You probably know Jesus as the Prince of Peace, but you might also know him as the Prince of Conflict.
That’s right. Unlike me, who runs as fast as I can away from conflict, Jesus seems to have entered right into the fray. He also provides some pretty good advice about how to deal with conflict.
Here are the top five ways Jesus helps us deal with conflict.
Okay, you should probably be very careful with this one. Jesus called some religious people a “brood of vipers.” In Matthew 23:33, Jesus says, “You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?” No doubt Jesus used some pretty intense language.
But look at the full context of the chapter. Jesus talks about a group of highly trained religious professionals who give all kinds of gifts to the Temple and encourage others to give gifts to the Temple, too. But then Jesus drops the truth about this brood of vipers: they don’t care about “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.”
For Jesus, the law and the prophets come down to two commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. But these particular religious authority figures didn’t act in love. In fact, Jesus says they acted like a violent brood of vipers. He says to them, “I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and whom you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.” (Matthew 23:34)
But here’s the problem: if *you* call *them* a brood of vipers – you run the risk of becoming a brood of vipers yourself! The problem that Jesus reveals is violence. So if you start acting violently toward a violent brood of vipers, then you begin to mirror the very thing that you hate. So please be very careful with this one. Before you call someone out as being part of a brood of vipers, you might ask yourself about your goal in this situation. Is your goal to transform those jerks? Then calling them a brood of vipers (or even “jerks!”) might not be the best route to take. In fact, it might get you crucified. Ouch! If you want to avoid that, then read on!
This can be very subtle, but it can also hit you over the head with a sledgehammer. We constantly compare ourselves to others. It’s part of our mimetic nature. I know that I am good because I can define myself against someone who is bad. In many ways, this is just a human trait.
I mean, I know I’m a good progressive because I’m not like one of those backward conservatives. Or, I know I’m a good conservative because I’m not like one of those weak, PC loving liberals. I know I’m a saved Christian because I’m not one of those Muslims. I’m good because I’m better than them.
This is a universal human trait, but that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy human trait. It frequently leads to a fake sense of goodness and depression. When we define ourselves as good in opposition to someone else, our goodness is based on a negative comparison. It just leads us deeper into negativity and despair.
Here’s how this can be really subtle: I have someone in my life who constantly criticizes other people. They complain that a certain person just can’t be trusted with information. Other people don’t follow the rules. Those people are too noisy. The criticisms just keep coming. It used to really annoy me, but then I began to see this person in light of this principle. This person criticizes others because they have low self-esteem. This person has to put others down to make themself feel better.
Jesus’s disciples are a good example of this. Once they got into a big argument about which one of them was the greatest. If the disciples had a positive sense of themselves, they wouldn’t need to argue about which one was the greatest. But Jesus, as he always does, flips the table on his disciples. He tells them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
In other words, no more arguing about who is the greatest. No more arguing about which religion is the greatest. If you want to be the greatest, then love others with humble acts of service. Move beyond who is right and who is wrong and into acts of love and service.
Jesus was all about the truth, even when he was wrong. Yep, even the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Prince of Peace got it wrong.
Jesus was hanging out with his friends when a Canaanite woman barged onto the scene. She needed help because her daughter was having some problems. She cried out to Jesus, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
The poor woman! Surely, Jesus would take pity on her and heal her daughter. But no. At first, Jesus just ignores the Canaanite. But his disciples tell him to send her away. Jesus obliges the guys and says to the woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Interestingly, the woman was a Canaanite. You know, a sworn enemy of Israel and one of those that the Israelites were supposed to have killed as they entered the promised land around a thousand years before Jesus.
Nevertheless, she persisted! She went to Jesus and again asked for help. Jesus responds to her second request by saying, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
But the woman softened Jesus’ heart with these words, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
Then Jesus replied, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And then Jesus healed her daughter.
Now, there are Christians who want to protect Jesus and say that he wasn’t wrong. He was just testing the woman. Or that he wasn’t wrong, but gave a wink and a nod to his disciples and modeled for them how to have a change of heart towards those who are struggling. But none of these interpretations satisfy me in the end. Afterall, the story never points in that direction.
I think Jesus really was wrong. And a vulnerable woman caught him being wrong and she softened his heart.
Jesus models for us that it’s okay to be wrong. We’ve all used derogatory language about another person or group. That’s wrong. Like Jesus, we can admit when we are wrong and then we can move on with more compassion than we had before.
Would Jesus ever recommend that you stop praying to God? What?!?
Yes. In Matthew 5:23 Jesus says, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser…”
Offering a gift on an altar is a form of prayer. Apparently, Jesus doesn’t think our “thoughts and prayers” are good enough.
Don’t get me wrong, religious practices are good, but seeking reconciliation is better.
Notice how Jesus recommends that we seek reconciliation. Whenever I’m in a conflict, I prefer to avoid direct interaction with the other person. I’d much rather go to someone else and say (most likely with a little to a lot of embellishment), “Do you know what So-And-So did to me? What a jerk!”
In other words, when I’m in a conflict with someone, my default is to scapegoat them. If someone starts accusing me of something, I get defensive and want to accuse them back. And I’ll go to my friends and try to get them on my side so that we can unite in unholy solidarity against my accuser. This solidarity is unholy because it gives me and my friends a sense of righteousness, but it’s a righteousness that is based on shared hatred against someone else. Hatred becomes the glue that holds us together.
Jesus knew that the glue of hatred that leads to unholy solidarity against another is toxic to the human soul. So instead of scapegoating, Jesus tells us to go directly to our “accuser.” Interestingly, the word for “accuser” in the Hebrew language of the Jewish tradition is satan. That’s right, “satan.” Jesus tells us to come to terms quickly with your accuser, or your satan. Come to terms. Seek reconciliation. Even if you have been totally demonized, or in this case, satanized, by the other person, it may be time for you to go directly to your accuser and offer a sign of peace.
Of course, if someone is abusive to you, you don’t have to seek reconciliation. There’s a story in the Gospels where Jesus sends his disciples off to towns in groups of two in order to tell people about the Good News that God loves them and to enact that love by curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and casting out demons. Whatever that means to you, it means enacting the love of God in the world by healing those in need.
But what should the disciples do if people or even whole towns refuse to accept the Good News? Should they call fire and brimstone down from heaven? Should they get into theological debates? No. Jesus says, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”
Sometimes you just have to shake the dust off your feet from a relationship and move on. Moving on means letting them go. You will likely need to move through a process of anger or grief at this broken relationship, but at some point it’s important to move on. Otherwise the old saying is true: you are allowing the other person to live rent-free in your head. Instead of that, make like Jesus, shake the dust off your feet, and move on.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace, but not because he avoided conflict. Jesus is the Prince of Peace because he is also the Prince of Conflict. Conflicts are inevitable. We are human, after all. But how we deal with conflict is not inevitable. Sometimes we get caught up in the same old patterns that only escalate conflicts or lead us to be passive in the face of them. But the recommendations that the Prince of Conflict offers help us to manage conflict without becoming the very thing we hate and without scapegoating. Instead, Jesus encourages us to go directly to the person we have a conflict with and try to find reconciliation with them. And if that ends up being impossible, then feel free to shake the dust off your feet and move on.