The story of Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4) raises some interesting observations on how we see people who are different than us. We naturally create categories of “us-and-them.” We often label “them” as “those people.”
We all have folks who fit the bill:
- Those of the “other” political party
- Those who go “that” church or adhere to “that” theology
- Those who read “those” authors
- The poor (or the rich)
- Those with a particular sin in their history
- Those from a certain region of the world and ethnicity
- Those with “that” sexual orientation
The list goes on and on.
Once we identify an individual or a group as being “them,” or “those people,” something significant happens in us. Assumptions, prejudices and judgments automatically kick in. This, in turn, fuels our anxieties. Our accompanying thoughts and feelings dictate how we treat them.
We see this phenomena at work in this story. Jesus and the woman create a natural “us-v.-them” dynamic.
They represent two long-standing polarized groups–religiously, culturally, and politically. Samaritans and Jews long saw each other as “them.”
On top of the differing backgrounds, the woman had a past. She’d been through five husbands. She at least had the honesty to not marry her current beau. Jewish religious folk had names for women like her.
Interestingly, Jesus didn’t see or treat her as one of “those people.” He simply saw her as a person–a person with deep needs.
She, on the other hand, saw Jesus as one of “those people.” He was a Jew. He held to a theology that differed from her tradition. He was a from a different location. He was a male.
The impact of their respective views are noticeable.
Jesus refrains from categorizing and labeling. He focuses on the person. Results:
- He is able to be fully present with the woman in a non-anxious manner. He’s not reactive or defensive.
- He is genuinely interested in knowing her, inviting her to tell her story.
- He does not condemn, shame or judge her. He has no moral agenda or position to defend or enforce.
- He stays focused on her need–her deep thirst of the soul.
- His God is open, spacious, available to all, regardless of labels of ethnicity, religion or history of sin.
- He is able to relax and be himself, relating naturally with her.
The woman is caught up in categories. Results:
- She questions Jesus’ motives.
- She argues about which side is better and “more right.”
- She deflects any discussion about her past.
- She debates the “right” way, form and place to worship God.
- She argues the fine points about the Messiah, all the while oblivious of the fact he’s standing right in front of her.
- She’s defensive, self-protective, provocative, reactive and anxious.
In the end, Jesus wins the day. Large numbers of Samaritans choose to believe in him. His open, relaxed posture convinces many.
It’s interesting that many of us in the evangelical world seem to be trying our hardest to get Jesus’ results by using the Samaritan woman’s methods. We categorize, attack “those people,” self-protect and act otherwise very anxious around those who we target as needing conversion.
Hmmm . . .