Perhaps you have seen bumper stickers that read “Jesus is changing the world one individual at a time.” This statement takes into account the very personal nature of Jesus’ engagement of us. Notice how often in the Gospels Jesus engages individuals—Zacchaeus (Luke 19), Mary and Martha (Luke 10 and John 11), Nicodemus (John 3), the Samaritan woman (John 4), the rich young ruler (Luke 18), the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15), the lame man (John 5), and blind man (John 9). For all my concern for systemic issues of injustice, I must never forget that Jesus never forgets the individual and how he often transforms the person’s life such as Nicodemus or the Samaritan woman from the inside out. In fact, my wife who is a Japanese national will always remind me not to lose sight of this focus on the individual. She came to Christ in Japan. She had never heard talk of a personal God who loved the world, even her. When she heard the good news that Jesus loved her and gave his life for her (John 3:16), she responded in faith to him. To this day, it is the best news she has ever heard.
This same Jesus who changes individuals’ lives is also changing structures. He’s changing the world one relational structure at a time. Just think of the Samaritan woman. Jesus breaks through the cultural taboos by reaching out to this Samaritan woman. He talks to her. He asks her for a drink. John chapter 4 tells us that Jews would not even use the dishes that Samaritans have used (John 4:9). Jesus did not allow the cultural taboos and ideology that separated his people from the Samaritans to keep him from breaking into her life with God’s life-giving water of eternal love (John 4:10, 13-14).