In the Office: Missed Opportunities?

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” (John 4:27)

These words come from the well-known gospel story of “Jesus and the Woman at the Well” (John 4). Perhaps you know it. Jesus has stopped to rest by a well in the Samaritan town of Sychar. A woman from the town comes to draw water in the heat of the day, and Jesus – in a way that defies social protocols – engages her in a conversation that leads to a memorable promise (“whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life”) – and to the revelation of his identity as the Messiah.

A devotional I read years ago pointed out that when the woman arrives at the well, Jesus was alone there only because his disciples had gone into the town to buy food (verse 8). It’s not unreasonable to assume, therefore, that they might have passed the woman coming out of town as they went into town to complete their errand. If they did, however, they were either so preoccupied by their task that they failed to notice her – OR – they were so bound by their expectations of who they “should” relate to that they missed an opportunity to engage in ministry that God had placed right in front of them.

Naturally, all this is speculative. And yet, it describes so accurately the manner in which our lives are often lived that it does make me stop and wonder: How many times have I failed to see the opportunities for ministry that God placed right in front of me? How often was I so preoccupied by some task (even a “noble” task – like “doing something for Jesus”) that I simply didn’t notice? How easy is it for me to get so blinded by expectations (either my own – or those of others) that I walk right by people to whom God might want me to reach out?

A new week stretches out in front of us. And almost undoubtedly, the Lord will fill it with opportunities to bless others. May we have the kind of sight (and the kind of compassion) that allows us to see and to respond to those opportunities. And may we discover – as Jesus says in this story – that we are nourished by doing the will of the One who sends us.

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