If I could describe our country right now with one word it would be divisive. It can be overwhelming and deeply upsetting when you stop and look around at the world and see that everyone is at odds with someone. The majority of these groups I cannot speak on behalf of or pretend to relate to their experience. In fact, I cannot do that for some people in my so called “group”. I’m talking about believers – people who claim Jesus as their Savior. The divisiveness is not limited to conversation amongst believers and nonbelievers. There is tension and animosity directed at each other. The world is so splintered by different ideologies, different experiences, and different truths. People have lost the ability to come together despite these things.
Throughout my awareness of this, I’ve been observing and wondering how we can claim to know a loving and grace-giving God when we ourselves cannot extend love and grace to one another. How do we communicate who Jesus is if we seem to have forgotten ourselves? The constant exposure to people’s opinions and beliefs via the internet and social media have particularly twisted me up inside. There is nothing more heart wrenching than seeing someone claim to know and love God and simultaneously spew hate-filled rhetoric on their Facebook wall. Seeing divisiveness anywhere in the world is upsetting but I think when a group you identify with is a part of it, it is particularly painful.
Like I said, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about ways to solve this problem that seems to grow worse with time. It breaks my heart to think about how our world has taken an opportunity – the ability to see and hear other’s stories with such ease – and completely turned it upside down. Shouldn’t we be closer? Shouldn’t we have more empathy? Shouldn’t there be bridges being built instead of burned? After asking myself these questions, I think at the root of this problem we don’t know how to communicate. We are stuck in this war with others because we aren’t able to communicate with them. We believe our truth and shout it, unwilling to uncover our ears. We stomp our feet and ignore compassion within the collective of those supporting us. We keep staring into the eyes of our fellow man and woman, all the while not seeing them.
It is incredible that all groups now have a platform. We are all able to see and be seen, hear and be heard. Yet, we still aren’t communicating in a way that solves problems. Platforms for everyone isn’t enough. So what do we do?
Could it really be as simple as changing how we engage one another? Could the divisiveness in our world (especially our country) be solved so easily?
I think so.
You know why? Because Jesus did it and it worked.
Jesus showed us how in one of my favorite stories in the Bible. When you look closely, there is a timeless, incredible message that teaches us the solution to this communication problem in our world.
Let me set the stage. Jesus was traveling from Judea to Galilee and passed through a town in Samaria. Tired from his journey, he stopped at a well in the town for water and rest.
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) John 4:7-9
This is HUGE. During this time, for Jesus to talk to a woman, especially a Samaritan woman, was remarkable. If we think there are issues in our world, look no further than the Jews and Samaritans. Politics and religion were at the center of this conflict (sound familiar?).
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said it true.” John 4:16-18
After Jesus begins to explain to the woman who he is, he asks her about her husband even though he already knows her story. He knows her sin and her brokenness. So, for a Jewish man to speak to a Samaritan woman with her history is even more remarkable. These two people could not be any more different. Yet, Jesus does not speak to her with disdain or disrespect. As a result, the woman listens and responds in kind.
The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” John 4:25-26
When his disciples return, the woman goes to her people and tells them about Jesus. Her heart has been changed as a result of their conversation and she wants to share it.
Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. John 4:39-41
Because of his word. Can you imagine if you were a Samaritan during that time and a woman from your town who you knew had a checkered past told you she spoke with a Jewish rabbi? Can you imagine her speaking about the experience without anger or shame or embarrassment? Wouldn’t that make you pause and wonder? I fully believe that those people followed that woman to the well not because of what she was telling them but because of the unbelievable way Jesus communicated with her. They were shocked! They had to see it for themselves.
If you’re a Christian, this really sets the stage for how we communicate with others. We shouldn’t hold the expectation for nonbelievers to change the conversation. It isn’t up to nonbelievers to break down walls and uncover their ears. It’s up to those who follow Jesus. Jesus models for us how to flip the script. He’s telling us how to engage with others. He’s telling us how to communicate! We are meant to rise above the emotions and “truths” we fall victim to as a result of our brokenness and our culture. When we see someone who is the Samaritan woman to our Jewish rabbi, we aren’t supposed to judge, anonymously criticize on social media, or ignore what they have to say. Jesus spoke to her like an equal, all the while changing her heart. That is what we are meant to do.
It is possible to stay true to who we are and maintain our beliefs while still valuing another’s opinion and voice. Jesus did it. His communication was radical. It was radical because it was filled with love. So, Jesus communicated with love and it worked. People listened, even those he had no common ground with whatsoever.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you Matthew 5:43-44
We are called to love everyone – those who follow Jesus and those who don’t, kind people and unkind people, our neighbors and our enemies. This means that when we communicate with anyone, we must do so with love.
When we love someone, we listen and we discern. When we love someone, we hope for reciprocation and not retaliation. When we love someone, we seek a “to be continued” and not a closed book. When we communicate with love, we see understanding instead of division.
I’m not saying this is an easy thing. I’m not saying I do it all the time. What I am saying is that this is the only solution to the divide in our world. This is the only way to heal the fractured hearts of those who cannot find common ground. It is up to those who know Jesus to set the stage for others in how to engage and communicate. We are not built to do so naturally. We are flawed, emotional beings who have a natural instinct to attack and defend and divide and “be right”. It is only through Jesus that we can communicate with love.