Misunderstanding as a Way to Truth
John gave several instances in which Jesus did or said something and the hearer (or observer) wildly misunderstood. But the story doesn’t break off at that point. By showing how Jesus used the very act of misunderstanding, John wanted to develop belief.
For instance, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born anew” (John 3:7). Nicodemus heard a promise of renewed youth, a dream which has deceived many both before and since. But Jesus was talking about a spiritual birth which brings us into eternal life, and he continued the conversation until Nicodemus responded in faith.
Another instance of misunderstanding is Jesus’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus said, “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst” (John 4:14). The woman, tired of drawing water from a well on a hot day, thought he was offering to relieve her of that fatiguing work. She misunderstood. But Jesus continued the conversation until she responded to the offer of eternal life.
In each case when misunderstanding occurs, John showed how it was used by Jesus in such a way that his truth is finally realized and received. The misunderstanding becomes a means toward comprehension. It becomes a way to truth.
We are, it seems, so filled with questions, so racked with needs, so clamorous with desires, that when anything approximating an answer, a fulfillment, or a completion appears, we immediately try to fit it to our demands. And in our greediness and our haste, we almost inevitably misunderstand. We don’t have the education, the experience, or the ability to comprehend what God says to us.
Our first understandings of the truth of Christ are always misunderstandings. But the consequence is not to flunk out. We are not rejected as candidates for the gospel. Rather, he continues the conversation and after each give-and-take of question and answer and acceptance and doubt, we gain a closer approximation of the truth. Jesus uses our ignorance, our prejudices, and our needs as means for us to gain comprehension of his truth and our salvation.
Isn’t that good news? That our misunderstandings, no matter how well-intentioned or how badly intentioned, do not disqualify us from being part of the movement of people who experience resurrection and who by faith participate in the saving love of Jesus Christ? Our fragmentary misunderstandings hold no candle to his comprehensive understanding and love of us. Amen.
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