God’s People, part 221: Samaritan

Read John 4:1-45

“Jesus replied, ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:37-40, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

SamaritanWomanPart 221: Samaritan. It is hard to imagine just how scandalous this chapter in John actually is; however, trust me when I say that this chapter is extremely scandalous in the context of the first century Jewish world. In our day and age, we think very little of this story. We read it as a warm and fuzzy conversation between Jesus and some unnamed woman at a well in Samaria; however, so much more is going on this text.

For starters, Jesus is seen here talking to and teaching, even debating, with a woman. This was unheard of in the first century ancient Middle East; however, this alone is not too shocking for us as we know that Jesus talked to many women, and even had women followers such as Mary Magdalene. With that said, he was not only talking to her; however, he was talking to her alone. This, alone, would have been super scandalous to anyone in that time period. In fact, John wrote: “Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her” (John 4:27, NLT)?

Add to that the fact that this woman was a Samaritan and you add another layer to the scandal. The Jews traditionally detested the Samaritans and saw them as Gentiles of the worst kind. These were people who had mixed heritage. They were Jewish and Assyrian and they chose to worship God in Samaria, instead of Jerusalem. This was against the Law as recorded in the Book of Discipline; however, the Samaritan’s chose to resist the Jews insistence that the Jerusalem Temple was the only place one could worship.

The contention grew to be so divisively bitter that Jews would do anything they could to avoid the Samaritans, for they felt that if they did cross their path, they would instantly be defiled. Yet, Jesus was talking alone with this Samaritan woman, and instructing her in what it means to truly worship God. In the end, Jesus states that both his people and the Samaritans didn’t have it completely right, but that one day people would worship God in spirit and in truth.

Then, yet another layer can be added to the scandal. Not only was this a woman was also a Samaritan, but this was a Samaritan woman who had been previously married five times and the man she was currently living with she wasn’t even married to. Such a person, in the context of Jewish Law and sensibility, was a sinner of the highest order. Yet, Jesus was not only associating with her, but treater her like a worthy student. He even listened to her and entertained her counter points to him. This was completely scandalous and would have offended many people, including Jesus’ own disciples.

Yet, Jesus was unfazed but this reality. He treated this woman no differently than he would have treated anyone else! He saw past all of the labels and scandalous controversies to see the human being behind it all. He loved her and treated her with the dignity that all human beings made in God’s image should be treated. To Jesus, this woman was not a woman, a Samaritan, a person divorced and remarried multiple times; this woman, to Jesus, was a child of God created in God’s image.

Let us be challenged by that. Far, too often we define people by the labels we place on them. Worse than that, we judge them as being unfit of our compassion and attention. We simply pass them by because we think it would be far better to do that than to be associated with them; however, that is not what Jesus modeled for us. Let us be a people who no longer define people by the labels they are give; rather, let us be a people who define all people as children of God, created in God’s divine and holy image! Then we will be truly living as our God created us to.

Labels are for products, not for people.

Lord, help me to stop labeling myself and others. Amen.

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