Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 4:13-14
If 2020 had a single word to describe it so far, my best guess is this: conflict.
With the dawn of the new decade, our highly interconnected society is not only bombarded by millions of conflicting opinions but also with myriads of clashes at all levels. Blacks vs. police. Masked vs. unmasked. Youthful passion vs. older establishment. Men vs. women. Democrats vs. Republicans. Opulent wealth vs. despairing poverty. Big business vs. indie startups. Secular humanism vs. Christian faith. Tennessee vs. Alabama football (well, that’s been going on forever).
When the mass media fan the flames on these issues, many people jump into one of the polarized camps and fight ferociously to defend their side’s point of view. This scenario creates an “us vs. them” mentality, calling for a “heroes vs. villains” approach to the fight. Anyone with an opposing view becomes an enemy to be vilified and destroyed.
Those in the middle stand bewildered, caught in the crossfire, not knowing what to do or say to help defuse the fight. They find themselves at odds with loved ones and friends, unable to bridge the divide.
After all the recent heartbreaking news in the U.S.–racial tensions, attacks both by and against police, violence in the streets–on top of coronavirus concerns, my soul has been burdened to write something about the need for healing. So many others have spoken eloquently and appropriately in response…what could I possibly add to the discussion?
In turning to the Bible for answers, I thought we’d look at how Jesus Christ approached conflict–in His interracial encounter with the woman at the well.
Like all of His meetings with women, it’s a remarkable story of His radical involvement with people. Jesus never engages in casual conversations. He penetrates the human heart immediately with His presence and words.
How does the story in John 4 relate to us today? We don’t know her name, but she is one of us…rejected…multiple times…by men and women. As theologian Dr. R.C. Sproul notes, this woman has three strikes against her:
- She’s a Samaritan. There’s been bad blood between the Jews and the Samaritans for centuries. The Jews considered the Samaritans to be “impure” and beneath them—they had no social dealings like eating a meal together, even though both groups shared the same original ancestor in Jacob, at whose well Jesus now rested.
- She’s a woman. In Bible times, to men, she isn’t much more than another piece of property. Even Jesus’ disciples are astonished that He speaks directly with a female.
- She is tainted by sexual immorality. She’s been married and divorced five times. That’s baggage on top of baggage where the Jews were concerned. To make matters worse, she’s now living with a man out of wedlock, something completely verboten and disreputable under Jewish law. It appears that women of the community disdain her as well. Drawing water was women’s work, usually at a time for social interaction, but she’s alone at the well at the wrong time of day.
When Jesus meets up with her, He is alone, too…his disciples have gone to get food in town. He’s tired. He’s just had a challenging nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, a powerful man who discovers he must be born again and that God loves him intensely. (See John 3:16.) Now, at the well, Jesus addresses the heart of someone on the opposite end of society, at the bottom rung.
It’s a disjointed dialogue. She is both defensive and offensive. Jesus is neither. He never answers her pointed questions or racially-charged statements. She tries to point out the differences between them and goad him into a fight, but He doesn’t take the bait. While she argues and makes subtle but provoking overtures, He cuts to the chase–offering her truth, hope, Himself.
She is transformed. Jesus has just lifted the veil of her soul and revealed that He is her Messiah. This is too much for her to keep to herself. She abandons her water pot and runs back to her village to speak to the men there. Her new song? “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”
Her enthusiasm and urgency are contagious–the men themselves come out to meet this Man and see if her words are true. Her testimony works–the Samaritans believe, too, and urge Jesus to stay. He winds up staying two days in this unwelcome area. It’s an incredible sign of their acceptance of Him and His love for them…He breaks down walls and enmity to share their hospitality in a hostile world.
So, what can we learn from Jesus about coping with conflict?
Talk with Him first…pray for yourself and the person you encounter. Ask Him to let you have a life-changing conversation and for His Holy Spirit to guide you.
Listen and don’t argue…think of ways to direct the discussion away from the differences and toward what the other person needs to learn about Jesus and His love for all people. Always share the truth.
Forgive…if you find yourself under attack, forgive your opponent and turn the other cheek. If you discover that you have been wrong in some way, repent and ask for forgiveness.
Offer hope…introduce your adversary to the One who has life-giving water for thirsty souls. If there is rejection or if you are persecuted for speaking the name of Christ, you can be comforted in knowing you were faithful to witness about His gift of eternal life to others. You may never know what seeds you plant when you hold up His cross as a love offering.
Speak in love and peace…let your words well up from a heart full of love for others and joy in Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to pour out His gifts through you.
As Christians, we have the opportunity–in quiet moments, away from the shouting and strife–to be His salt and light to hungry, despair-darkened souls. Lift His banner of love high. Slowly, we will all move forward on the path toward Christ and His kingdom.
Jesus Christ, please help us to imitate You, walking in love, as You also loved us and gave Yourself sacrificially for us. Fill us with Your Spirit of harmony, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Open our hearts to accept others and love them as You do. Give us grace to speak Your truth as well. In Your blessed name, Amen.
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