And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour (John 4:4-6, ESV).
To adapt a well-known saying: You can take yourself out of a conflict, but you can’t take the conflict out of life. Jesus wisely left Jerusalem and the Pharisees who were seeking a confrontation (John 4:1-3), only to place Himself in the center of another conflict in the Samaritan village of Sychar. A typical Jew of His day would have passed right through or gone around Samaria. Not Jesus. He waded right in, stopped, and made a lasting impression while dealing with conflict directly.
This passage sets the stage for the familiar encounter between Jesus and the woman at Jacob’s well. By sitting beside the well and addressing the woman, Jesus was facing a long-standing conflict between Jews and Samaritans. And He made an eternal difference in this woman’s conflicted life.
Jesus’ choices at Sychar gave us five indications of when to deal with a conflict directly:
1. When the person being inconvenienced is you. Jesus had to go out of His way to confront this problem. He was weary but not distracted. When confronting another person, inconvenience yourself and not the person you’re talking to. Speak their language. Go to them in humility.
2. When the person being wronged is not you. When you are being attacked, and others. When someone else is in trouble—get up out of your chair! Here and in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), Jesus confronted racism with passion. Too often people get all worked up when someone comes after them, but become passive when someone else is under attack.
3. When the issue at stake matters to God. Jesus is dealing with something important to His Father. He shows love to Samaritans in general and this woman in particular.
4. When the circumstances create proximity. Jesus was on His way somewhere, but He took advantage of an opportunity that presented itself. You do this when you decide, The next time I hear an off-color joke I’m going to say, “You know, I really don’t have ears for that kind of humor. We can joke about a lot of stuff. I love to laugh—but not that.”
5. When avoidance would make things worse.If someone’s sinful behavior continues and the consequences grow, avoiding the problem is going to make it worse.
Jesus knew how to pick battles, and when He engaged, He took effective action. He reached out to the Samaritan woman in a caring way—one that disarmed the racial and moral components of their encounter. What she later told others indicated her spiritual softening: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29).
Jesus demonstrates a redemptive approach. When you enter a relational turmoil, ask the Lord to help you represent Christ and His love in your interactions—whether it’s personal or confronting a societal problem.
Are you facing a conflict you need to deal with directly? Is a difficult conversation right in front of you? Before you act, pray. Ask God to clarify your motives and give you direction. Your part is to seek to emulate Jesus and bring glory to God in all your dealings with others. The results are in His hands.
Take a few moments to conduct a “conflict review” of your life. As you identify current conflicts, ask God for wisdom to discern which you should face and which you should flee.
What will be your next steps in dealing with the conflicts you should face?
Lord, as I think of Your Son’s conversation with the woman at the well, I long to practice that kind of truth and grace. Help me avoid turning people into causes. Guide me as I deal with personal matters in a way that brings You into my interactions. Teach me what it means to have my life be more about You and less about me. Allow me to be Your servant when conflicts arise. In Jesus’ name, amen.