A note from Tom: I've had a lot on my plate this semester and have not felt able to complete all my commitments with excellence. Because of that I've decided to take a hiatus from posting until this summer. Many thanks to Andrew and Tucker for graciously allowing me to step back from this commitment for a time, and to our good friend James Henderson for stepping up to join the Contrarians and post regularly on Wednesdays.
Kramer: “Do you ever yearn?”
George: “Yearn? Do I yearn?”
Kramer: “I yearn.”
George: “You yearn?”
Kramer: “Oh yes. Yes, I yearn. Often I … I sit… and yearn. Have you yearned?”
George: “Well, not recently. I craved. I crave all the time, constant craving. But I haven’t yearned."
The 1990s hit sitcom Seinfeld is one of my absolute favorite shows. With no declared goal or discernible story arc, “The Show About Nothing,” is cheerful nihilism at its finest. It is the misadventures of four friends living in New York City whose lives...well, look a lot like yours and mine. While we might arrive at the climax of each episode via some grandiose plot developments, the thrust of each episode is often grounded in the painfully mundane quirks of everyday life. And perhaps this is what makes the show so timeless.
For reasons unbeknownst to myself, this particular exchange between Kramer and George stood out to me. In the midst of Kramer’s seemingly absurd question, George draws a distinction between yearning and craving. “I crave all the time, constant craving. But I haven’t yearned.”
As inhabitants of an overstimulated world characterized by instant gratification, we know what it means to crave all too well. We crave entertainment, food, drink, sex, money, sleep, and affirmation just to name a few. It’s an odd thing if we do anything with these cravings other than immediately satiate them. Of course, none of these cravings are evil in and of themselves, but how often do we let them master us? It’s never long before the pleasure of a satisfied craving goes away and another, louder desire takes its place. And yet, we know that in the silence beneath the cacophony of our cravings, we yearn. And this yearning refuses to be mollified by the cheap distractions we throw at it. That might work in the short-term for the cravings, but not for our yearnings.
In the fourth chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at a well around the hottest part of the day. He asks her for a drink of water, and she puzzles over why a Jew would ask a Samaritan for water because “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” Jesus replies, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
Jesus explains, “Everyone who drinks of this water [the water at the well] will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Excited, the woman asks Jesus to give her this water so that she will never be thirsty again: so that her cravings for water will forever be satisfied.
Jesus seemingly ignores her request and tells her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
The woman slightly stammers as she says, “I… I have no husband.”
It is at this moment that the distinction between this woman’s cravings and her yearnings is made evident. Jesus replies that she is correct in saying that she has no husband because she has had five husbands. Restless and unfulfilled, this woman has hopped from relationship to relationship in an effort to satisfy her deep yearnings, and yet she continues to find herself longing for something more. The more she tries to satisfy her cravings, the more she realizes that those cravings are not what she really desires.
After her conversation with Jesus unfolds and he reveals himself to be the Messiah, she leaves her water jug and hurriedly returns to town. She excitedly tells those whom she encounters, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” For the first time in her life, she encounters the source of the fulfillment of her yearnings. This development affects her so deeply that she forgets about her cravings, hence her abandoning her water jug in her haste to tell others about Christ.
Our Lenten fasts are intended to quiet our cravings and usher us to the feet of Jesus, the one for whom we yearn. As we reach the midpoint of Holy Week, let us make time to sit and yearn for Christ knowing that in him alone we find true satisfaction.