John 4: 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
Like most other sports fans, I am impressed by incredible feats of athleticism. I used to watch in awe as Michael Jordan took over a basketball game, seemingly single-handedly. I marveled at tennis great, Roger Federer, face multiple match-ending break points without flinching and finding a way to defeat his opponent. Wayne Gretzky’s sixth sense in hockey, Tiger Woods’ ferocious competitiveness – I could go on and on. But there is something that impresses me far more; it is when a famous athlete selflessly spends time with fans, the public or even reporters – when they humbly, and actively engage with others.
A New York Post article written by Mike Vaccaro, When superstar athletes take the time to interact with fans, highlights U.S. swimming superstar, Michael Phelps. Vaccaro mentions two old photos he found of Phelps. One shows Phelps signing a poster for a 9-year-old named Katie Ledecky; six years later Ledecky won her first, of many, Olympic swimming gold medals. In another picture he has his arm around 8-year-old Singaporean Joseph Schooling; eight years later, at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Schooling would out touch Phelps at the wall depriving him of his 23rd gold medal.
Phelps has had his issues, including some legal ones, but he understands the value of giving his time to others. “That’s the thing about Phelps: What we haven’t seen are the thousands of other pictures he has taken through the years with kids who last swam competitively at their town pool. But it always was important to him that his fans see he valued them every bit as much as they did him.”
No person has ever walked on the face of this earth and valued humans more than Jesus Christ. There are a few stories in the Bible that help me get a glimpse of his interactions with people. John 4: 1 – 42, tells the story of a Samaritan woman and Jesus. Jesus was tired from a long journey through Samaria and came to Jacob’s Well to retrieve water (vs. 6). When a Samaritan woman came to the well to retrieve water Jesus spoke to her and requested water. Today we would not think much of this, but in the context of the times this was an incredible act (even the disciples were shocked, vs. 27). Firstly, the Samaritan race was despised by the Jews and they were to have nothing to do with these unclean people. Secondly, Jewish men were never to greet women in public. Thirdly, this lady was anything but a faithful woman, having been married six times (vs. 18). But along comes this woman and Jesus ignores the man-made “rules” and engages her in a lengthy conversation. Their conversation included the discussion of “living water”, her past life, and teaching her about the fulfillment of scriptures (vv. 21-24). As always, Jesus was fully engaged when speaking with this woman. It is obvious that he had an incredible effect on her. “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony,” (vs. 39).
I was challenged by a sermon in which we were encouraged to “practice presence with people”. We need to make eye contact, put our phone away, be authentic, seek to understand and go deeper. So often I am already thinking of the next item on my to-do list, or I’m finishing the person’s sentence because I have no patience. When I act that way, I am de-valuing that person. Jesus, who resides inside of me, never treated people that way. When I act this way, I dishonor God. How about you? Are you fully present with others?