How did Jesus talk to ordinary people?
John 4:25–26 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
Water. Where it’s plentiful, we tend to take it for granted, like air. We linger in the shower, hose down a dusty driveway, let a sprinkler spurt for hours to keep the lawn green.
Not so in the desert, where even plants hoard water with bristly defenses. There, water takes on a mythical aura. Taunting mirages of pools and streams dance in the heat waves. A craving for water crowds out all other thoughts, and one spoonful, on a parched tongue, is worth gold.
To a woman in a dry land who spent part of each day hauling clay jugs to and from a well, water was the most powerful symbol imaginable. Little wonder that when Jesus offered “living water” that would never run dry (John 4:10,14), the Samaritan woman paid attention.
Profoundly Simple Words
A simple word or phrase with a profound meaning: That is the style of Jesus’ teaching as presented in John. No Biblical author used simpler, more commonplace words: water, world, light, life, birth, love, truth. Yet John used them with such depth that hundreds of authors since have tried to plumb their meaning.
Reading John is like sitting in a canoe in the middle of a deep, pristine lake. The clarity of the water reveals everything under the surface—you think. Yet, as you gaze deeper, you can never see the bottom. Something always remains hidden.
Those who look for a neat scheme of organization in John usually fail. John’s Gospel omits many of the events recorded in Mark, most of the long public speeches of Matthew and all of the parables of Luke. Its teaching emerges mainly through Jesus’ intimate encounters with diverse people.
Listening in on Private Conversations
Jesus uttered some of his most memorable sayings in the midst of very ordinary conversations. The book of John rarely shows him speaking to large crowds. Instead, we see Jesus meeting secretly with a nervous religious leader (see John 3:1–21) or talking with a promiscuous woman (see John 4:5–26) beside a well. Both visitors carried away simple-yet-profound images (a second birth, living water), and today we recall those words as among the most familiar in all the Bible.
John paints close-ups of individuals who responded to Jesus on Earth. Some followed him courageously, others remained skeptical and still others reacted with hostility. Often, John reports, people simply did not understand, despite Jesus’ use of visual images. In short, response to the Son of God on Earth nearly 2,000 years ago bears a striking resemblance to the world’s response to him now.
Imagine yourself in a private conversation with Jesus, much like the Samaritan woman’s. What would you want to talk about?