In our world today, conflict seems to be everywhere. Whether between family members or between nations, people are fighting with each another. On the micro-scale, people argue over spending, lifestyle, or beliefs. On the macro-scale, wars are waged between people as they fight for land, over religion, or resources. Tensions seem to be rising, and polarization growing…what can we do in response to all the conflict?
The Ultimate Peacemaker
As the scripture says, “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Conflict is nothing new. Jesus presents us with an excellent case study to see how he handled conflict in his context which can inform how we can do the same.
In John 4, John records an amazing story of Jesus’ encounter with a woman, famously called “the Samaritan Woman.” To most of us, we have very little context for the interactions between Jews and Samaritans, but for a moment imagine the kind of tensions we see between political parties, religious factions, and ethnic groups today. Jews were disgusted with the “half-breed” Samaritans, and Samaritans resented the judgmental Jews. The idea of a Jewish spiritual leader like Jesus talking with a woman from an ethnic minority AND who had a scandalous reputation was incomprehensible, especially for Jesus’ disciples. And though Jesus didn’t have a specific history of resentment or bitterness towards Samaritans, the tension between him and Samaritans was assumed, and expressed by the woman and Jesus’ disciples in the story.
Jesus’ actions were quite radical:
- He chose to walk through Samaria to get to his destination. Jewish religious zealots like the Pharisees went out of their way to avoid Samaritan land; Jesus went straight through it.
- He initiates a spiritual conversation with the woman, in spite of the fact that she immediately brings up that they shouldn’t talk to each other as people from opposing ethnic/religious groups, and as a man and woman alone.
- When the woman brings up spiritual differences (the Jews’ place of worship versus the Samaritans’) Jesus draws the conversation to the vision of genuine God-seekers being united with God.
- Jesus shows her respect and welcomes dialogue, in spite of knowing that his friends would be shocked (and probably angry too).
Though her initial response to him was hostility and skepticism, the conversation ends with her amazement about Jesus and an uncontainable enthusiasm to tell others about him. His one encounter with her opens the door for many other people from her community to meet him too.
Peace-Making Strategies for Today
This story of Jesus as he engages conversation with this Samaritan woman (and later her entire community) provide us some creative examples for peace-making:
- we can choose to live our lives in such a way to bump into people that are very different than us. Jesus was very intentional (and counter-cultural to his religious contemporaries) with where he went, which presented opportunities he never would have had if he’d taken the “safe route” back home. We can do the same.
- We can initiate spiritual conversations with people, even if we already know that we come from different cultures and perspectives and aren’t expected to befriend each other.
- When people bring up our differences, we can choose to direct the conversation to God and living lives that honor him.
- We can show respect and welcome dialogue, in spite of knowing our friends may be shocked (and even angry) at our efforts towards peace-making with others who are different than us.
And perhaps, as we show love, friendship, and speak words of truth, our friends will encounter Jesus and have an uncontainable enthusiasm to tell others about him too. May it be!
“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.” (Ephesians 2:14)