30. Gentle Prophet

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 30 : Jesus, the Gentle Prophet

Jn 4:16-19      He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied.  Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.

There is the well-known instruction, Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Lk 6:31)   It’s well known because it is often quoted and also because it’s acceptable to most people.  Why is it acceptable to most people? It is acceptable to most people because they like its sentiment. We want other to treat us well and so we see that as a good standard for behaviour generally. The apostle Paul when he was teaching the Corinthian church said,everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort (1 Cor 14:3). In other words, anyone who is bringing a word to individuals from God will be speaking with the aim of strengthening, encouraging and comforting. “Ah, but what about correcting and rebuking,” says my legalistic friend. “Surely the word of God is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’(2 Tim 3:16). Exactly, but watch how Jesus does it.

Jesus knows this woman as he knows every person he encounters. He knows what her state in life is. Does he chide her? Does he rebuke her?  No, he tells her to do something that provokes her to speak the truth about herself. She starts facing herself by Jesus’ seemingly innocent instruction. Once she acknowledges her basic state, Jesus ‘fills in the gaps’ and speaks detail into her life, and concludes with the disarming words, What you have just said is quite true.” He isn’t having a go at her, and so she doesn’t act defensively.  Is his main intention to convict her of her sub-standard life and bring her to repentance? Yes and no!  Ultimately he does want her to face the truth about herself because he knew that, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:32), i.e. facing the truth about ourselves is the first step towards salvation.  However, he has a greater desire, for her to realize who he really is.  When we realize who Jesus is and come to him, everything else (including our past sub-standard lives) falls into place.

What was the end result of Jesus words?  The woman went away full of the encounter and wanting others to come and meet Jesus. Without any doubt she was strengthened, encouraged and comforted. Her encounter with Jesus had not left her feeling thoroughly embarrassed, exposed or got into a corner. Oh no, to the contrary, it has had a remarkably liberating effect upon her.  And how had that happened?  She had encountered a gentle prophet!

How often do we or others feel we have to put others’ lives right? That’s not the call of the Gospel; it is to introduce them to Jesus so that he can put their lives right! How do we share the Gospel?  I know when I was a young Christian I was in ‘attacking mode’ and I know there are still many people who do that, but Jesus comes to each individual with respect, and care and concern for them. He allowed this Samaritan woman to speak about something of her situation and then he showed he knew all about it, but without condemning her. The result was that she felt good and her life was changed.  That’s how Jesus comes to each one of us. Yes he comes to confront but he does it in such a gentle way we sometimes hardly realize that’s what he is doing, until we find ourselves confessing our state to him. Can we be like him?

42. No Escape

Meditations in Job : 42.  No Escape

Job 16:6 Yet if I speak, my pain is not relieved; and if I refrain, it does not go away

Within the various ‘speeches’ in the book of Job, we find various themes or refrains being repeated. It’s a big book with many words, so it is indeed helpful to be reminded from time to time the same things. Job has just been expressing what he feels about his friends but now he moves on to express again something of the sense of hopelessness that he feels, locked in to what is happening to him, unable to do anything about it.

This sense of helplessness is common to sinful mankind living in this fallen world. In its simplest form we find it when we go to the doctor and he tells us that we have ‘a virus’ and so all we can do is go away and rest. We can’t just get rid of it. We may try and suppress the common cold, but we are stuck with it until it works its way out. We break an arm, say, and we are stuck with a plaster caste until it heals up, and that takes weeks! We give way to some wrong act and are caught. Now there is the process of law which grinds on. We wish we could turn back the clock so that it had never happened but we can’t and so we are stuck with it. Then there are the prisons of living in a deteriorating body or a body that just doesn’t function fully or properly. There are the prisons of addiction and we wish we had never started down this path, but now we are trapped in this prison. Or there is the prison of simple poverty or debt and we can see no way out. As we look on these things, we realise that, humanly speaking, there seems no way out.

Job clearly felt like this.  Yet if I speak, my pain is not relieved; and if I refrain, it does not go away.” (v.6). Whatever he says does nothing to relieve him of his pain and if he stays quiet, it is still there. He feels utterly exhausted and there is nothing he can do to change it: “Surely, O God, you have worn me out; you have devastated my entire household.” (v.7). It has affected the whole of his life and so there is nowhere to turn for respite. How terrible it is when families are split up and you find yourself in devastating circumstances when you really need the comfort of the family, but there is no one there for you! How many children in the West today are with only one parent and feel bereft when the trials of life hit and they long for the other one to be there for them.

He declares this is the work of God, which in some senses makes it worse for there is no escape from His divine, sovereign will: “You have bound me–and it has become a witness; my gauntness rises up and testifies against me.” (v.8) You have bound me! This is no accident of life; this is a sovereign work of God. Bound? Tied up in this situation so there is no escape. It has become a witness? The fact that he is locked into this position of suffering, unable to do anything about it, suggests that all it not right in his life. His friends suggest it is because of sin.  My gauntness rises up and testifies against me! His obvious appearance speaks volumes.

He continues: “God assails me and tears me in his anger and gnashes his teeth at me; my opponent fastens on me his piercing eyes.” (v.9) He feels that God is angry with him and is tearing him to shreds, and is glaring at him. The result of the Lord’s activity, he says, is that, “Men open their mouths to jeer at me; they strike my cheek in scorn and unite together against me.” (v.10) He is a laughing stock, he says, and everyone says the same thing.  He is sure that this is God’s work: God has turned me over to evil men and thrown me into the clutches of the wicked.” (v.11) When God moves it has practical outworkings in our everyday lives. God has given Job over to others it appears. He further describes what he feels: “All was well with me, but he shattered me; he seized me by the neck and crushed me. He has made me his target; his archers surround me. Without pity, he pierces my kidneys and spills my gall on the ground. Again and again he bursts upon me; he rushes at me like a warrior.” (v.12-14) His life had been fine until God moved against him and like a wrestler threw him down, or like an archer pierced him with many arrows. It seems like He comes at him again and again in a whole variety of ways.

Now this is certainly not the most enlightening of Scripture but it does reveal the sense of awful, almost fatalistic, inability to escape from these apparent attacks from the enemy. This suffering of Job is not merely like having a headache; he is covered with sores, you may remember, is in immense discomfort and pain, looks terrible and is the scorn of all who pass by and see him. It is a reminder to those of us who may have friends who are going through hard times, not expect them to “snap out of it”. It is quite likely that they just can’t do that! They feel totally unable and whatever victorious viewpoint we have arrived at in our Christian lives, THEY may not be in the same place, so ‘praising the Lord’ or whatever other medicine you use, may be just be outside their reach at the moment; later on they may be ready to receive help and climb out of the slough of despair, but for this moment, they may be stuck there and just need your comforting presence.

I like the story I once heard on a well known TV series in the past: a man was walking down the street at dusk when he fell into a very deep hole left by the road workers. He cried out for help but there was no one there. A little time passed and he heard footsteps. A doctor arrived and peered down at him. He scribbled on a small pad and threw down a prescription and walked off. The man felt utterly alone. Just then he heard more footsteps and a Rabbi peered over the edge of the hole. “Rabbi, pleased help pull me out of the hole,” the man cried. “My son, the hole is too deep,” the Rabbi replied, “I will go away and pray for you.” And with that he left. Time passed and he heard more footsteps. To his delight, when he looked up the man saw his friend, Joe, peering down. “Joe, help me out,” the man cried. Suddenly the opening of the hole was darkened as Joe jumped in. “Joe, what are you doing? Now we’re both down here?” the man asked. “It’s all right,” said Joe, “I’ve been down here before. I know how to get out.”

It’s not smart or even critical words we need when we’re ‘in a hole’, it’s loving friendship, that understands and accepts. If only Job had received that!