Being an Alongsider requires paying close attention to others, and cultivating a deep understanding of their thoughts and feelings, worldview and interests.
Jesus in Action
Jesus was a master of relationships, and the account of his timeless dialogue with the woman at the well is very instructive in this context. I will comment on two passages from John’s gospel.
Jesus and Vulnerability
“He left Judea and went away again into Galilee. And He had to pass through Samaria.” (John 4:3, 4 NASB)
Actually, Jesus could have made this journey to Galilee by either passing through Samaria, or detouring around it.
He decided to go through Samaria, thereby putting himself in a vulnerable position as a cultural and religious minority, where his presence and his presumed outlook on spiritual matters were suspect at best, the results of centuries of cultural conflict and misunderstanding. But he knew that his presence there would be likely to enable different dialogues with different people, as compared to staying in settings where he was with others of like background.
Jesus Crosses the Line
“Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’” (John 4:6-7 NIV)
Here he reached out and did something totally unexpected–he asked for a drink, something which would ordinarily never happen between people of these two cultures. This opened up an extended conversation that led to an in-depth discussion of spiritual matters.
This story goes on to record a deepening conversation, with questions and insights traded back and forth. When I am willing to make myself vulnerable and cross cultural lines, this gives God an opportunity for deeper connections and dialogue. While there is much more that could be said here, we will move on to Paul’s experience in Athens (Acts 17:16-34), which is a fascinating snapshot of how Paul brought the gospel into a less than friendly atmosphere.
Paul and Culture
Paul’s speech was made to a serious gathering of civic authorities and local thinkers. While he addresses a number of points in his speech, I will comment on two brief quotations:
“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.” (Acts 17:22 ESV)
The local Epicurean and Stoic philosophers had just responded to him quite critically, and Paul clearly had something to prove, not least of which that he was not a troublemaker. He leads off with a very conciliatory statement, setting a non-confrontational tone, which gives him a chance to explain his thoughts clearly.
Connecting by Quoting
In the middle of his talk, Paul attempts to connect on common ground, touching on the closeness and nature of God:
“… He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’” (Acts 17:27b-28 NASB)
Here Paul displays a deep knowledge of secular Greek culture, quoting Aratus and Epimenides, authors who wrote centuries before, whose words were widely known, honoring their culture by these quotations into his exposition of his own ideas.
When I study the culture, history, worldview, and spiritual practices of my Hindu friends, it helps me to better understand them and show them love. The examples of Jesus and Paul encourage me to not draw back from a culture different from my own, to take more risks, and to look for creative ways to show love.
Another key component in my own journey has been meeting and talking with Tim Schultz. I have been deeply affected by his life, story, and writings. I would highly recommend his recently published book, which is reviewed on this site.
Bruce will be presenting at the 2018 Rethinking Forum. Register now.