Pastoral care (3): the positive surprises

Pastoral care gives as much as it can. Jesus Christ shows that pastoral care does good, changes people, and can even leave those around us speechless at times.

Jesus Christ carried the neighbour in His heart already long before He actually met him. Following are two events that show how conventions were broken and which concrete effects pastoral care can have.

The impossible encounter with the Samaritan woman

Jesus, the Jewish rabbi; she, the Samaritan. A conversation? Impossible! Rabbis did not speak with women because they were afraid of falling into disrepute. What’s more, women were considered to be unsuitable for doctrinal discussions.

As a matter of fact, this woman lived among the Samaritan people: believers who rejected the Scriptures, except for the five books of Moses, and were therefore considered far removed from the Israelite faith. They were considered heretics. The Jews avoided them.

Jesus approached the woman anyway. A simple request evolved into a conversation that changed everything in the life of this Samaritan woman. Jesus’ example here shows what is important before and during a pastoral care conversation. It has to be

  • unbiased: being open to one’s neighbour without any reservations in terms of gender, origin, intelligence, or denomination. Jesus could not care less about old snobbery or modern stereotypes.
  • focused: without swinging the moral hammer Jesus succeeds in talking about the essential things in life with her. Neither her past nor any possible faults are even brushed.

The Samaritan woman was enthusiastic. The conversation left her strengthened and in a positive mood. Excited she went to tell the people about Jesus and brought them to Him. She herself no longer looked back either, but looked ahead into her future. – Even today pastoral care is contagious. It can strengthen and put the focus on the right things, and it can encourage one to look ahead into the future.

At home with the outsider

In the customs system of the time, the tax-collectors were the henchman of the Romans. They not only levied justified fees and charges, but cheated and collected more: after all, they wanted to live too—and to live better than the average person.

“Robbery!“ the believers of the Torah declared and called them sinners. All this made the publicans socially isolated, hated, and left out. So Zacchaeus was anything but well-liked. The people wanted nothing to do with him. So when Jesus passed by he was sitting in a sycamore tree.

Jesus, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, spotted him. Jesus’ example shows that pastoral care also takes place on the fringes.

  • He is respectful: Jesus knows his name and tells him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” He takes a personal interest in him and makes use of the opportunity this unexpected moment offers and gets together with him.
  • He takes time: Jesus not only greets Zacchaeus and assures him that He will think of him, but actually goes to his house with him. Jesus takes His time, He listens and speaks, and stays until the moment of transformation.

After only one conversation with Jesus Christ the publican changes his whole life. He promises to give half of his possessions to the poor and to repay anyone he defrauded four times over. Still today true pastoral care can touch the heart of a person and change them profoundly.

Pastoral care, as Jesus exemplified it, means disregarding the many obvious things such as the prejudices of society or the assessments of others. Instead, pastoral care accompanies and strengthens the neighbour, helps when things shift and change, and points to eternal life. If this is successful, unbiased, focused, and respectful pastoral care can have an effect and surprise our neighbour positively.

The first part of our series showed how Jesus Christ understood pastoral care and practised it. The articles that will follow will deal with pastoral care as such and pastoral care with and without ministry.

Photo: fotografaw -

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Oliver Rütten
Congregational life