Thanksgiving is an American holiday designed for giving thanks, specifically to thank God. But often, during family get-togethers and what are supposed to be happy holiday meals, there can be tension in our families: different points of view, conflict and unresolved hurts. What if there was a way to bring everyone back into unity and focus on thanking God for all He’s given us? The answer to this question - and quite possibly our holiday tensions - lies in a story about Jesus meeting a woman who became the first evangelist.
She was from a group of people often discriminated against, who lived in a territory that Jews typically avoided. She was controversial – because of her gender, ethnicity and ZIP code. And yet, Jesus invited her into His world and into the kingdom of God. Watching how Jesus deals with the tension inherent in these controversies, we can discover how to bring unity to our family gatherings.
When Jesus Made Peace
In John 4, the Scripture tells us that Jesus left Judea and went back to Galilee, but on His way, He detoured through Samaria – an unusual and bold move because Jews normally never went through Samaria. To understand why, in the Old Testament the nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms – the Northern Kingdom, called Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, called Judah. Jesus was from Judah, and when Jesus walked the earth, there was a little piece of land sandwiched between Galilee and Judah to the south called Samaria. Today, it’s where the West Bank is in Israel, and this is where Jesus veered off the beaten path and our story unfolds.
“Eventually He came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’ He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, ‘You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?’” (verses 5-9).
This woman got right to the point, didn’t she? But so did Jesus. The Samaritans were Jewish, but not full-blooded Jews like people who lived in Judea. They believed in the Torah, but they interpreted the Torah differently than the Jews from the south – from Judea. And both groups consider the other heretics.
Sound familiar? In our countries, we have differences of opinion about our government leaders and what they should do. We have differences of opinion about our spiritual leaders and what they should say. We have differences of opinion in how we interpret the Bible and individual scriptures. All this trickles down to our families and friends, doesn’t it? It even trickles down to our Thanksgiving gatherings.
When the woman questioned how Jesus, being a Jew, could even speak to her, Jesus answered her by saying, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water” (verse 10). The woman went on: “’But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,’ she said, ‘and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water?’” (verse 11). Jesus answered her, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life” (verses 13-14).
This was great news! So, she asked Jesus to give her this everlasting water. But Jesus didn’t just quickly agree. Instead, He told her things about her life that she would have liked to hide, namely that she’d had multiple husbands. Knowing this to be evidence of the supernatural, she named Him as a prophet. But now she took the conversation a step further. She brought up the tension, the difference of opinion, the conflict that had gone on for generations – much like our friends and family do around our Thanksgiving tables. She asked Jesus to resolve an argument that had gone on forever in her community. She asked Him where they were to worship God.
When Jesus Redirected a Woman’s Focus
The Samaritan woman lived in a divided nation with divided people, and she asked Jesus a loaded question. A debate had gone on for generations as to where God wanted them to worship. She had grown up focused on what she could see and on all that she had been told. When Jesus answered her, He redirected her focus to the truth. He lifted her eyes from what she could see to whom she could trust. Imagine if we could do that with everyone gathered around our table this holiday season!
“Jesus replied, ‘Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth’” (verses 21-24). Processing this information through what she already knew, she replied, “I know the Messiah is coming – the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us” (verse 25). Jesus then changed her entire perspective and showed her who to trust when He said: “I AM the Messiah!” (verse 4:26).
Do What Jesus Did This Thanksgiving
It’s quite possible this holiday season that as you gather with friends and family, there will be differences of opinion. It’s quite possible that as you shop and stand in line patiently waiting to purchase holiday groceries and gifts, there will be tension. It’s quite possible that while you want nothing more than everyone’s hearts to be full of thanksgiving, love and gratitude around your table, there will be questions. When that happens, do what Jesus did.
1. Lift people’s eyes from what they can see to whom they can trust.
“Looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith [giving the first incentive for our belief] and is also its Finisher [bringing it to maturity and perfection]. He, for the joy [of obtaining the prize] that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising and ignoring the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
–Hebrews 12:1 (AMPC)
2. Lift their focus from what divides you to what unites you.
“I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.” –Ephesians 4:1-6
3. Lift their hearts to God in prayer so that they will say yes to His standing offer of living water.
“Asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called – his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honour at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” –Ephesians 1:17-20
4. Lift their questions to God and listen for the Holy Spirit to give you what to say.
“But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you!” –Luke 21:13-15
Here at KCM, our prayer for you is that this holiday season is one of peace, love and joy – characteristics of God’s love for us that can unite us all. Whether you gather with friends and family, are stationed away from home fulfilling your military duties, or are spending the day alone, know that we are lifting you up in prayer. We never cease speaking God’s blessings over your life and giving thanks for you and how God placed you on this earth for such a time as this, for His purpose and His glory.
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