Racial Tension, Riots, and a River of Living Water

The past several days have been heart-wrenching. Not only are we dealing with COVID-19 and the restrictions and fallout related to it, but we have also witnessed what is clearly the wrongful death of a man at the hands of police officers. To compound that, we have had six days of violent protest across the United States as many have turned to rioting, vandalism, and theft. If we were not awake to the fact that we are living in a fallen world before this, we should be awake now.

If we spend too much time focused on the news or following social media feeds, we will soon be defeated and worn. If we spend too much time focused on this world without turning our eyes heavenward, we will quickly be hopeless because this world is unable to satisfy. The emptiness of this world is why scripture is continually calling us to turn our eyes away from the waves and turn them towards Jesus.

We see a perfect example of this when Jesus offers living water to the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter four. What is especially relevant about this passage is we see racial tension at work in these verses as well.

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when he stopped to rest at the well in Samaria. The significance of this is that Jews and Samaritans, in general, did not like each other. Each group claimed the other group looked down on and mistreated them. The Samaritans were people who had married during Israel’s captivity, so the Jews did not believe they were genuinely Jewish. They were two or more ethnicities.

Adding to their racial differences, though the Samaritans believed in the God of Jacob, they merged their worship of him with pagan ideas. Some Bible scholars believe they worshiped him as a local deity who was only one among many. Due to these issues, the animosity between Jews and Samaritans went deep and cut both ways.

In walks Jesus, a Jew, and he engages the Samaritan woman in conversation by asking her for a drink of water from the well. Her response was to question why he was talking to her because Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Her question could have been honest, but most likely, her own prejudiced was starting to show. To put it in today’s vernacular, she could have been saying, “You Jews are usually too arrogant to talk to Samaritans. Take the hint; I am not interested in helping you.”

Jesus responds by saying, “If you knew who was speaking to you, you would have asked, and he would have given you living water.” What Jesus is doing, despite her disregard of him, is preparing to bless her. The first thing we need to notice about Jesus is that he does not play our culture’s race, gender, and class games. He simply treats this woman as a person made in the image of God regardless of society’s sins. The biggest problem is not this woman’s gender or race or even the mistreatment she has experienced at the hands of others; those are symptoms of a deeper issue. The real problem is her spiritual blindness, which becomes evident in her response to Jesus.

She says, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep.” Her exaggerated focus on the physical exposes her inability to see spiritually. All she can think about is physical water. This is the state of many people today. You talk to them about God, and all they want to do is require evidence and the only evidence they will allow must use the scientific method. Their blindness, often willful, has so reduced their world to the physical that they cannot see past it, and they try to find all their satisfaction in it because, for them, it is all that exists.

This blindness, however, is not merely a problem for some people. We are all born with this blindness. Every believer alive today was once just as blind, but Jesus did for us what he is doing for the Samaritan woman in the passage. He restored our spiritual sight and offered us living water.

When all you can see is the physical world around you, you will do everything you can to find your hope in it, because you know of nothing else. As Jesus continues to speak to this woman gently, he brings to light the fact that she has had five husbands, and the man she is living with now is not her husband. Whether it was by death, divorce, or adultery, this woman had tried to find fulfillment in men, and she was left empty, and Jesus had exposed her sinfulness. He did not need to condemn her. He simply opened her eyes, and she saw it. When we focus only on the things of this world, ultimately, all we will find is disappointment that will leave us weary and worn. In our attempts to address our weary souls without looking to Jesus, we will walk deeper and deeper into sin.

Despite the woman’s sin, because of the sacrifice Jesus knew he was going to make on the cross, he knew her sins could be washed clean, and she, a sinner, could be in a right relationship with the holy God. In light of the atonement he would make, He offers her living water and says, “Whoever drinks of this water will never be thirsty again, and the water he gives will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The water he is speaking of is ultimately the Holy Spirit who opens our blind eyes, points us to Jesus and the cross, makes our spiritually dead hearts beat again, and causes us to rejoice in our God of mercy. He took our sinful hearts and made us whole, he calls us his children, and his banner over us is love. Instead of the wrath we deserve, we find forgiveness and peace in his presence, and this river of living water is eternal. It will never run dry.

I am not sure where you are right now spiritually, but if you have spent too much time focused on the things of this world, I am sure 2020 has left you discouraged and broken. Even we as believers can experience this when we take our eyes off Jesus and focus on our surroundings. This is what we see happening to Peter when he was walking on water, and he began to sink. The more we focus on the waves, the further we will descend until we find this world overwhelming us. Our society at large is undoubtedly sinking right now. This spiritual blindness so permeates our culture that it is attacking itself trying to find its happiness and hope in a world that cannot deliver.

What the world needs now more than anything is the living water that Christ offers, but we will only find it by being spiritually-minded and spending time with Jesus in his word and in prayer. As Christians, Christ is with us no matter what we face in this life. Sickness, racial injustice, and even riots cannot separate us from his love: even when injustice is directed toward us and at our front door.

The living water is a spring overflowing with joy, joy in the Lord. Joy in knowing he has forgiven us of our sins and healed us of our spiritual blindness. Joy in knowing no matter how bad this world may get, he will will not lose us and eventually return to set it all right. My question for you is, do you have this joy, or is your heart overwhelmed by the troubles of 2020? It is proper for us to have hearts filled with lament at times like these, but that lament can coexist in the full confidence in our great Savior.

How do we navigate these turbulent waters? How do we express our lament and reveal our hope? We cannot do it in our own strength, it is only through the Living Water himself, the Holy Spirit. If you are weak and unable to shine forth the light of your Savior, then turn to your eyes to him, he will restore your joy, and the joy of the Lord will be your strength. Did you catch that? The joy of the Lord will be your strength.

If there is anything Christians need now more than ever, it is strength. We need strength to be who Christ has called us to be, strength to be a city on a hill, strength to have hope during a pandemic and the resulting economic collapse, and power to model Christ’s example of the way past racial prejudice, violence, and anger. He broke down the racial wall when he broke down the wall between Jew and Gentile. In Christ, He destroys the artificial categories of class. All are one in Christ Jesus.

It is only in Christ that we will be able to love our enemies and return good for evil. It will only be in knowing our sinfulness and the grace we have received that we will be able to show mercy to those who mistreat us. As the world works to build higher and stronger walls of separation, Jesus has called us to break them down with the love of God, and there will be nothing easy about it. Others will mistreat us in the process, and as our scars begin to show, may the Spirit use them to draw people to the nail-scared hands, the only hands that can heal our world. We will only be able to live a life like that if we make sure our eyes are on Jesus, and we are drinking deeply of the living water.

-D.Eaton