Summary: The anonymous water-carrier whom Jesus asked Peter and John to watch for is like a sure signpost because he was available for God's purpose, immune to ridicule, and credible.
Takoma Park Baptist Church, Washington, DC March 29, 1987
When you are lost and do not know the way, nothing is as reassuring as a timely and well-placed signpost. You are roiling down the highway and suddenly you come to a place where the sign says, "Road Closed Ahead - Detour". Aside from grumbling a bit about losing time or having to ride over gravel pig paths, you don't worry too much. Surely you won't get lost, surely the road builders know what they are doing and have put up signposts. But as your eyes pick out a little orange arrow to the left, and it says “Detour,” and out oft the corner of your back-seat driver's eye there is spied a little blue arrow to the right, suddenly you get very confused and very frustrated. There's that sinking feeling that you are about to get lost, and all because they didn't think it through and give you good signposts. When you are lost and do not know the way, nothing is as reassuring as a timely and well-placed signpost, pointing the way.
And, in fact, you do not care how beautiful or how flashy these signs are; you just want them to be readable and findable and accurate. You want them to be readable and findable and accurate because you are going to follow them and do what they tell you to do. They tell the story of the famous theater critic, Dorothy Parker, who was given a dingy, obscure, hard-to-find office somewhere in the back halls of the Metropolitan Opera building in New York. Miss Parker discovered that nobody could find her office and that even when they got there they were hesitant about going in because there was no sign on the door. And so Miss Parker solved that problem in a hurry. She called a sign painter and had him come and paint one word in several strategic locations and then repeat that one word on her office door. The one word was "Gentlemen". She had plenty of visitors after that, but they didn't stay long!
I say again, when you are lost and do not know the way, nothing is as reassuring and as important as a timely, well-placed, and accurate signpost. Something is needed to point the way.
For some days now Jesus had been teaching daily in the Temple precincts, attracting great crowds and drawing the attention of the authorities. For him, as he knew, it was just a matter of time until they would move against him. It could not be more than a few days at the most until they would move against him and arrest him. But Jesus did not want this to happen too soon; he had a sense of who we was and how he fit into God's plan, and so he would delay the confrontation until the right moment, until Passover. Passover, you see, was the greatest of the Jewish festivals, for Passover celebrated the mighty acts of a God who had freed his people from slavery. Passover was held to remember that once there were lambs slain at God's command so that their blood might be spread across the doorposts of God's people as a sign to the angel of death: pass over here, pass by here. Passover was the festival which, more than any other, spoke of a God who moved among his people and brought them back from oppression; it spoke of a God who spilled blood, even innocent blood, as the price of redemption. Passover: this Jesus must celebrate with his disciples, in a unique way, an unrepeatable way. This Passover, this year, was to be unlike any other Passover, for, though little did they know it, at this Passover the Lamb of God was to be slain and the work of God to be completed.
And so Jesus, though he taught in the Temple precincts each day, had made it a practice to withdraw at night to the Mount of Olives, as a retreat from the city and as a hideaway of sorts, a place to conceal himself until the right time should come. He knew that to enter the city at nighttime would open himself to an arrest too soon, an arrest before Passover, and that he did not want. And so the drama, the little charade, of today's Scripture reading: in order to get the room ready, in order to give Peter and John time to prepare the meal and see that everything was in place, apparently Jesus set up a signal. We do not know for sure about this, but it seems reasonable; he prearranged a signal: when you see a man carrying a water jar, follow him into the house which he enters, and tell the householder, “The teacher needs the guest room." A strange kind of signpost, but an effective one, a sign which worked; and a signpost you and I can follow too.