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?