Going to Samaria
(This is a short recap of what I preached Sunday morning.)
I was reading through the gospel of John last week, when a verse that I’ve read a hundred times caught me off guard. It stopped me because I realized it’s not true. I’m not questioning the validity of scripture or anything, it’s just that this particular verse isn’t true.
From John 4:1-4
The pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria.
It’s that last sentence, verse four, that isn’t true. Jesus didn’t have to go through Samaria. I mean, it’s geographically correct that Samaria is between Judea and Galilee, but Jesus didn’t have to go through Samaria. In fact, the common practice for Jews in his day was to avoid Samaria. To go around it. It added a few days to the journey, but in their minds it was better to take the longer route than have to go through the trash heap that was Samaria.
Samaritans were hated by Jews. There were historical, political, religious, and ethnic reasons (which I won’t dissect here, but here’s a quick summary), and the hatred ran deep.
There was a time, not too long ago, in our own country when we saw similar circumstances. There were “Whites Only” and “Colored” sections in restaurants and buses. There were separate schools, stores, neighborhoods- even water fountains were segregated, because the idea of “us”associating with “them” was appalling.
Jews and Samaritans were not on friendly terms. If, God forbid, a Jew did have to go through Samaria, they would even go so far as to wash the Samaritan dust off of themselves before returning home because they didn’t want to bring that back with them.
So Jesus, a law-abiding Jewish man, would not have been thought strange to go around Samaria. It would have been expected. But if you keep reading, it gets stranger.
You know the story: he meets a Samaritan woman at the well at noon. The social taboos just keep piling up. He’s a Jew, she’s a Samaritan. He’s a man and a rabbi, she’s a woman, so they shouldn’t be speaking. Worse than that, she’s- how to put this delicately- a woman of loose moral standards. We find out during their conversation that she’s been married four times, and is now living with a man who is not her husband.
She goes to the well at noon because she’s not welcome to go in the morning, when the other women of town would go. Even the Samaritans shun and despise her. She is literally an outcast among outcasts. A Samaritan. A woman. A whore.
And Jesus talks to her.
He asks her for a drink.
He offers her friendship, and conversation, and humanity, and love.
I wonder how long it had been since someone took the time to speak with kindness to this woman. I wonder how long it had been since she felt valuable, worth something, important. And now, this Jewish man, this rabbi, this confident, kind stranger reaches out to her and offers friendship, and it turns her life around.
As I finished reading and praying through this passage, I realized that I was wrong. Jesus did have to go through Samaria. He had to go there because that’s where lost people were, and his mission was to “seek and save that which is lost.”
I think sometimes, if we’re not careful, if we’re not intentional, if we don’t purposefully walk into Samaria, we’ll spend a lot of time ministering to those who are already found, while neglecting those who are lost. There are people in our neighborhoods, communities, workplaces, and schools who are alone, broken, sad, outcast, and they need someone to walk right into their world and say hi. They need a friend, they need love, they need to feel important, they need to be found, they need to know Jesus.
And we have to stop taking detours around Samaria.