Jesus as the Master Communicator
The most superficial study of Jesus’ conversations throughout the Gospels will verify He is not overly talkative. He is a man of few words, meaning exactly what He says and saying exactly what He means. Jesus always answers questions truthfully. His message of salvation contains no hidden agenda. While He never lies or slants the truth, He depicts Satan as the Father of lies (John 8:44). The Lord’s teachings are always straightforward. He expresses no regret concerning anything He says or does and is never caught off guard. He never apologizes or retracts a single remark. Jesus’ eloquence and fluency are evidenced in both public and private dialogues. His verbal exchanges contain no traces of circumlocution. When He repeats Himself, it is deliberate.
He lacks formal education, yet those He addresses “wonder at the gracious words that come from His mouth” (Luke 4:22). No man ever spoke like this Man, for His word is with power (John 7:46; Luke 4:32). Our Lord is eloquent, daring and original. Unlike the scribes, He teaches as one with God-given authority (Matt. 7:29). To bring divine truth down to earth, His most profound teachings are often embedded in ordinary conversations with women and men. The teachings of Christ are valuable, but it is His permeating character in personal dialogues that make them priceless.
Throughout three years of relentless opposition, Jesus maintains control of every conversation in which He engages. When the Pharisees demand to know the source of His authority, He says He does not have to answer them (Matt. 21:27). As the master communicator, He knows when to speak and when not to speak. If He does not respond to a question or a provocative statement, it is because He choses not to respond. When brought before Herod, He says nothing (Luke 23:9). His silence is a judgment. However, when furious rulers adjure Him before God to admit His identity as Messiah, silence might be mistaken for a denial. Jesus answers in the affirmative, knowing His admission will result in a death sentence (Matt. 26:63-64).
As an unmarried man, Jesus frequently teaches on the subject of matrimony, promoting fidelity and condemning divorce. “Whoever divorces his wife for any reason, except sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery” (Matt. 5:32). Because God is depicted as a faithful groom throughout the canon of Scripture, it is natural for Paul to use a bridal analogy to depict Christ’s relationship with His Church (Eph. 5:22-33).
Jesus as the Ideal Husband
Although Jesus speaks more frequently with men, His interaction with women is remarkable during a time when females are severely oppressed. Christ reprimands scribes, lawyers, publicans, Pharisees and the Sanhedrin—but never women. He verbally chastises men who steal homes from widows (Luke 20:47). In seeking to protect children, He teaches that men who molest male or female children deserve to be drowned (Luke 17:2). A sorrowful woman cleans His feet with her hair and tears, while insensitive men observe the proceedings (Luke 7:44). In honor of godly women, a widow is praised for her contribution of two mites (Mark 12:42). Peter’s mother-in-law is healed (Mark 1:31) and Jairus’ daughter is raised from the dead (Luke 8:55). Pilate’s wife has a dream about Him (Matt. 27:19) and a woman is healed as she touches His clothing (Luke 8:44). In parabolic pedagogy, a woman’s persistence is inevitably rewarded (Luke 18:5).
Although His conversations with women are often brief, Jesus’ consistent attitude toward them is one of compassionate empathy. His dialogues with females contain no harsh or degrading words. Jesus is the ultimate example of a healthy role model in relationships. His insightful interactions with women set the standard for the love and understanding men must have toward their lifelong partners.
Jesus’ mission does not include matrimony. Paul suggests that one benefit of marriage is to help a man control sexual desires (1 Cor. 7:9). The Son of God is not psycho-physically or psycho-sexually motivated to seek a wife. Because His sexuality is not an issue, He remains the flawless example of manliness. Although on numerous occasions Jesus speaks directly to men, His dialogues with women are always gentle and instructional. Godly women tend to respond favorably to godly men.
Because Jesus is perfect, He would be the ideal companion. However, a married Christ would have left behind a widow and perhaps children. Any reflection upon the kind of husband Jesus might have made must include His loving nature, spiritual focus and absence of domination.
Jesus’ Use of Questions and Answer Pedagogy
A key to Christ’s effectual communication is His masterful use of question-and-answer methodology. For example, in the situation with the woman who clutches His garment, He asks, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30). Every dialogue in which He chooses to employ this method is for the benefit of the person with whom He speaks, not Himself.
Unless a question is rhetorical, it presupposes logical thinking prior to the response. By engaging women in conversations that include the use of this pedagogical device, the Lord establishes the premise by which men and women can effectively communicate with one another. By lovingly asking insightful questions, and respectfully processing the answers, couples can progress toward marital communicative proficiency.
As the master of question-and-answer didactic methodology, Jesus’ probing is always designed to provoke further reflection. Answers to His questions often become a yardstick by which to measure faith. Rhetorical questions are especially prominent in His inaugural sermon on the mountainside. For example:
If salt loses its flavor, how can it be seasoned?
If you love those who love you, what reward have you?
If you greet your brethren only, what do you more than others?
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
Will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?
What man is there among you, who if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?
If he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?
How much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?
Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?
(Matt. 5:13, 46-47; 6:25,27,30; 7:3, 9-11,16)
Special attention will now be given to Jesus’ conversations with five women. As a model for husbands, His verbal exchanges with Martha, the Syrophenician woman, the woman of Samaria, His mother, and Mary Magdalene exemplify His standards of communicative excellence. A concise study of each case is essential to comprehend Christ’s specific motives in these dialogues. Conversations will be examined in order to better understand His communicative methods. The conclusions drawn from His interaction with them will show why His techniques serve as the final authority for meaningful marital communication.
Just prior to His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus again visits the quiet village of Bethany near the Mount of Olives. Instead of returning to His hometown of Nazareth, He comes here to fellowship with His beloved friends. Scripture says Jesus loves Martha, Mary and Lazarus (John 11:5). He seems to have a closer relationship with them than any other family and uses His conversations with them as teaching tools.
Martha is probably the older of the two sisters, for she presumes to give orders concerning the household. She always appears practical, straightforward and honest. There is more dialogue between Jesus and Martha than with Mary, while no words of Lazarus are recorded.
Jesus is ministering to two different personalities, yet He communicates respect and compassion for both women while lovingly establishing priorities. Martha is cumbered (periespato) because she has many domestic responsibilities. “The verb pictures one with a drawn face, distracted in both mind and appearance” (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament. vol. 2: Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930, 155). Martha’s comment that Mary left her to serve alone may imply she had been helping her previously (Luke 10:40). However, no part of the conversation implies Mary feels housework is beneath her or that Martha is too practical to join Mary at His feet. Instead of asking Mary herself, Martha insists Jesus instruct Mary to assist her. Her comment suggests physical needs should take priority over spiritual ones.
Jesus gives Martha an affectionate reproof (v. 41). His repetition of her name calls attention to her person, a rhetorical device used by Christ in conversations with both Peter and Paul (Luke 22:31; Acts 9:4). Jesus affirms He understands her divided attention and agitation by His use of the word “anxious” (merimnais). He also adds the word “troubled” (thorubazei). “Anxious denotes the inward uneasiness and troubled, the outward confusion” (Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. vol. 1: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969, 358).
Although it is Martha who is directly addressed, her sister is more than a footnote. Mary is not praised for simply sitting; Jesus draws Martha’s attention to why she sat. By mentioning Mary’s choice, He prioritizes communicative listening skills. This verbal exchange with Martha verifies His mission does not include settling domestic disagreements (Luke 12:14).
While He does not condemn Martha’s activities, Mary’s attentiveness to His teachings is deemed a “better portion” (agathen merida). His use of the phrase is a word play, meaning “the best dish on the table.” Spiritual nourishment is more essential than physical sustenance. Jesus also indicates she will not be denied her portion (Luke 10:42). Had He ordered Mary to assist her sister with home care logistics, she would have been deprived of the teaching for which she hungers most. Everyone benefits from the words of Christ.
The next episode in which Martha dialogues with Christ is at her brother’s graveside. Neither of the grieving sisters grasps the fact that Jesus can raise their brother from the grave. Energetic Martha takes the initiative to converse with Jesus outside. As with the woman at the well, Jesus conversational methods build faith. Martha laments the fact Jesus has not arrived sooner (John 11:21). Mary later echoes these exact words (11:32). Perhaps it is a subtle reproach for His delay, but it is laced with poignant grief.
Martha believes His presence would somehow have precluded Lazarus’ death. He tells her that her brother will rise again, allowing her the opportunity to develop her spiritual worldview. His ambiguous response gives Martha enough information to lead her toward a more complete understanding of His nature. She believes He must be physically present to prevent death, but as in the case of the Syrophonecian’s daughter, He has already proven His ability to heal at a distance (Matt. 15:28). Martha’s confidence in His capabilities appears limited, but optimism surfaces as she affirms God will answer Jesus’ request (John 11:22).
Although her response reveals she does not comprehend His comment, she affirms faith in a future resurrection. Martha believes her brother will rise again eschatologically. Christ rekindles her fires of hope as He reveals Himself as the embodiment of the resurrected life in the present tense. This spark of faith dispels the gloom of her bereavement as He prompts her to revise her estimate of His omnipotence (v. 26).
The woman at the well says she knows the Messiah is coming, but Christ states He has already arrived (John 4:26). Jesus lovingly corrects this woman – and Martha – by redirecting their focus from future events to His current presence. The Lord leads Martha from a futuristic hope to a contemporary miracle. Taking into consideration her pragmatic nature, Jesus brings her from a hazy view of the resurrection to crystal-clear reality. The resurrected life embodied in Christ is about to manifest via the personal resurrection of her brother.
The two concepts of resurrection and life are inseparable; Christ’s resurrection precedes the gift of eternal life. The Lord’s use of synonymous parallelism in this verse reinforces the idea that without Christ, eternal life is impossible. As He communicates to Nicodemus, the new birth is the rite of passage from death to life. By faith in Christ, recipients of eternal life continue to live (John 3:15). By adding the words “and the life,” Jesus includes all that is vouchsafed to believers by their union with Him (11:25). In order to obtain immortality, Martha must appropriate what she has heard. Mental ascent is insufficient. Eternal life is promised to believers, but He asks Martha if she personally believes in Him as the resurrection and the life (v. 26). “Every divine communication challenges the heart to which it is made” (Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John: Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1961, 189). Belief in Christ seals the promise of eternal life, just as the living water offered to the woman at the well of Sychar. From deep within the heart of women, Jesus causes hope to manifest.
Martha now affirms her complete faith in Christ. “I have believed” is the perfect active indicative of pisteuo, indicating a settled and firm conviction (v. 27). Her statement is comprehensive and equal to the confessions of both Nathaniel and Peter (John 1:49 and 6:69). It is remarkable that she affirms her faith in Christ amid such grievous circumstances. When illuminated by Christ, the path of faith is often seen more clearly in times of crisis.
Because Jerusalem is less than two miles from the pool of Siloam, many in that area knew of the healing of the blind man there three months earlier (John 9:7). The parameters of Martha’s faith are best understood by a question asked by a local citizen who wonders why the man who restores sight does not prevent Lazarus’ death (11:37).
While the anointing of the dead is a common Jewish practice, embalming is not. Martha responds with typical pragmatism by pointing out that Lazarus’ decomposition will be odorous. The command to remove the burial stone is startling. Equally repugnant is the thought of the public viewing of his decomposing body (11:39).
The harsh reality of her entombed brother diverts Martha’s attention from what Jesus has recently told her. Moments before, He promises her a manifestation of God’s glory (11:25). Martha is now reminded of their previous conversation in which she affirms His Messianic power (v. 27). Regardless of her earlier statement of faith, her words now prove Martha does not expect her brother to come back to life. The Lord continues to strengthen her faith, knowing it will be made complete by the resurrection of Lazarus. Her expostulation only adds to the magnificence of the miracle.
In the final passage regarding this Bethany family, Jesus is a guest at a festive dinner party. Characteristically, Martha is serving others. In every passage where Mary of Bethany is mentioned, the feet of Jesus are prominent. She sat at His feet (Luke 10:39), fell at His feet (John 11:32), and now anoints His feet (John 12:3). Her actions communicate love and devotion more than any words that might have been exchanged between them. Having been lovingly corrected by Jesus earlier, Martha is silent. If she does not appear worried and distracted now, perhaps it is because Lazarus is at her table.
Before the last curtain falls on the scenes involving Martha, several questions can be proposed. Does her faith come to fruition when she sees her brother rise from the dead? Has she learned not to object to Jesus’ timing and methodology? Did she join her sister at the feet of Jesus? In what ways does Christ’s question-and-answer strategy prove beneficial to her? Men can draw valuable lessons from the ways Jesus interacts with Mary and Martha and encourage their wives and daughters to trust the words of Christ. Jesus teaches that the best dish on the table is His personal communion with individuals. Husbands must ensure their wives enjoy a continual spiritual feast by establishing Biblical priorities. In the atmosphere of an ordinary home, Martha and Mary demonstrate respect for Jesus’ instructions. Couples help develop a wonderful home atmosphere as they read and apply Jesus’ conversational methodology. Like the family of Bethany, familial spiritual maturation will also positively impact surrounding communities (John 11:45).
Martha’s faith is perpetuated by His discussion and interaction with her. The resurrected Christ now communicates with His Church through the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. Men should remind their wives of Christ’s admonition to Martha to trust what He says (John 11:40). Every man should seek to bring his wife into a more complete understanding of Christ’s intent. As couples pray together, everything that might hinder personal communication with Jesus will be revealed.
The Syrophenician Woman
Jesus travels to the outskirts of Tyre and Sidon where His methods of communication with women are further revealed. He faces a situation here with potential racial and gender discriminatory overtones. A woman follows Him, begging for the exorcism of her daughter. To Matthew, she is a Canaanite (15:22), but to Mark, a Syrophenician (7:26). The discrepancy is easily explained when it is understood the term syrophoinissa specifies an era when Syrian kings governed, yet also reflects the joining of the two districts into one under Roman rule. By referring to her as a Canaanite, Matthew indicates she is from the ancient tribe occupying the valley later known as Phoenicia. “The word Canaanite accentuates the historical and religious distance between the Jews and the Gentiles as strongly as possible.” (H.N. Ridderbos, Matthew: Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987, 288.) Because Canaan was a nation targeted for divine judgment, this woman seems an unlikely candidate to receive God’s grace (Deut. 7:1-2). Perhaps she is aware that Elijah had raised the son of another Canaanite woman from the dead, believing the omnipotent God of Israel can also free her daughter from demon possession (1 Kings.17:22).
She has nothing to recommend her to God but her familial need, for her daughter is severely (kakos) demonized (Matt.15:22). The woman’s request is a straightforward plea for her girl’s deliverance. The Greek tense of the verb kraugazo indicates she shouted her request repeatedly. She comes to Jesus knowing she has no covenantal claims to mercy. As a Canaanite appealing to the Son of David, she affirms His messianic mission is free from ethnic bias. Although her knowledge of messianic prophecy may be superficial, she knows a good master always feeds his dogs. Her simple communication of this knowledge is key to her daughter’s deliverance.
On another occasion, the disciples intend to send the multitude away to find food for themselves (Luke 9:12). They later rebuke those who bring children to Jesus (Luke 18:15). Apparently thoroughly annoyed by this woman as well, they ask Jesus to send her away (Matt. 15:23). But neither His remarks nor those of the disciples can sway her from her purpose. Jesus ignores His disciples’ request to ignore her. His initial response to her is silence, followed by a remark concerning Jewish exclusiveness (v. 24). However, He is simply verifying His priority mission to the Jews. Although He later sends the disciples on a global mission, Jesus’ current mission favors God’s chosen people.
Throughout His ministry on earth, no cry for help goes unnoticed. She pleads for His help earnestly, identifying herself with her suffering daughter. The reasons for His initial silence and the remarkable conversation that follows are worthy of study. At first, the Lord seems reluctant to grant her request, but His delay is not a denial. Like His strategic two-day wait before responding to Martha’s request, delay plays a key part in the development of this woman’s faith (John 11:6).
Slander is not a factor when Jesus compares Canaanites with canines. This proverbial expression frequently used by Jews denotes God’s favor upon the Hebrews (Matt.15:26). Contrasting Israeli sheep with Gentile dogs might have terminated the conversation, but her reverential attitude prevails. Mark records that Jesus also adds the phrase, “Let the children first be filled” (7:27). It is only after she affirms the distinction between Jews and Gentiles He grants her request. It means nothing to her to be called a dog, if she can receive a small portion under the Master’s table.
Undaunted in her determination, she accepts the title He gives her. As a puppy will fetch a stick and return it to its master, she tactfully brings His own words back to Him. By validating what is implied in His analogy, she turns what initially seems dissuasive into persuasive communication. As a Gentile, she does not seek a place at His table, but only asks to be granted a tiny portion of the mercy extended to Israel. Laying claim to no privilege, she forges ahead with her dialectic request for a “table scrap” of God’s deliverance. She does not ask that the children receive less, but proposes Gentiles can partake of God’s grace without depriving others.
Christ’s response to her indicates His delight. From a comment that might have been mistaken for racial contempt, He proceeds to honor her faith (Matt.15:28). “Not in this case only does Christ trace the blessing to faith, but in nearly every instance where a supplicant obtains favor from Him, faith is the medium of securing mercy” (C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 35: Pasadena: Pilgrim Publishers, 1986, 194). Like the parabolic importunate widow, her shameless persistence ultimately wins her the blessing (Luke 18:5). Her bold sincerity is ultimately rewarded, for she arrives home to find her daughter sleeping peacefully (Mark 7:30).
Thirty years later in this same area, entire families walk with Paul to kneel and pray on the shore (Acts 21:5). It was persistent and compassionate mothers of the same caliber as this Syrophenician woman who help strengthen the church at Tyre.
Several things become evident after examining His brief verbal exchanges with this mother. Her faith grows, as her pleading persists, into what Christ deems “great faith” (Matt.15:28). Godly parents such as this want their children to be free from demonic influences. Jesus’ conversation with her results in a complete deliverance from satanic powers.
Although all human beings are unworthy of crumbs from God’s table, He allows all nations to benefit from His delivering power. Jesus honors all women by granting this woman’s desperate request.
The Woman of Samaria
Jesus’ cross-cultural interaction with the woman at the well of Sychar is another exemple of His pedagogical communicative expertise.
The cases of the Samaritan and the Syrophenician woman are similar in one respect. During both conversations, Jesus places Himself in potentially racist and sexist situations. By meeting with the woman at the well, He creates an opportunity to demonstrate the absence of ethnic or gender bias on His part. The conversation that follows reveals Jesus’ ability to search and understand the human heart. In order to comprehend the full significance of His communication with the woman at the well, it is important to explore her ethnic background.
When Israel’s King Hosea pledges his allegiance to Egypt, Samaria is surrounded by the forces of Shalmaneser and is subdued in 721 B.C. After most of the Jews are carried off to Assyria, foreigners from surrounding territories settle in the area. After their descendants intermarry with the remaining Israelites, the mixed population become known as Samaritans. “Considering them to be half-breeds, the Jews distain Samaritans for religious reasons” (The New Testament Study Bible, John. The Complete Biblical Library:Springfield, MO, 1988, 89).
However, ethnic bias is only one reason for their anti-Semitism. Jealous Samaritans not only refuse to help rebuild the temple in Jerusalem after the Assyrian captivity, but pro-actively antagonize the Jews as they work (Ezra 4:1-4; Neh. 4:1-2). During the inter-testamental period, the Samaritans’ repulsion of the Jews is further demonstrated by building their own temple on Mt. Gerizim. “Jesus’ interview with the Samaritan woman reflects both the antipathy between the Jews and Samaritans and the dispute concerning the rightful place for the worship of God” (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 5: Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, 245). Although destroyed by the Maccabeans in 128 B.C., the Samaritans continue to worship on the summit of the hill where this edifice once stood. After crossing the Jordan River, six tribes stand at the foot of Mt. Gerizim to bless Israel (Deut.27:12). The Samaritans interpret this to mean God has permanently ordained this mountain as the central place of worship. This helps to explain the woman’s comment concerning ancestral homage (John 4:20).
That the ancient fires of anti-Semitism continue to smolder is shown by the discourtesy displayed when Jesus attempts to pass through a Samaritan village on His way to Jerusalem. His disciples do not hesitate to suggest calling down fire from heaven upon them (Luke 9:55). At a later point in His ministry, the Jews insult Jesus by accusing Him of being a demon-possessed Samaritan (John 8:48). In view of these hostilities, Jesus gives the disciples strict orders to avoid Samaritan cities in their travels (Matt. 10:5).
Jesus deliberately takes the shorter route through Samaria rather than the traditional road to Jerusalem along the Jordan River. The disciples’ ignorance of His motives is verified later in this passage. Knowing this woman must be ministered to personally, He sends His disciples away on a pragmatic errand (John 4:8). His habit with all women is to meet in a public setting. In this way, He can have a private conversation without embarrassing anyone – or compromising His reputation.
Jesus initiates the conversation by asking a favor. His dress and demeanor prove His nationality. She is surprised at His request because Jews have few conversations with Samaritans (v. 9). Her comment regarding the unfriendly relationship between Jews and Samaritans represents centuries of rivalry. While even a simple passing comment from a Jew to a Gentile was uncustomary, to prolong a public conversation with a female Samaritan would be extremely inappropriate. “The Jewish rule was that no man should ever talk with any woman publicly, not even his own wife, sister or mother” (Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament: Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1986, 85.). While no Jewish Rabbi of that era would speak with a woman in public, Jesus is not shy to ask her for a drink (John 4:7).
Her flippant response confirms the current Jewish/Samaritan tension. Considering the fact He has no vessel with which to draw water, His words amaze her. Jesus’ strange comments and empty hands cause her to inquire how He can obtain such unusual water (4:11). Expanding upon His initial comment, He explains the water He can supply will make it unnecessary for a person to seek satisfaction elsewhere. Spiritual communication begins to take place when one begins to believe Jesus can provide what He claims. From the onset of the conversation, He indicates spiritual ignorance can never satisfy spiritual thirst. Asking someone a favor verifies the desire for verbal exchange and enhances conversation. Her desire for more comprehensive knowledge prompts her to make a request (4:14).
In his introductory remark, Jesus asks for water. When she hears of the water He offers, her self-absorbed response indicates she only envisions a way to avoid this mundane chore (v. 15). As the conversation progresses, she probes further. Earlier she inquires whether or not His influence exceeds that of Jacob, but now suspects He holds a prophetic office (4:12, 19). Her cryptic comments indicate she is searching for answers concerning worship. The spiritual thirst of this woman is gently increased through Jesus’ masterful communicative skills.
Asking for a drink eventuates in the opportunity to call attention to her moral condition. Leaving the abstract concept of living water, Jesus turns to the serious subject of cohabitation (4:16-18). Of all the topics He might have broached, it is significant that matrimony is targeted. She is living an immoral life. While it might be argued that her previous husbands died of natural causes, her current common-law lifestyle have led many to assume these marriages ended in divorce. His comment that she had been married on five previous occasions is a statement of fact. However, while His reference to her lifestyle is accusative, Jesus mentions her past relationships without a hint of condemnation. He exposes her moral condition only to expose her need. She must be cleansed from her adulterous relationship in order to become a vessel worthy to hold His living water.
She verifies what He says about her is true. She has acknowledged His prophetic gift and perhaps suspects He can fathom other mysteries as well. She seizes His words in an attempt to change the subject from immorality to worship (4:19). But He turns her comment into an opportunity to increase her faith. The term worship (proskyneo) is used ten times in their dialogue. Refusing to be drawn into a religious debate, He states God is a spirit and therefore not confined to mountains or temples. Using a common term of respect for her gender (gyne), Jesus asks her to believe what He is communicating to her (4:21). Having mentioned her past and present cohabitation situations, He insinuates that true worship is impossible while living a moral lie.
He indicates her knowledge of worship is incomplete, for God’s plan of salvation originated with full-blooded Hebrews. Unbiased in this conversation with a Gentile, Jesus points out God’s covenant is with the Jewish race. It is interesting that her hunger for spiritual things does not deter her from addressing the ancient tribal animosity concerning the proper location for effectual worship. The messianic hope that both Israelites and Samaritans share prompt her to inquire further. For the first time in His ministry, Jesus reveals His global mission. It is significant that He shares this privately with a woman of another nationality, rather than with religious leaders who later demand He make a public statement (10:24). She expresses hope the Messiah will appear soon, but Jesus states He has already arrived (4:25-26).
When the disciples return, they are amazed He has been conversing with her (4:27). What may have surprised them more was that He considers drinking from her vessel. “According to Pharisaic interpretations of the laws of purity, Jews and Samaritans were not allowed to use drinking vessels together” (William Hendrickson, Exposition of the Gospel of John, New Testament Commentary: Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953, 161.)
Jesus’ conversation with her results in a powerful incentive to witness to others regarding His prophetic insight. She informss some men that Jesus told her everything she had ever done (4:29). Although only brief reference is made concerning her previous husbands, perhaps she feels her life is epitomized in her previous relationships. He communicates to her that a proper relationship with God must precede a proper relationship with a man. Her morality cannot be changed unless her nature is changed.
On that day, Jesus’ physical thirst and her spiritual thirst bring them together to converse. She does not know the path to Jacob’s well will put her on the path to the Kingdom of God. Christ unveils her past only to reveal her future. It is essential human beings converse with Jesus Christ on an individual basis. The men of the village later testify they did not believe because of the woman’s testimony, but because they had heard Him personally (4:39-42). Communion with Christ impacts individuals as well as communities.
The woman of Samaria represents any woman who believes that a relationship with a man can bring lasting satisfaction. Those who cling to this belief will always be thirsty. The water from the well can be compared with her earthly relationships and His living water to a relationship with God. She learns that only an encounter with Christ can satisfy a woman’s thirst for true worship. It is vital that husbands consider that compassion and understanding are key factors in Jesus’ conversations with women. Those in mixed marriages should appreciate that Christ was fully aware how her ethnicity impacted her ability and desire to communicate.
The Mother of Jesus
A man’s initial concept of womanhood is usually formed by his mother and it is the face of Mary Christ first sees from His manger. In order to better comprehend how the Lord communicates with women, a study of each episode of interaction with His mother is essential.
The Incarnation vs.“The Immaculate Conception”
It is impossible to untangle the fabric of legends woven around the mother of Jesus throughout two millennia. While it is true that Gabriel and Elizabeth declare Mary to be highly favored (Luke 1:28-30; 42), Mary never regards herself as sinless (1:48). She is seen as one who has received grace rather than being a source of grace. She is called blessed among women, but never above them (1:28). Her humanity is assumed throughout the annals of the New Testament. Had Mary been omniscient, she would have known Jesus must be about His Father’s business and realized her request at the wedding in Cana was premature (Luke 2:49; John 2:4). If she was omnipotent, she could have turned the water into wine herself. What distinguishes Mary from all other women is not her alleged sinless perfection and “immaculate conception” of Christ, but her role as the mother of the Messiah.
As the one who gives birth to Emmanuel, Mary stands as the supreme sanction of motherhood and womanhood. Her attributes include faithfulness, obedience, transparency, honesty and spiritual sensitivity. She did not shy from accepting prophetic insight from godly people like Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25, 36). Her purification and sacrifices, as well as Christ’s presentation and circumcision, are performed in compliance with Mosaic law (2:21-24). The composite Biblical picture of Mary is a devout woman, but Jesus never addresses her as “mother” or as the “Queen of Heaven.” His conversations with her are unique, but free from any trace of deification. Had she been a mediatrix, such doctrine would be firmly imbedded throughout the canon of Scripture. God’s plan of salvation must be highly revered, while not demeaning the key woman used to implement the plan. As the one chosen to be the mother of Christ, Mary deserves veneration…..but not adoration.
Permeated with allusions to the law and the prophets, her prayer (The Magnificat) validates that Mary recognizes Gabriel’s announcement as the will of God (1:46-55). Mary accepts the angelic commission with humility and optimism, leaving hope and fear mingling in the heart of this young virgin. Her first recorded words concern her marital and moral condition, wondering how a virgin can conceive (1:34). Mary’s initial response to Gabriel’s decree does not suggest passive resignation, only consternation concerning the method of fulfillment. The effect of the proclamation is bewilderment rather than skepticism. Her candid question only indicates she is astounded by the biological implausibility.
The Teaching in the Temple
As an infant, Mary brings Jesus to the temple for circumcision. This godly family probably frequents Jerusalem for the Judaic activities. After attending a Passover at age twelve, apparently Mary and Joseph lose track of Jesus and He instinctively returns to the temple. Considering His familiarity with this central place of worship, He seems amazed they do not look there first (Luke 2:49). Logically, the first place to seek a missing child is in his Father’s house.
Jesus is not just listening to scholars, He is asking questions (2:46). Question-and-answer becomes His primary didactic technique to draw women and men to faith. Mary seems self-absorbed with her own disappointment while Jesus is absorbed with doing God’s will. She asks why He seems inconsiderate of their feelings (2:48). While her question stems from emotion, His question concerns spiritual priorities. In her moment of confusion, she may have forgotten the angelic secret vouchsafed to her twelve years before.
His reply seems to pivot on the personal pronoun “thy” (father). Joseph is His legal guardian, not His biological father. Jesus quickly turns Mary’s attention from familial relationships to spiritual ones. “Was not this the cause of the shudder which He felt at hearing from Mary’s lips the word ‘thy father,’ to which He immediately replies with a certain ardor of expression ‘My Father’?” (F.L. Godet, A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke: Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1870, 149). Even as an adolescent, Jesus lovingly begins to prepare His mother for their separation by teaching her His Father’s business supersedes maternal attachment. Through this single glimpse into His youth, Jesus establishes His Father’s business takes priority over any other. She muses over His remarks here (2:51) as she pondered the events surrounding His incarnation (1:29, 2:19). As in all His conversations with women, Jesus draws His mother to deeper faith in God.
The adolescent Jesus seeks no further notoriety among these doctors, for He is on a collision course with such men. He continues to develop Himself for eighteen years before emerging into the public eye. In compliance with the fifth commandment, subjection to parental authority was essential to His holistic development. He grows mentally, physically, spiritually and socially (2:52). It is evident Mary plays a key role in His early maturation process. As their dialogues continue, He commences the development of her spiritual maturity.
The Wedding at Cana
After His baptism, Christ plans His first public appearance at a wedding celebration. His presence sanctifies marriage between a man and a woman as the backbone of society. Had no miracle occurred here, His attendance indicates His desire for personal involvement in the lives of married couples. Jesus’ conspicuous presence plants a seed of teaching that matures into Pauline marital theology (1 Cor. 7:1-17; Eph. 5:22-33).
Mary turns to Jesus with domestic pragmatism and states, “They have no wine.” (John 2:3). Because she gives no suggestion concerning how this need might be supplied, it is impossible to determine whether or not she expects a miracle. Continuing to expand the faith of the woman who knows Him best, Jesus lovingly converses with her. As a mature Jewish man of about thirty years of age, He is naturally distancing Himself from parental care (Luke 3:23). Jesus’ provision for her at the cross is evidence that He never withdrew from His mother completely (John 19:27).
“Woman” (gyne) is a not a word of severity or reproof, but a term of endearment. The noun incorporates the combined concepts of womanhood, sisterhood and motherhood. Jesus consistently uses this term in addressing females with great reverence and respect. This term is utilized when speaking to the woman at the well of Sychar (4:21) and the woman loosed from her infirmity (Luke 13:12). With this same word, He addresses the woman taken in adultery (John 8:10) and when asking Mary Magdalene why she weeps (20:15). The same affectionate term is found in John 19:26, when He speaks to His mother from the cross. His frequent use of this comprehensive Greek word exemplifies the respect all men must have for women. It is probable this term of inherent love is within earshot of the groom as he prepares for lifelong marriage.
His response to her request at Cana is intended to teach Mary her parental authority over Him is waning. Jesus simply asks what they have in common with this problem. His statement indicates He will not be hurried into a miraculous manifestation of His powers, gently inferring she no longer has maternal power over Him. While Jesus does not resent her locution, the need to follow His Father’s agenda is clarified. Turning water into wine does not initiate His ministerial career, but proves it is already in process.
Jesus’ comment to His mother is not a rebuke. Although other women might have been more insistent, His question is sufficient for Mary. The characteristic submission with which she accepts His words bears no trace of disrespect. She gives no indication she is offended, exhibiting trust rather than presumption. The pointed statements He makes to Mary, both here and in the temple years before, prove even Jesus’ mother is not above correction. Her prompting does not suggest the miracle was performed prematurely, for her next statement proves she recognizes His right to sovereign action. She commands the servants, not her son (John 2:5). Her godly attitude carries the reward of witnessing the first of her Son’s miracles.
Jesus’ attendance at this festive celebration was by personal invitation, just as He desires an invitation to be intrinsically involved in every marriage (2:2). By celebrating matrimony, He protects marriage from all who would make Christianity the enemy of tribal customs. As He enables the celebrants to continue the festivities of the wedding, so Christ enriches the potential of all marriages. As water was transformed into excellent wine, Jesus changes natural cohabitation into a supernatural covenant. Jesus can supply many material things lacking in marriages, for without Him human resources are soon depleted. The Lord closes the gap between what a couple needs and what He can provide. When a marriage is graced by the presence of the Master, the couple is in a position to experience the miraculous.
The effects of this miracle strengthen the faith of His disciples (2:11). Jesus’ supernatural presence within marriages will have this same result. As a couple grows old together, they discover Christ has saved “the best wine” for their latter years (2:10). Couples should adopt Mary’s final recorded words and do whatever Jesus instructs them (2:5). Christ’s ministry commences and culminates with a wedding celebration. All who are invited to the marital supper of the Lamb will be eternally blessed (Rev.19:9).
The Desired Visit
Although hindered by the crowd, Mary and Jesus’ siblings come to visit Him (Luke 8:19). When the arrival of His family is announced, He responds that His true mother and family are those who do His Father’s will (Matt. 12:50; Mark 3:35; Luke 8:21). His words are in the form of a monologue, making Mary the central figure of an object lesson. Jesus expands His family circle to include the world (Mark 3:35). He adamantly states that a proper relationship with God involves obedience rather than ancestry. This is affirmed by His comment to a woman who declares, “Blessed is the womb that bore you.” He replies, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:27-28).
The Cross of Calvary
Mary follows him to Golgotha and sees His bruised face, the nails in His hands and feet and the crown of thorns on His head. She is there for Him in His time of need. In that hour, Mary may have pondered how her child can bear both the cross and world government upon His shoulder (Isa. 9:6). Gabriel announces her Son’s eternal kingdom (Luke 1:33) and Elizabeth verifies that God will do what He said (1:45). Anna refers to Him as the Redeemer (2:38) and Simeon tells of a sword that will one day pierce Mary’s heart (2:35). Perhaps she now wonders how His kingdom can manifest while dying by Roman decree.
Beneath the cross, soldiers gamble for His clothing. He has no estate to leave her; all He bequeaths is His precious blood. Although dying for the sins of all humanity, He does not neglect His responsibilities as a son. Jesus charges John and Mary with the reciprocal care of each other. She is commissioned to continue her role of motherhood. As His crucifixion begins, He spares her the anguish of His final agony. The beloved disciple takes Mary into his home that same hour (John 19:27). Tradition maintains they lived in Jerusalem for twelve more years and that John did not continue his ministry until Mary died in his arms.
Eve’s disobedience stands in sharp contrast to Mary’s obedience. Sin first enters the world through the first woman. The One who can remove sin enters the world through the woman who is the first to behold the face of the Redeemer. It is probable the Lord spent many sweet and memorable hours conversing with His mother.
Mary is conspicuously absent during the forty days following the crucifixion. Although He has post-resurrection interviews with disciples such as Peter and Mary Magdalene, there is no record of a personal visit with His mother. She fades into the obscurity of the infant Church and is last seen receiving the Holy Spirit with other believers (Acts 1:14). Her heartbreak at Calvary is overshadowed by her joy on the day of Pentecost. Receiving the Holy Spirit is key to intimate communication with God. Listening and obeying the Spirit is key to effective marital communication.
Mary of Magdala is perhaps the most misunderstood of all Biblical women. Synoptic writers comment that Jesus exorcized seven demons from her (Mark 16:9). While demon possession may sometimes include immorality, Scripture is silent concerning how she came to be demonized. Modern dictionaries continue to define “magdalen” as “a reformed prostitute” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary: Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2004, 1358). She is sometimes confused with the sinful woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50). Although the first mention of Mary does occur soon after this scene, nothing suggests these two women are one and the same. Despite the complete absence of scriptural comment concerning the sex life of Mary Magdalene, medieval church tradition has branded her as a woman of ill repute. However, a thorough scriptural search reveals no moral scar in the life of Mary.
Jesus never places Himself in a situation where His moral reputation might be compromised. His enemies portray Him as one who drank and caroused with those of dubious character (Luke 7:34). His brief conversations with women are always in a public setting. In fact, there is no record of the Lord being alone behind closed doors with a member of either sex. Mary is always found in the company of other women who follow Jesus and the disciples, ministering to their needs (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40; Luke 24:10; John 19:25). Neither ancient nor contemporary heresies can diminish the moral integrity of the Son of God, for the Word of God protects His holiness.
Mary Magdalene quietly watches Jesus’ crucifixion (Matt. 27:55-56). While other disciples flee, she remains there. At the Cross, He entrusts the care of His mother to John (John 19:27). “He dismissed His mother into John’s care, but He kept Mary, who would not be dismissed” (Alexander Whyte, Bible Characters: London: Oliphant’s, 1967, 66).
Luke records that Mary beheld (theaomai) where Jesus was buried (23:55), but Mark uses the more descriptive term theoreo, indicating she watches closely and carefully observes the proceedings (15:47). While other disciples hide in fear (John 20:19), Mary is present when Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus lay His body to rest (19:38-40).
John’s account of the resurrection bonds actual events with how it impacts the faith of those to whom He appears. Mary returns early Easter morning to reverently anoint His body (20:1). Having seen the burial stone rolled into place, she wonders who will help her move it in order to gain access (Mark 16:3). Discovering it is displaced, she runs to inform Peter and John of the missing corpse. Her communications with disciples, angels and finally Jesus Himself reveal the source of her anxiety: His missing body (John 20:2-15).
Peter and John absent themselves, leaving Mary crying at the door of the tomb. The angels ask about the source of her grief, but she is preoccupied with the location of Jesus’ body. Jesus appears to her in a common human form; however she mistakes Him for the gardener. A groundskeeper would be cognizant of any activity around the tomb. Although she earlier ponders how she can possibly remove the heavy gravestone, Mary informs Him she is willing to physically transport Jesus’ remains to a safe haven (20:15). Her resolute dedication is rewarded with a unique honor, for “He appeared first to Mary Magdalene” (Mark 16:9).
Despite all that has been written about Mary Magdalene, there is only one recorded conversation between her and Christ. The first word spoken by the risen Jesus is the respectful form of address, “Woman” (gyne), thus Mary is immortalized by standing in proxy for all women who put faith in Him (John 20:16). She comes expecting an inanimate corpse, not a living entity. Both Christ and the angels ask her why she is weeping, as if to indicate the time for sorrow is past. Jesus probes deeper than the angels, inquiring whom she seeks. He knows why she is crying, but asks her to consider her motive. She does not find what she expects, but who she finds exceeds all expectations. His response to Mary makes it clear the Lord is concerned when women weep. Following Christ’s example of concern, a husband should demonstrate compassion and understanding when his wife is sorrowful or distressed.
Mary does not recognize Him until addressed by her Aramaic name, “Miriam.” She addresses Him by the respectful title, Rabboni. “This appellation was given under three forms to Jewish teachers. (a) Rab or master, the lowest degree of honor. (b) Rabbi, my master, a title of higher dignity. (c) Rabboni, my great master, the most honorable of all” (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament, Luke and John: Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1974, 376). She does not seem to recognize the two men as angels….but she certainly knows her Lord and Master. A doubting man will soon demand proof the Lord has risen (20:25), but Mary requires none. Unlike her male counterparts, her courage never fails her.
A believer can only imagine the emotions of a grieving disciple who suddenly realizes the one she bereaves is alive. He knows her first impulse will be to cling tightly, perhaps in fear of losing Him again. The flower called “Touch-Me-Not” derives its name from verse seventeen. When handled, the plant is negatively affected. Some assume Jesus’ remark refers to His repulsion to being touched by a defiled woman. However, He does not object to human contact, for He later invites Thomas to do so (20:27). In a subsequent appearance to a group of women, they are not forbidden to hold His feet (Matt. 28:9).
The tense of the word “touch” indicates a continuous action already begun. “The thought here is to stop clinging.” (Ralph Harris and Stanley Horton, The New Testament Study Bible, John: Springfield, MO: The Complete Biblical Library, 1988, 533). He instructs her to discontinue the psychological activity already in motion. The reason for His remark is pragmatic. Mary is not to live in the past, but is tasked with announcing His eminent ascension.
Because it was her habit to accompany other holy women, it is probable Mary is present in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. If so, she is among the first to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The disciples are informed of a new level of communication with God made possible by His resurrection. Because His ascension will inaugurate another dispensation, Jesus refers to His disciples as “brothers” for the first time (John 20:17). Jesus has promised that someone will arrive soon after His ascension to guide believers into all truth (16:7-13). This entity will enable disciples to enjoy effectual communication between Himself and His bride, the Church. No longer needing her burial spices, Mary leaves them to obey Jesus’ command and convey their dialogue (20:18). In keeping with His pattern of ministry to women, He gently lifts Mary to a higher plane of spiritual awareness and strength.
A Communications Expert is Necessary
Those who venture to help married couples must be absolutely trustworthy. Because most people guard their privacy, a person who would counsel them must never break confidences or share their family problems. Furthermore, such a person must also have complete global knowledge of all customs, traditions, and familial life-ways. This individual must never make a mistake, always speak the truth, and have their best interests at heart. Couples are in need of an honest friend to teach God’s Word truthfully and effectively. It is essential a mentor be available to effectively communicate spiritual truth. Because most people tend to treasure familial life, one must be found who understands challenges specific to all life-ways. A leader who can competently advise couples today must possess the three key elements of ability, authority, and accessibility.
To meet the criterion of ability, this individual must be omni-competent in order to give pragmatic advice to families. To have the necessary authority, this person must exhibit omnipotence to deal effectively with intricate challenges. To be equally accessable to thousands of couples simultaneously would require this counselor to be omniscient. If someone could meet all these qualifications, this perfect person would be a godsend. Indeed, one able to meet such complex criterion must be God.
A Communications Expert is Available
Contrasted with eternity, the period of time Christ walked on earth was comparatively short. Refusing to leave His followers comfortless, He promises to send another Comforter, dwelling within all who will receive Him (John 14:17-18). These verses indicate Christ’s ability to comfort others and the assurance that a new Comforter will be supplied. This individual will continue to communicate with human beings in the spirit of Christ. The only criterion for a superlative mentor that Christ could not meet while on earth is that of omnipresence. Therefore, it is imperative a contemporary friend is found who will converse and lift couples to higher faith, just as Jesus did during His ministry.
As evidenced in the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit has no ethnic or cultural bias. There are many characteristics of the Holy Spirit that should be of special interest to married couples.
A Communications Expert is Beneficent
While many become suspicious when anything is offered to them freely, the Father gives the gift of the Holy Spirit without ulterior motive (Luke 11:13). The Spirit will testify to those who ask Him that the Bible is true and authored by the Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 1:11-12; 2 Pet. 1:21). If God’s Word is not readily recollected, the Spirit will bring to remembrance all that Jesus taught (John 14:26). The Spirit of God can be relied upon to search the hidden things of God (1 Cor. 2:10). The Spirit will discern and reveal entities both good and evil (1 Cor. 12:10). He is essential for the comparison of spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:13). The Spirit of God convicts people of specific sins (John 16:8). As they repent, they are released from the bondage of sin and death (Rom. 8:2).
Joseph declares to Pharaoh’s officer the interpretation of dreams belongs to God alone (Gen. 40:8). Many people place great faith in dreams, therefore God’s Spirit is essential as an interpreter (Dan. 5:12). By revealing things to come, the Spirit can give families a vision for their future (John 16:13). Many stand in need of daily guidance in God’s Word. The Lord has promised to put His Spirit within us and cause us to walk in His statutes (Ezek. 36:27). The Holy Spirit has the ability to direct believers to specific places of service (Isa. 48:16; Acts 13:2).
Those who are oppressed always welcome a strong defender. “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him” (Isa. 59:19). The Holy Spirit endues each individual with power for daily living (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). Many couples would love to have joy amid their struggles to survive. God’s Spirit will supply this need perpetually (1 Thess. 1:6). The Spirit will bring lives to full fruition (Gal. 5:22-23). The Spirit of God often serves as an inculcator, patiently and continuously providing opportunities to obey His gentle voice (1 Kings 19:12).
Love is a welcome commodity in any home and the love of God is shed abroad in hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom.5:5). In view of the heartache prevalent in many homes, the Spirit has the power to renew strength daily (Ps. 51:12; Titus 3:5). Families desperate for miraculous provision can be assured of the Spirit’s intervention (Heb. 2:4). The Holy Spirit will lead couples into a better life (2 Thess. 2:13). Those who possess the Holy Spirit are empowered to communicate with God as Father by praying in the Spirit (Rom. 8:15; Jude 20). The gift of tongues is a particular blessing, for the Spirit makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God (Rom. 8:26-27).
A Communications Expert is Pro-Active
Due to the uniqueness of each woman in the five cases reviewed, attempts to compare and contrast any two of them will prove futile. However, these conversations provide evidence that human beings have a deep longing for personal communication with God. In every situation, Jesus’ dialogues always result in a greater comprehension of His person and character. Even in an era when women were not highly respected, Jesus consistently demonstrates tender regard….and still treats women the same today. Through His teachings and propitiation, He desires to spiritually uplift both genders.
Christ’s interactive dialogues provide the only exemplar regarding enhanced communicative skills. He perfectly models the attitude people desiring meaningful dialogue must possess. Christians are expected to work out the pragmatic details in personal domestic situations by following Christ’s selfless example. It is possible to develop communicative expertise only when accompanied by a similar attitude of compassion. Couples will find this will result in supernaturally enhanced communicative skills on a continuum.
Married couples must take the initiative to invite the Holy Spirit into their marriages, just as Christ was personally invited to the wedding at Cana. Men and women must be encouraged to assume their roles as Spirit-filled disciples. The One who guides believers into all truth will also guide couples in the development of marital communication skills (John 16:13).
The Lord’s character, teachings and vicarious sacrifice assure His bride, the Church, of His perpetual care and provision. His compassionate interaction with these five women models the attitude husbands must display in marital life. His pattern of respectful behavior challenge men in interactions with women in general….and with their wives in particular.