I don’t have a big, long post for you this week. I’d just like to finish up my mini-series on humanization with a counterexample to the one we started with. A little while ago, we looked at dehumanization in the life of Jacob and its disastrous effects on his family. Now, let’s look at the ultimate example of someone who knows how to treat people properly. Let’s look at Jesus.
The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman (also known as the woman at the well) in John 4 is one of the most well-known stories in all of scripture. It’s beloved, and for good reason. What at first glance might seem like an everyday conversation between two strangers at a well is actually a profound, world-changing revelation by Jesus of God’s intentions for the world and his expectations for us.
It truly is a case study in humanization. In this single story, we see Jesus practice all of the principles we’ve discussed the past few weeks and others, all of which indicate that Jesus really was treating his conversation partner as a fellow human being in the fullest sense.
We see him practice equality. It’s hard for us to understand the racial and ethnic tensions of Jesus’ day, but put simply, the Jews and the Samaritans did not get along. Jewish people weren’t supposed to have anything to do with Samaritans because they were considered ethnically unclean, being the mixed descendants of Jewish and Gentilite ancestors. The fact that Jesus would even travel through the area, much less actually converse and share water with one of the locals, is a major break with social norms and a major blow to the rampant racial prejudice of his day.
But he didn’t stop there. In her shocked response to Jesus’ decision to talk to her, his conversation partner refers to herself a Samaritan woman, and both of those words are significant. Just as Jews didn’t converse with Samaritans, so men didn’t speak to women as equals, either, if at all. If word had gotten out that Jesus was spending time with a woman at a well, it would have been scandalous. But he didn’t care. He not only spoke to her; he spoke to her as an equal.
Just by being where he was and speaking with the person he spoke to, Jesus was carrying out a revolutionary act of equality. He broke down human-made barriers that kept people excluded, devalued, and oppressed. He let the Samaritan woman—and all of us—know that he regarded her as a fellow human being, equal in value with any other. That’s humanization.
Jesus also made room for her agency. He treated her like a fellow subject rather than an object. He didn’t boss her around, but rather invited her into an interaction with him. He didn’t silence her, but rather left room for her to speak and to express herself, including her frustrations with the ways she’d been treated. He didn’t condemn her (though some modern readers might try if given the chance), but rather showed her compassion just as she was, inviting her to come to know him for who he was.
In his conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus recognized something that we all too often forget: She was a person created by God in his image for a purpose and with a free will. He knew he couldn’t coerce her into seeing him as her messiah. He knew he couldn’t establish a relationship with her based on righteous indignation. He simply allowed her to fully be herself, which opened up the door for her to feel fully known by him and to come to fully know him, too. That’s the basis for true reconciliation.
And finally, he practiced affirmation towards her. Before she knew anything else, this woman knew that Jesus was for her. He treated her with respect. He listened to her. And he expressed his desire to see the best for her come about, not only by breaking down the ethnic, religious, and social barriers that held her back, but by freeing her from her own insecurities and giving her abundant, never-ending life. Jesus was for her.
As we read on, we find out this interaction turned out pretty well for everyone involved. The woman came to know Jesus as her savior, and she even went home and told her community about her conversation with him. As a result, they met Jesus and believed in him as well. This is the first instance of Gentiles coming to know Christ in the gospel of John, and it happened as a result of Jesus’ humanizing conversation with the woman at the well.
We people of faith know that Jesus is meant to be our example in all things, and I can’t imagine a better example of how to humanize others than he gives us here. Jesus knew how to make every person he came into contact with feel recognized, heard, and known, and he did so by treating each and every person like a person. We are called to do the same. I believe that through studying the examples that Jesus gives us, seeking to emulate him, and allowing him to transform our hearts, we can come to practice humanization in all of our interactions as well.
Thanks for reading this little series, friends. I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you found it helfpul. I know I have. Let’s follow Jesus’ example and go treat people like people today, tomorrow, and every day.