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 a conflict in the Samaritan village of Sychar. This time, He waded right into the mess. A typical Jew of His day would have passed quickly through or gone around Samaria. Not Jesus.
This passage sets the stage for the familiar encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well. We don’t know her name, but we know the watering hole was called 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 a woman’s conflicted life.
Jesus’ choices at Sychar illustrate five indications of when to deal with a conflict directly:
1. When the person being inconvenienced by dealing with it 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, not the person you’re talking to. Speak her language. Go to him in humility.
2. When the person being wronged is not you. When you are being attacked, leave that conflict to the Lord 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 can do this when you decide, The next time he makes a profane 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 to conflict. When you enter into relational turmoil, ask the Lord to help you represent Christ and His love in your interactions. Whether it’s personal interaction or confronting a societal problem, you should long to emulate Jesus and bring glory to God in all your dealings with others. The results are in God’s hands, but your part should always be to seek His pleasure in your words and actions.
Are you facing a conflict you need to deal with directly? Is there a difficult conversation right in front of you? Before you act, pray. Ask God to clarify your motives and give you new direction if your motives aren’t clear. And remember, whether you determine to move forward or flee, He is with you every step of the way.
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 in my conversations. Help me avoid turning people into causes. Guide me as I deal truthfully with personal matters in a way that brings You into my interactions with others. Teach me what it means to continually have my life be more about You and less about me. Allow me to be Your servant in conflict situations. In Jesus’ name, amen.