Undivided Attention

One of the online Bible college courses I am taking has a section on effective communication. It includes a discussion of the different types of communication. One is dialogue, which is defined as “to let meaning flow through us.” The instructor points out that for effective dialogue we must “buy in” to the other person. In other words, they must know that we are focusing on them and that they have our undivided attention. That seems to be a tall order these days.

I have been as guilty as the next person of glancing at my phone or letting some other distraction take my focus off what should be a meaningful dialogue. During the lecture, the instructor referenced the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. The story has several interesting quirks.

First, there is an academic debate about the story’s authenticity. It is absent from the earliest manuscripts and witness accounts. Most scholars accept that it does not belong in the Gospel of John but remain confident that it is an authentic story from the life of Christ. Second, the story itself is quite dramatic:

At dawn He appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around Him, and He sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him. John 8:2-6 (NIV)

Under Jewish law of the day, two witnesses would have had to catch the woman in the act. This means it is possible she was dragged from the bed of the act out into public, at best, scantily clad. They could have brought her to Jesus more discreetly. But spectacle is their true goal here: trapping Jesus. They see His compassion and forgiveness in conflict with the law of Moses where adultery is concerned. If Jesus tells the Pharisees and teachers of the law the woman should not be stoned, He is opposing God’s law. If He says stone her, He looks like a hypocrite. What Jesus does in response almost certainly increased the tension of the moment:

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with His finger. When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. John 8:7-8 (NIV)

There is a mob with rocks and Jesus bends down and starts writing in the sand with His finger? That does not appear to be the “buy-in” the professor in my online course referred to, does it? Why did he do that? Gary Burge writes in the NIV Application Commentary for the book of John that: “The traditional view is that Jesus wrote Jeremiah 17:13: Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.” Whatever Jesus was writing and for whatever reason, He doesn’t seem fully engaged until He stands and says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Now we see how engaged He really is. And the drama builds as He stoops again, apparently aware of the impact His words had on the woman’s accusers:

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” ”No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:9-11 (NIV)

I read a devotion recently that pointed out something about this story that I had missed the many, many times I have read it. When Jesus stoops the second time and her accusers leave, why doesn’t she run? They are gone, Jesus is bent down; why hang around? Answer: because she could see exactly how much “buy-in” Jesus had toward her. For her accusers, she is a prop. For Jesus, she is a purpose, a cause.

This example shows that powerful dialogue does not need a lot of words. The woman’s accusers got the message loud and clear; Jesus was ready for them and He was not going to fall into their trap. The woman heard it even more clearly: the most important thing to Him was her. She received that message so well she did not flee a terribly humiliating scene when she had the chance. She stayed. The buy-in was mutual.

Showing that we are interested, showing that we care, and showing that the person in front of us is the most important thing to us at that moment. Unlike Jesus, we need to continue working on this. It all starts by giving someone our undivided attention, buying in to the other person. God can make amazing things happen after that.

This post is republished with permission from Oakbrook Church, De Pere WI.

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