Updated: Nov 4, 2019
Maybe you're a Christian. Maybe you're not. No matter what, I'm sure your news outlets are bombarded with messages about LGBTQIA rights, Black Lives Matter, immigration and social issues of the like. Day after day we are challenged with navigating our emotions, thoughts, fears, and relationships, censuring them all to ensure we aren't labeled "problematic." It's not easy. It's cumbersome, confusing, and counterintuitive. No matter where you stand on the ideological spectrum, it seems as if everyday there is another rule, another term, another thing you must do to prove yourself to the world. To prove that you are worth listening to and worth being respected. To prove that you are not ignorant and heartless. To prove you aren't "problematic."
As a person of faith, it's even more troublesome. We read our Bibles and what it says is clear, but we have to act it out and in the midst of doing that, we get it wrong a lot. We ignore both God and humanity in favor of an ugly, distorted legalism that is destruction. It may be through a secular humanistic dogmatism. It may be by self-righteously religious condemnation. Either way, we all look at each other based on our limited, temporal perspectives and create our own rules about how this life thing should go. The issues we are dealing with today and distinct, but they're not new.
The temptation is to withdraw. I can easily see myself denying my children certain experiences for the fear of what they may encounter. Some parents might not want their kindergarteners learning about sexuality that is not heteronormative. We might spend more time with our friends who fit in our ideological bubble to avoid the strenuous nature of other relationships. The goal seems to be to avoid conflict at all costs. To avoid offense even at the cost of your own conscience, but that's not what is best. Here lies an opportunity for us all-- church goers, heterosexual, cis-gender, whatever your label-- to be compassionate.
Truth matters. If you know me, you know I tend to err on the side of legalism rather than hedonism. I care very much for the truth of God's Word and won't deny it no matter what cultural labels are given to me. Still, one thing is clear: God is God, I am not.
John 4. Jesus meets the woman at the well. 3 things happen.
1. He recognizes her as an equal. "A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, 'Give me a drink.'"
He, a full blood Hebrew man in all his glory, a direct descendent of David himself, sees that this Samaritan woman, labeled by the dominant culture as a repulsive hybrid and outcast, has something to offer him and he asks for it. Even she is surprised at this. How are we dignifying the broken? How are we inviting them to offer us things we don't have? Knowledge, skills, perspectives? How are we recognizing the Imago Dei in the face of every human we encounter? I must admit, it's not easy to do. Sometimes we feel cramped by society's expectations. They ask us to "humanize" one another, but God demands we love one another. "Humanizing" has a lot of rules that tend to change every time a think piece is published. True love, God's love, has always looked the same. It has always been our ability to see one another, and ourselves, as tattered pieces of God's masterpiece and allowing Him alone to piece us back together while humbling ourselves enough to serve and be served by our fellow broken men.
2. He offers her grace first. "Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'"
Only Jesus saves. Only Jesus saves. Only Jesus saves. He is the living water. He is the fountain. Not theology or apologetics. Not fearmongering. Not even you "living it out." Only Jesus saves. Jesus offered Himself to the broken, not as an alternative of hell, but as a better, more satisfying way of life. Our first approach, especially concerning those with whom we have limited interaction, cannot be one centered around our neatly compiled exegesis of Leviticus and Romans 1. If we were to die after the last sentence spoken to this person, we would hate for those words to be filled with our still inadequate musings on TULIP and the mortification of the flesh. Instead, let's try grace. Let's try offering Jesus and Him alone. It has always worked for those He chose, because He has always been in control. Not us. Only Jesus saves.
3. He initiated the hard conversations, but still with grace. "Jesus said to her, 'Go, call your husband, and come here.' The woman answered him, 'I have no husband.'"
He wasn't afraid of this. He wasn't afraid of offending her because he had already showed genuine honor and care for her in that moment, and she did not find offense. He told her all about herself and she was astounded. For some in either of their camps, this might have been problematic. A rabbi conversing with a prostitute. A woman, owned by the social confines of her tribe, helping a beneficiary of her people's oppression. What he revealed was probably shameful or embarrassing for her, but he handled her with care before and after allowing her the freedom and comfort of revealing herself to him. For our friends it may be a matter of physical safety or deportation. They may be battling with confusion or conviction. We, unlike Jesus, do not know the hearts of men. We can only trust what they are willing to say. But when the hard conversations come, I hope you and I can find a place that meets them with truth and grace. I hope we don't try to fix them. I hope we don't act differently toward them. I hope we continue speaking to them with the level of honor and grace that the God of the universe gave to this broken woman.
My son is three. My husband and I have taught him that God's greatest commandment is to love God and love people. Before he ever has to understand any of the more complicated matters of the world, we wanted him to understand that his primary purpose as a human being is to fear and delight in the Lord, and to care earnestly for and serve his neighbor with no bounds. The talks will get harder. The language will constantly change. Fear will always be present and threaten to control how we interact with one another. The issues will shift with each generation, but if we can remember to love God and love people, I think we'll all be ok, and even if we aren't here, we know we won't be problematic there.