The last couple of weeks I’ve had a series of panic-inducing dreams, waking regularly gasping for breath. Some nights I have been trapped in our house, unable to get out. Others, I have an opportunity to pursue something amazing outside of my current life only to find that impediment after impediment presents itself in my path. Every corridor of escape is impossibly narrow and infinitely twisting, pressing in on my flesh as I squeeze through. My progress is blocked by people with artificial smiles pulled tight on their faces trying to appear benign.
My subconscious is not subtle. I feel stuck.
You’ve probably noticed by now that my favorite characters in the Bible are often the most obscure ones. I identify best with them. My life isn’t a Queen Esther life or a Mary, mother of Jesus, life. My life is mostly filled with just a whole lot of ordinary.
I know it sounds just a wee bit melodramatic but sometimes “ordinary” feels like a soul-sucking, sensory-grinding, brain-numbing experience that drains all of the meaning out of existence.
So, you can probably guess who caught my attention when I read this a few days ago in Mark:
On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go to prepare the Passover meal for you?”
So Jesus sent two of them into Jerusalem with these instructions: “As you go into the city, a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you. Follow him. At the house he enters, say to the owner, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ He will take you upstairs to a large room that is already set up. That is where you should prepare our meal.”
It was the guy with the water jug that stood out. Just some man carrying a pitcher of water who appears to have no other purpose in the story than to serve as a vector, practically a human arrow or a road sign, to direct the disciples to the house where the Last Supper will be held. And really, it’s hard to understand how the limited description that Jesus gives his disciples about this man will even lead them to the right place. I mean, what’s so special about a guy carrying some water?
The notes on my Bible offer some clarification on this question by pointing out that it was unusual for a man to be carrying a jug of water. It was considered woman’s work. So then what brought this man to be doing it on that day? Was he a particularly progressive individual who wished to challenge the cultural assumptions of his day? Maybe. I considered that option. I also imagined other possible motives and pondered what his attitude may or may not have been about the work. The Bible doesn’t focus on any of that. All we know was that he was doing it because he was available to do it.
Honestly, I didn’t want to write about the guy with the jug because I couldn’t really decide what I thought. I mean, did it make his life more meaningful that he got to be the one Jesus used to direct the disciples to the upper room? Was his rather small place in this momentous event one that elevated his life to something extraordinary, one worthy of being noted by Jesus? Was it yet another example of God using the least of us to be part of some larger cosmic plan? But I just couldn’t quite get there with the text.
I just kept wondering, would that be enough for me? Could I come to the end of my life and say, “It was all worth it. I was that guy with the jug, that human road sign, that one time.” And all the inevitable pain and boredom and drudgery and despair of human existence on Earth would be made meaningful because of that singular instance? Would his small place in this big story have been enough for me?
The Bible is actually a relatively sparse narrative of what were ultimately universe-altering events and I don’t believe any single word is an accidental inclusion. I really do believe that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training. So what specifically are we supposed to glean from the mention of this man with the jug?
What occurs to me is that this guy with the jug is really just a lot like most other people that God uses. They hadn’t necessarily spent every moment of their lives specifically preparing for this moment and this opportunity. They didn’t have their bags packed with all the best gear or their nets carefully folded away or their dead buried or confirmation that their field or their oxen or their marriage were in just exactly the right condition when they followed his call. They simply made themselves instantaneously available to do whatever God called them to.
I wonder if this man with the jug had just made it a habit to live his life that way. Maybe this one day was exactly like every other day for him and that is why God used him. Maybe he was that guy that when someone said, “We need someone to muck the stalls,” who would shout out, “I can do that!” or “We need someone to go fetch the water.” “I’m available!” And because he was that type of person, Jesus knew that he could be counted on to be in that particular place at that particular time to be used by Him. Probably the best thing he had going for him was not that he was extraordinary or special but that he had shown himself to be available to Him.
I’m not suggesting that we should be the type of person that compulsively and thoughtlessly says “Yes!” to every single person and every single request that comes our way. But I am realizing how different things might be if I actually lived as if all that I am and everything I have is available to be used by God at any given time. Even if nothing I have is extraordinarily special, what if it were just extraordinarily available?
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10