In John 4 Jesus is having a perfectly nice conversation with a Samaritan woman. By the standards of the day he’s being nice to talk to her in the first place, her being a woman and a Samaritan and all (v. 9). And he gives her a beautiful picture of the Gospel:
Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (4:13-14)
She’s sold. She wants this water. She asks for it. Then Jesus makes it awkward.
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (4:16-18)
Now this isn’t Jesus having a little faux pas, like when my dental hygienist apologized for hurting me and I said “That’s ok, if you came to me for marriage counseling I’d probably make you cry,” and she said “You’re probably right. I went through a divorce a couple years ago…” It wasn’t like that at all, because Jesus isn’t a blabbering fool like me. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows this woman has a particular sin pattern, and right at the point where she seems ready to believe his message, he baits her and brings it right out into the open.
In the process of sharing the Gospel, Jesus pointed directly to someone’s obvious, external, sexual sin.
Can you imagine what we’d say if we heard someone preaching the Gospel like this? We’d call him a fundamentalist, or at least a jerk. We’d say he wasn’t being missional, or incarnational, or sensitive. We all know that kind of preaching is no good anymore.
But Jesus isn’t a jerk, and he went there.
My point is certainly not that we should go around constantly pointing fingers at people’s external sins. There were plenty of times Jesus didn’t do this. Also there’s the whole omniscience thing, and the fact that he knew things about this woman she didn’t know about herself. And we can be certain that what he did here was out of love, out of a desire for this woman’s good, not a desire to shame or humiliate her.
But Jesus’ love is often very different from our culture’s view of love. In the case of this woman, the rest of the conversation shows she’s very willing to talk about spiritual things, but always wanting to keep it on the level of the theoretical. So he shows his love for her by poking that bubble. He makes it personal, brings it down to earth. “You’re a sinner, and you need a Savior.”
We cannot be more loving than Jesus. We can’t be kinder or wiser or more sensitive or more missional than he was. And yet, sometimes he was quite abrupt, even awkward. (As we see here, it wasn’t always with conservative religious types.) We don’t have the exhaustive knowledge or wisdom he does, but surely there are times when we should speak with that same kind of boldness.