Take off your mask
By Alexandra Anderson, July 2019
He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’ ‘I have no husband,’ she replied.
Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.(John 4:16-26).’
Once a year in the beautiful northern town of Venice in Italy in the period before Lent (before Easter in the Christian calendar), the famous ‘Carnevale’ is held. It is a time of great feasting and celebration. During this period people would wear masks so that they could misbehave and do outrageous things without being recognised by anyone. Their identity was protected by their beautiful masks.
Recently I was talking with someone who had just come out of a rehabilitation centre to cure an addiction to alcohol. The person told me that the hardest part of the treatment was not the deprivation of cell phones or home comforts, not missing family and not even not being allowed to drink alcohol. The hardest part for this person was having to be totally honest. Telling the truth about ourselves to others is such a hard thing to do.
We all wear beautiful masks which we hide behind, fearing that if people saw us for what we really are. we would not be accepted or loved. Yet, until we have the courage to take those masks off and allow ourselves to’ be seen’ we can never really know what freedom is. In the Christian tradition we call this confessing our sins. We cannot truly find salvation in Jesus Christ until we face up to our wrong doing and ask for forgiveness. Jesus himself carrying on the cry of John the Baptist preached, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (Matt 4:17). So the first step is to ‘get real’ about who we really are. It is to peel off our masks and be totally honest to God, to others and even to ourselves.
Jesus in this marvelous encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well sees her for what she truly is. She comes to the well at midday because she doesn’t want to see anyone and she doesn’t want to be seen. She is surprised to find a Jewish man sitting there as if waiting for her. Incredibly, he speaks to her and he asks her for a drink.
When he challenges her about her relationships . She tries to dodge the question by talking about religion, about where God is truly to be found on Mount Zion or on Mount Gerizim. It is just a ploy to distract Jesus from the subject that she really wants to avoid.
But Jesus unmasks her. He sees her heart and confronts her, not to humiliate her or to condemn her but to free her. He offers her living water in exchange for the stagnant water she had been living off all these years. Living water that not only washes away all the dirt and grime of her past but that changes every part of her life and makes her a new creation. She is so excited by this encounter that she runs back to her town to face everyone and tell them, leaving her water jar behind in her haste.
I have always seen that water jar as a symbol of all those things we try and use to quench our spiritual thirst. The things we use to avoid facing up to who we really are – relationships, work, excessive exercise, alcohol, drugs, shopping. Things we think will make us complete, hide our hurt and make people like us. What water jars we need to forget about?
Being known and loved and forgiven as we are by God who really sees us, can quench our spiritual thirst in a way that no amount of success or relationships or good work can ever do. This story shows me that in the kingdom of God it turns out that our our greatest sin is also our greatest gift and our greatest teacher. Jesus invites us to take off our masks no matter how beautifully made they are. He offers us living water which will find our 'lowest point' and wash away our sin refreshing every part of our lives and restoring our humanity.