April/May 2014 - Vol. 73
Part 4: Three Tools for Mission:
Word, Witness, and Community
by Carlos Mantica
As we have seen in the previous chapter (Part 3), The Parable of the Apartment Building contains several practical ideas which we may not have grasped at first sight.
1. The first is that those who moved to the new building had to announce to the others the good news that they no longer needed to live or be as before, because the gates of the new building, the gates to the place where our God reigns, are open to them. Christ opened them with his blood!
2. The second thing they need to do is bear witness to how they now live, and to the fact that their new way of life is better than the former one. That is to say, they are not there by force or because they are good people, but because they are no fools.
3. The third thing is inviting people to COME AND SEE, for them to live in condominium with us.
Three tools for
Some people don’t know how to talk to people, so maybe they think that what they are supposed to do is go to some retreat and give a talk. Others of us would want to talk to the whole world about Christ, but we don’t always do it the best way so we scare people. That’s why the best method is to take a look at what Christ himself did, as he is our best teacher in everything.
There’s a tremendous passage in the Gospel where Christ gives us a lesson on how to talk to people. It’s the account of Christ and the Samaritan woman, in John 4:1-42.
Now when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again to Galilee. He had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. (vv. 1-9)Here we have several wonderful lessons given by the Lord. Let’s imagine the scene. The Lord is tired after walking several hours through the desert. It’s noon, the sun is scorching, and all of them are starving. That’s why the disciples have gone into town for food. But the Lord does not let go the opportunity .
Let’s look well: the Lord has not made a special trip in order to talk to the Samaritan woman. It’s a coincidental encounter, but the Lord is always ready to announce the Kingdom. First lesson: We need to be apostles 24 hours a day, and take advantage of the normal circumstances of life, and even of a coincidence, to talk to people about Christ.
Second lesson: We must take the initiative, instead of waiting to be asked.
Third lesson: The Lord excludes no one from his love. Jews and Samaritans were enemies to death, to the point that this woman is perplexed to see that he addresses her. It’s got to be the same with us.
A Christian is not supposed to have enemies, and if he does, he is supposed to love them, no matter what their ideology, their convictions, their flag or their social status. The Lord expects us not to exclude anyone from the good news.
Another lesson, a very important one: The Lord does not just approach the Samaritan woman to say without preamble, “Madam, I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” In that case he would have been regarded as a madman.
The Lord begins by establishing a common concern. The woman has come to draw water, and the Lord talks about... about what? About water! And to the farmer he speaks about the seed in the field, and to the housewife about the lost coin, and to the fishermen about nets and fish, and to many of you he would talk about baseball or boxing or football. That is, he starts the conversation with something the other person is concerned about.
Let’s go ahead.
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”Here we can see another lesson from the Lord. After establishing a friendship or a relationship, he talks to her about something he has and she lacks. He talks about something that is better for her, something that would make her very happy. He’s not deceiving her. It’s something he sincerely desires for her.
The same with us—we Christians have something the world needs and does not have. We have someone who is the light and the salvation of the world, someone they don’t even know or have heard about.
But we also have something better, which they don’t have. The life we are now living is something we would sincerely desire for them: our peace, our joy, the love we relate to each other with, our mutual loyalty, our strength in difficulties, the way we help each other, our confidence even before death itself, and so on.
Let us continue reading.
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 he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” (vv. 16-19)We have here a very important lesson that we often neglect. The Lord confronts her with her sin, but does not condemn her. He doesn’t say, “You old adulteress! You’ve already got five men in your record, and you’re now with your sixth! You’re on your way to hell!”
Just as we can’t call right what is wrong, we must be like the Lord who hates sin but loves the sinner. We can confront a person with his faults and sins, but only to tell him that the Lord wants to erase those sins forever, and that we ourselves love and accept this person, because one day we were like him and the Lord was pleased to have mercy on us.
When we confront someone with his life, we can have the same experience the Lord had. Look at what the Samaritan woman says:
“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is come when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father... But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” (vv. 20-21, 23a)What has happened here? The same thing that happens to us so often: when the Samaritan woman realizes she is being confronted with her disorderly life, she shifts to a different subject. She changes topics, she leaves the area of her personal life and starts to talk about theology. It’s unfailing!
You are trying to have someone to face, perhaps for the first time in his life, the fact that he’s headed to disaster and cannot go on like that. So he says, “Boy, I really think this retreat is not for me because I don’t believe in Adam’s apple.” Or, “The truth is that all priests are a lot of thieves.” Or else, “Come on, explain to me this thing about Jonah and the whale.”
And, of course, your response has to be, “Stop mentioning other people, leave Jonah with his whale and the priests with their problems, and face up the facts of your own life right now!” This is what the Lord does; he brings her back to the personal level.
The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (vv. 25-26)
Our evangelism needs to lead to that point—to a personal encounter with Christ, an encounter with the Savior who is coming. We often spend years talking about doctrine, but we do not follow a doctrine—we follow a person, the living and risen Christ, the son of Mary, the Savior of the world. It is him that we need. It is Christ we are supposed to give them. See what happens when a person meets Christ:
So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the city and were coming to him... Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. (vv. 28-30, 39-41)A person who has had an actual encounter with Christ will find it almost impossible not to talk about him. I hope you have encountered him. When one encounters Christ, his life will no longer be the same. And this takes us to the second instrument we had referred to earlier.
Witness - Testimony
Brothers and sisters, a witness is not super-human. A witness is simply someone who can bear witness to something that is true because he knows it for sure.
I have come here to bear witness that God is LOVE. That my Lord is faithful. I have not come to tell you that I am good, but that my Lord is good. I have not come to tell you what I am able to do, but that in him who strengthens me I am able to do everything. I have not come to boast about holiness, but to boast that my God and my friend is the Holy of Holies. Just like the Samaritan woman, I have come to tell you that I now know that all of this is true, not because somebody told me so, but because I have verified it myself.
We often have no chance to talk to people, but our works can talk instead of us.
I’m sure that some of you are here today, not because you needed or wanted a retreat, but because you needed to have something you saw in the life of a friend or relative and came to look for that.
I suppose you are clear by now that it is not that we have SOMETHING special, but that we have SOMEONE very special, and it is he who makes everything else possible.
Bishop Helder Câmara from Brazil used to say that we ought to take care of our own lives, because that may be the only Gospel our brothers can read. I believe that a Christian is someone who, while always wanting and striving to live according to the Gospel, humbly recognizes that his life will always be far below the truth he preaches.
It is said that, in the middle of a battle, Alexander the Great found a soldier who was escaping in withdrawal, and asked him, “What is your name?” “Alexander,” replied the soldier. “Alexander, and you flee?”, the emperor said; “Either you change your attitude or you change your name!”
We can have falls and failures just as anyone else. What we cannot do is live exactly as before, and boast about the name of Christians. We either change our name or change our attitude.
You will ask which is more important, the word or the testimony. That’s like asking which is more important, the right leg or the left leg. Whichever you lack, you’re lame, you’re worth nothing.
Because if you lack the word, they will think you are a good person, but they will never know who is your rock and your source of power. You will be admired, perhaps, or respected as an honorable citizen, but not as an apostle of Christ. But if you lack the testimony, they will hardly accept what you say, and they will not encounter their Savior.
So I end by telling you that life in the new apartment building is far better than life in the world. Because I have known both, and I would exchange my whole past life for a single minute of the new one.
I just want to tell you that I don’t only live a new life, but I live in a new world. It’s a completely different world, where people are different, and where the way we relate is different, and where our children are different, and our wives are different.
It’s a world where the other person is not my rival or my enemy unless the opposite is demonstrated, but my brother and my support. A world where people walk in the light, with purity in their eyes and sincerity in their hearts. Where a person’s problems are everyone’s problems, and a person’s joys are everyone’s joys. We now wonder how we were ever able to live otherwise.
And this is another instrument of the Lord—the community of brothers and sisters who show the old tenants a different alternative of human fellowship, based on the Lord’s love and power.
I only have one more thing to tell you. For the Samaritan woman, her encounter with the Christ was not the end of everything, but the beginning of a new life. Many of the things we will do are the simple, everyday things, but everything we do will have a new meaning.
We are involved today in an incredible enterprise, we are part of the people to whom the salvation of the world has been entrusted. With our actions and omissions we can advance or hinder the second coming of the Lord.
In this people, in this mission, we all have a position to occupy, and every position is important. We must find ours, because the position you are supposed to hold cannot be held by anybody else in your stead.
In the Lord’s eyes, each of us is unique and irreplaceable. That’s why
he dreamed of you from eternity, he waited for your arrival with anticipation,
and he is now waiting your coming to the house of the Father for you to
work with him in building that world which will one day have Christ as
its only LORD. To him be glory, honor and praise, now and forever. Amen!
This article is adapted from the book, From Egghead to Birdhood (hatch or rot as a Christian), (c) copyright 2001 Carlos Mantica.
Carlos Mantica is a founder
of The City of God community (La Cuidad de Dios) in Managua, Nicaragua,
and a founding leader of the Sword
of the Spirit. He served as president of the Sword of the Spirit between
1991 and 1995.
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom