Communicating like Christ
“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.”--John 4:29
There are experiences in our past we’d rather not think about. Moments that, when they return to our mind, cause us to wince, shudder, or maybe even hit ourselves over the head. It could be an unkind word in an intense conversation with a friend or loved one. It could be a mistake at work that damaged our reputation. Or perhaps it is some sin we committed that causes grief when Satan tempts us to despair. Whatever it might be, you wish it were different, you don’t like thinking about it, and you certainly wouldn’t want a stranger to confront you about it.
Our verse is set within the context of Jesus’ conversation with a woman at a well in Samaria. Tired from a long journey, Jesus stopped for a drink amid the midday heat. While he was there, a woman approached to draw water, and he spoke to her. We do not need to go into all the details about the differences between Samaritans and Jews. Suffice it to say these groups didn’t get along so well. For Jesus to talk to her was unexpected, but for him to say what he did was shocking.
In the middle of the conversation Jesus asked the woman to call for her husband. Perhaps with a little bit of blushing and shame she responded, “I have no husband.” “You are right in saying ‘I have no husband,’” Jesus replied. “For you have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband.”
Not only was Jesus talking with a woman his fellow Jews would never have spoken to, he chose to address what was probably the greatest pain in her life. Knowing what was in her heart and understanding her greatest hurt and need, Jesus addressed it head on.
We gather from the text that she was not accepted by her peers as she had to gather water at midday–hours after the women of good social status and standing would go to the well. Failed relationship after failed relationship left her in a place of social ostracization. But Jesus would not leave her there. He would show her there was hope, would demonstrate redemption, and would speak words of new life, all found in him.
After concluding their dialogue, the woman returned to her town and spoke the words of our verse, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
This is truly amazing. Consider that Jesus did not just wrap up a conversation filled with platitudinous, “It’s all ok. Nothing is wrong. You’re the best!” talk. No, he spoke of her sins and regrets, but in such a way that she left filled with joy and hope.
This interaction ought to leave us marveling at the manner in which Jesus communicated with her, for it is how he communicates with us. I’m reminded of the following quote by Dorothy Sayers:
“Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man - there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as "The women, God help us!" or "The ladies, God bless them!"; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no ax to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything "funny" about woman's nature.”
This quote is fitting not just because it helpfully depicts the way Jesus addressed women, but the way Jesus addresses us all. He comes to us freely, takes our concerns seriously, confronts our sins directly, and loves us unconditionally. Truly there has never been another like him. So, let us tell others to come and see.
Rev. Will Stockdale is Ministry to State's Director of D.C. ministry.