The Therapist Jesus

14 Mar The Therapist Jesus

“The Therapist Jesus”
John 4:4-30
Michelle Fincher
March 11, 2018
Calvary Presbyterian Church

This morning we return to our Lenten sermon series, “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?”  Thus far, we’ve examined different perspectives of Jesus by looking at the Super Human Jesus, the Social Revolutionary Jesus, and the Gentle Jesus, all with the ultimate goal to help us answer the question that Jesus posed to his disciples:  “Who do you say that I am?”

I hope by now it is apparent that one of the reasons we need a sermon series like this is that, left to our own devices, we all have a tendency to make of Jesus what we need and want him to be, rather than seeing him as he really is.  In biblical language, it’s idolatry, pure and simple. We pick and choose the parts of God we want to “accept”, instead of ordering our lives around the truth of who Jesus reveals God to be. Scripture is continually inviting us to name our idolatry, repent of it, and grow in faith so that we can answer Jesus’ question, “who do you say that I am?” in the same way Peter did: “You are the Messiah, the Holy One of God” and to embrace all that that answer entails.

With that in mind, let’s look now at the Therapist Jesus and start by asking, what is in scripture that might lead people to a view of Jesus as therapist?  There are four aspects of a good therapist that Jesus embodies:

  1. Jesus encourages:  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) We feel better, our hearts are lifted when we hear Jesus speak these words.
  2. Jesus comforts:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:1, 27) Jesus speaks, and our anxiety decreases.
  3. Jesus is present:  He is present at weddings, at parties, and at gravesides.  He touches lepers, eats with prostitutes and speaks to demons.  Just as a good therapist would do, he accepts people right where they are without prejudice or judgment.  He loves people even, and maybe especially, when they are most unlovable. (Matthew 8:3, 31-32, 9:10, John 2:2)
  4. Jesus listens:  Like a well-trained therapist, Jesus doesn’t just listen to what is verbally said to him, but he listens to the concerns that lie beneath what is spoken.  For example, a rich young ruler asks a question about achieving eternal life, and Jesus probes the man to reveal a heart that was possessed by his possessions. (Matthew 19) Or, the Pharisees ask a question about paying taxes and Jesus hears and answers not a question about loyalty to the government but of loyalty to a sovereign God. (Matthew 22:15-22)  

Jesus met people in the ordinariness of their lives and validated their everyday human experiences of joy and grief, fear and failure, triumph and celebration.  No matter the issue—bad decisions, dysfunctional family relationships, personal greed, moral failure, anxiety—whatever it was, with Jesus, like it is with a good counselor, people didn’t have to wear a mask or hide behind a façade.  In fact, Jesus enjoyed being with people whose lives were messy and who didn’t have it all together. People could be honest and still be safe; they could be heard and still loved. By being one who encouraged, comforted, was present and listened, Jesus embodied the best of a skilled and caring therapist.  But in addition to this wonderful way he had of being in relationship with others, the biblical picture of Jesus also makes it clear that he had a keen understanding of the human heart. No therapist has ever been better at delving straight to the core issues that hide there, and we’re going to look at two:  fear and restlessness

You know the story:  “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” (Genesis 3:8-10)

There they were, Adam and Eve, in the garden, living in harmony with their creator and with the creation, until a fateful choice changes everything. God curses the snake for his deception, curses the ground that the man depended on for his survival and increased the woman’s pain in childbirth.  But, more far-reaching still, sin now created a separation between Adam and Eve and God, a separation that took physical form in their expulsion from the garden. But, spiritually and emotionally, that separation came in the form of fear: fear had entered the human heart and that fear not only impacted humanity’s relationship with God, it changed humanity’s relationships with one another and even our understanding of ourselves.  

Because of fear we are ensnared in doubt.  We doubt God’s goodness. We’re not always sure of God’s existence.  And, we especially doubt God’s love, so that even while we talk about how wonderful grace is, we’re still working as hard as we can to be as good as we can so that God can love us.  In our relationships with one another, the same soul-crushing fear exists. Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, captures it succinctly in his book Searching for God Knows What.  He writes, “I have sometimes wondered if the greatest desire of man is to be known and loved anyway.”  The terrible fear that we harbor is that if I am really known, no one will love me. I won’t measure up.  I won’t be worthy. I won’t be good enough.

Closely related to this fear, is a second consequence of our separation from God, and that is a deep and profound restlessness that keeps us on a continual quest to find meaning in our lives.  While Adam and Even had unbroken fellowship with God in the garden, they experienced ultimate fulfillment and meaning in loving God and enjoying him. But, once that was broken by sin, a void was created that humanity has been trying to fill ever since.  In the 5th century, St. Augustine recognized it and wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”  Twelve hundred years later Blaise Pascal, a 17th c. French physicist, mathematician, and philosopher, identified our search this way:  “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing but only by God, the creator, made known through Jesus.”  No therapist can fill that void. The only thing that will fill the restlessness in our lives is Jesus, but people spend an inordinate amount of energy, time and money attempting to fill it with all kinds of things that aren’t Jesus.  

In our scripture passage this morning, we find Jesus in traveling mode.  Tired and thirsty, he stops at a well to rest, and while there he initiates a conversation with a woman.  To our ears there is nothing special about the dialog Jesus starts. But, in 1st century Palestine, Jesus’ actions would have been as scandalous as a prominent Bible Belt evangelical walking into a house of ill repute and asking a lady of the night to go to a bar for a few drinks.  This is a woman, she’s a Samaritan, and after 5 husbands she’s now living with a man to whom she is not married. No respectable Jew would dare be seen in public talking to a person like this, one with this reputation.  Jesus asks her a fairly innocent sounding question, “will you give me a drink?” The woman doesn’t answer Jesus’ question and in fact, we’re never told whether she gives Jesus the water he asks for or not. Instead, with complete candor, she straightaway names the proverbial elephant in the living room: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman.  How can you ask me for a drink?”

Jesus meets the woman’s surprising forthrightness with a surprising answer of his own, steering their conversation from the subject of well water to the rather odd notion of living water.  The woman replies that she can’t wait to get hold of some of that—anything that will relieve her burden of carrying heavy water jugs from the well to home everyday has to be a good thing. Next thing you know, Jesus drops all mention of water and tells the woman to go home, get her husband and bring him with her back to the well.

Again, the woman answers with a transparent honesty that is refreshing.  “I have no husband,” she says, to which Jesus responds by commending her truthfulness before giving a quick summary of her history with men.  Why? What is Jesus doing? He engages this woman in a conversation about water so he can get to the real conversation which is about the restlessness in her soul.  This is a woman who has been looking to her relationships with men to try to fill the God-sized hole in her heart. Notice that Jesus does not judge her. He does not condemn her or even mention the idea of sin.  Instead, he names the unspoken desire of her heart to be fully known and loved anyway. Jesus points out the destructive cycle of her life that has driven her through relationship after relationship search-ing for the lasting fulfillment that none of them can provide.  He knows that what she really needs is God, and so he offers to fill her up with himself.

Given this biblical portrait, it seems reasonable to ask, “what’s wrong with a therapist Jesus?”  First, Jesus as therapist focuses too much on the individual self.  Therapy is, by its very nature, an inner, self-focused endeavor, and in the right context, that is a good thing.  Therapy can be invaluable in offering us a safe, objective place to work on our own deep inner change, to work through grief or trauma or to learn valuable skills for  responding to the events, people and situations in our lives. But, if that is the primary lens through which we view Jesus, then we have become the central focus of life with Jesus reduced to a helping role, rather than keeping Jesus as the central focus, with our lives being a response to him.  Jesus does have a lot to say about our interior lives and growing towards health and wholeness is vitally important—we cannot be all God desires for us to be without it. But, Jesus must be the defining truth and reality in our lives—it is only through him that we can even know the deepest truths about ourselves.

Second, Jesus as therapist minimizes his divinity.  If Jesus is primarily viewed in the helping role of a therapist, then he is not the creator of all, the judge of all, the glorified ruler of all.  He is not the one in whom “we live and move and have our being,” the one before whom every knee will one day bow. Most importantly, the therapist Jesus is not the Christ—risen, resurrected and seated at God’s right hand in glory. A therapist can be a trusted resource to help us understand our lives, but Jesus the Christ is the source of our life and the one who gives us the power to live it not just for our sakes but for the sake of God’s eternal purposes for the world.

Third, Jesus as therapist fails to account for the kingdom of God.  Jesus is our helper, our encourager, and our comforter not primarily for the sake of each of us individually, as wonderful as that is, but for the sake of the kingdom.  The question we need to remember to ask is, how does our story fit into the larger story of God? We are called to be a part of what God is doing in the world and in history by being agents of his kingdom.  It is important that we bring ourselves fully and authentically to that call, and to that end Jesus is at work in our lives, refining his image in us and molding us to be the people he has created us to be so that we can live as kingdom people.

Without a doubt, Jesus cares about our wholeness.  To that end, he   

  • heals our past
  • gives us hope and power in the present and
  • fits us for the kingdom now and in the future

Jesus is not the Grand Therapist, held on retainer to be on call for whenever we need help coping with our lives.  Jesus the Christ has unleashed the power of the Holy Spirit to free us from the power of sin, to redeem us, and to call us to righteousness.  Let us not forget that this Jesus, the one who calls us friend, the one who bears our burdens, the one who hears every cry and sees every tear, is the risen Lord of all, the one who holds all things together.  Jesus does not exist for us. We exist for him, by him and because of him. Thanks be to God for that. Amen.

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