusade. Bear with me, I promise to tie it all together.
There are some days that I feel as though the internet is powered by logical fallacies. Facebook should probably just admit what is already reality and create a tag line: Facebook, brought to you by Ad Hominem errors. If you are not up on your logical fallacies, Ad Hominem errors are those that attack the speaker rather than the argument itself. I hate to break it to you, but an argument or line of reasoning can actually be true even if you do not like the person saying it. With that in mind, let's go back to that idea that no human is perfect.
The Samaritan woman wasn't perfect. She was far from it, in fact. There was every reason in the world for no one to pay attention to her. Yet, they did. Billy Graham was not perfect. There are plenty of commentators this week who are rather gleefully pointing out how imperfect he was. Yet many, many people heard about Jesus from him, and let Jesus change their lives. I am not perfect; far from it in fact. Yet I hope that I have enough humility that you can see, if even faintly, how amazing Jesus is.
This is the upside down way, once again, that Jesus works. Jesus, was perfect. If you are looking for perfection, then this is where you need to look. Yet, at the same time, Jesus was also human. He got tired and hungry. He wept. He showed righteous anger. He loved. Oh, how He loved. He loved so much that He was willing to not only notice an outcast Samaritan woman at a well, but He engaged her in conversation. In doing so, He crossed ethnic/cultural boundaries, gender boundaries, and boundaries of sexual sin. (Kind of the outcast triumvirate, right there, huh?) He revealed He was the Messiah, the savior to her. He changed her, and then allowed her, even in all her imperfection to share the good news about Him.
Jesus does that not only for those people back in first century Palestine, but because He is still alive, He does this today. Jesus is still in the business of changing lives. He knows you are not perfect. He knows the burdens you have loaded yourself down with... past mistakes, regrets, errors, imperfections, failures, loss of temper, cruelty, addiction, laziness, selfishness, greed, harshness, self-righteousness, bigotry... the list is possibly endless, isn't it? And yet, Jesus loves you anyway. He is willing to lift those burdens, the burdens far too numerous and painful to name, much less admit to, and take them all onto His shoulders. He wants to free you from them. Jesus wants you to love Him, too. To give Him a chance to let you experience His love, to give you hope, to begin to change you from the inside out, slowly over time.
Does that mean that Jesus' followers are perfect? Not by any means. We are all still works in progress. The difference is that we have hope that one day, we will really be like Jesus. Known for our outrageous love.