The question was innocent enough, but somehow, “Which way are the markets?” turned into a heated discussion about the price of cheese. The Thai man we’d asked was adamant we’d agreed to buy his goods. We were adamant he was dreaming, and we had no idea what he was talking about. It didn’t end well.
Another scene comes to mind: the end of my first week in Brazil. I sat on a hospital bed, choking back tears and silently crying out to God. I hadn’t been able to keep anything down for several days and all the doctors could do was give me fluids through an IV line. A flurry of activity surrounded me, nurses explaining what was wrong with me in rapid-fire Portuguese, and never had I felt so alone. “English?” I whispered, my heart breaking. They only shook their heads, a mix of pity and frustration in their eyes.
"A simple 'I don’t understand' can often bring about overwhelming feelings of shame and guilt."
The third scene is one I’m sure many are familiar with. A friend of mine came to church for the very first time, and we proudly marched him down the aisle to sit in the front row. But as the pastor passionately expatiated on the Levitical doctrines and their relevance to the Old Testament Sanctuary, my friend’s eyes kept glazing over until I was certain he’d fallen asleep. Though he stayed awake for the whole sermon, he didn’t want to talk about what had just transpired. We didn’t press. And he never came back.
Finally, a woman is kneeling and a short man is climbing. Both are eager to get close to a famous Preacher. Both wear the label of “sinner”, given to them by their community. The woman’s tears spill over as she wipes His feet with her hair, and the man’s heart beats faster in his chest as he’s called down from a tree. All around them, people are muttering, and the old familiar feelings of shame begin to surface.
Misunderstandings hurt. Communication barriers are tough to break down. A simple “I don’t understand” can often bring about overwhelming feelings of shame and guilt. People will think we’re stupid. Maybe if we tried a bit harder, we’d get it. Maybe if we learned the language faster, we’d fit in.
But Jesus doesn’t say or do anything like that. After all, He knows better than anyone how much it hurts when people don’t understand. He knows how difficult it is for us to put pride aside and simply ask for clarification. He smiles kindly and says to the sinful woman, “I’m here—and I hear.” He extends His hand to Zacchaeus and says, “I want to stay with you.” It’s enough to make an unnamed woman and a tax collector feel, for perhaps the first time in their lives, as though someone finally understands. And no matter what we go through, it’s enough for us too.