Have you ever been so engrossed in what you were doing that you forgot to take time to eat?
Tired and hungry, Jesus found a place to rest by a well. While the disciples went into town to pick up some sandwiches, Jesus had a nice little chat with a Samaritan woman — a conversation that ended with Jesus openly declaring himself to be the Messiah.
When the disciples returned, they were shocked to find him talking with…a woman? (John says nothing about their being shocked that he would talk to a Samaritan, as we might expect. But then again, they were in Samaria, and they had just had dealings with Samaritans themselves.) Some believed that a rabbi exposed himself to spiritual danger and public reproach by interacting with women, and thus their dismay.
But they knew better than to say anything about it.
Instead, they urged him to eat. “Here you are, rabbi, a nice lamb and cheese on rye. Eat up. You don’t want to get skinny.”
Cryptically, Jesus responded, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about” (John 4:32, CEB).
There are very different ways to envision how Jesus might have said this. In my imagination, I still tend toward over-spiritualizing. Part of it is because many of Jesus’ metaphors simply aren’t part of my world, which makes his teaching sound more abstract to me than it might have to someone of that time and culture. And part of it is because I simply have an image of Jesus as always serene and unflappable (with the occasional outburst of righteous indignation). It’s easy for me to imagine him responding to the offer of lunch with an other-worldly air of superiority: “Physical food? Oh, yes. Well, I’m above that sort of thing, you know.”
But what if instead, when the disciples tried to hand him a sandwich, Jesus suddenly realized that he had forgotten to eat, slapped his thigh, and burst out laughing? “Wow, is it lunchtime already? Don’t sweat it, guys. I have food you don’t know about.”
The disciples’ response was comic. As had already happened so often in John’s gospel, Jesus was again misunderstood. The Twelve looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders: “What, did someone bring him food already?”
Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi (yes, that’s how you spell it) coined the term “flow” to describe an optimal state of experience in which one often loses track of time. It may be that Jesus was excited and in “flow” because of his conversation with the woman at the well.
What the disciples saw was their rabbi engaged in a questionable activity. But what Jesus saw was a field of souls ready for harvest. “The time is now!” he told his disciples. “Others have done the work of sowing seed: the prophets, even John the Baptist. But I’m sending you out there to join in the harvest. And don’t forget: harvest time is celebration time!” (vss. 35-38).
Jesus’ food was to do God’s work (vs. 34), the work of the harvest. He was genuinely excited and joyful to see how the woman responded to their conversation, to see his Father’s will being done.
And as we’ll see in the next post, she was excited too.