“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
You’ve had those conversations. Well, kind of. They don’t always fit into the category of conversation. To be a conversation there must be two people engaging in a back and forth. But sometimes you just feel like you’ve been talked to. How did it feel? It felt like the other person wanted to talk, to tell you something, but not really to know you. So, you kept an eye on your watch, wondering how much longer this would go on. It’s amazing how exhausting those talks, and relationships, can be.
And then there are other conversations. True conversations. You’ve had times when you know you’ve engaged with someone else, and they have engaged with you. There has been no time clock, no sense of urgency, only lingering in conversation with a friend…one who is interested, and interesting.
Conversation can be draining. Or, it can be life giving, even when the subject matter is difficult, maybe especially when the subject matter is difficult. Conversing with someone who cares can be one of the most emotionally freeing, burden lifting exercises we can experience. Yet, we don’t go deep unless the person we are conversing with is worthy of the investment.
A FLY ON THE WALL
In John chapter 4, we get the opportunity to be a fly on the wall (or maybe a fly on the well). There, we see the consummate conversationalist at work. Jesus is traveling northward, from Jerusalem to Galilee. Rather than scooting around Samaria, as most self-respecting Jews would have done, Jesus intentionally entered in to the land of his mixed-breed cousins.
There, in a little town called Sychar, among a lesser people (or so was the predominant thinking among the Jews), Jesus engaged in a conversation with a woman. His disciples would later “marvel” that he was talking to this woman, either because talking to a woman was taboo, or because this woman wasn’t worthy, or likely both. Regardless, Jesus conversed.
As I picture the scene, I imagine Jesus with an intent look on his face. I imagine him with a comfortable posture. I imagine him with a willingness to linger in silence. Admittedly, I am filling in some gaps with my imagining, but these aren’t big gaps to fill. In the conversation, Jesus is caring for this woman, pealing back the layers of her story.
My point in all of this is not to give (or receive) a lesson in how to be a better conversationalist. No, I am more interested in the picture this conversation paints of the personhood of Jesus. And, I believe the way he engaged in conversation tells us much about the kind of person he is.
By the very nature of his engaging the woman, we see that he is a respecter of persons. In speaking to the woman, and asking something of her, he was bestowing on her a sense of dignity. This simply wasn’t done in those days. Jews didn’t talk to Samaritans. Nor did men publicly talk to women, not to mention this kind of woman.
So Jesus speaks, but he does more. He listens. He is inviting conversation. He is drawing her out. He is leading. And through it all, he is patient. This woman has something to hide. Why else would she come to the well in the heat of the day, longer after the rest of the women of the town would have finished fetching water? She had a past.
You sense her hiding as she darts through the conversation, changing the subject matter. But Jesus is nimble. He senses she is signaling something deeper, so he listens. In his listening, he asks, and directs, in revealing ways. When he sends her to get her husband, he is challenging without condemning.
In response she redirects again, talking about places of worship (a very modern way to avoid the deeper subject of the heart). And again, Jesus is nimble, staying with her in conversation while not losing sight of her heart. Through it all, she is the one who finally brings the conversation around to the Messiah. At that, Jesus simply responds, “I who speak to you am he.”
He doesn’t respond by sitting her down to teach her about the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement, and the doctrine of the Trinity, as beautiful and life giving as these truths are. No. Instead, he simply reveals his personhood.
THE IMPACT OF REAL CONVERSATION
Jesus hasn’t forced anything in this conversation. He has given the woman time. He has truly listened to her. So what was the impact of this conversation on her? She felt KNOWN. And in being known, she came to KNOW. Just listen to her evangelistic proclamation in verse 29, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” What a powerful thing to be known! It was so powerful that the people of the town came to believe because of her testimony (verse 39).
That was the impact of the conversation on the woman at the well, and on the people of her town. But I ask myself about the impact this conversation has on me (and maybe on you). I began this journey through John, not to pick apart every Greek word, or even to understand and explain the meaning of every verse. Instead, I came looking for the person of Jesus. And, he continues to speak.
In John 4, when I simply slow down and listen for the person of Jesus, I find the consummate conversationalist. As I continue to listen, I am reminded that this Jesus is still the consummate conversationalist. He is the same person. He is unhurried with me. He is penetrating in his knowledge of me. He draws me out. He peels back the layers. In short, he KNOWS me. And like the woman at the well, this is the kind of person I want to KNOW in return.
Jesus taught much about why he came, what he did, and how he is calling me to live in response. I need those truths as well. So do you. But with the woman at the well, he simply revealed himself. For me, for a moment, I will simply rest there. Maybe we could rest together, simply KNOWING the person of Jesus.