This summer we are looking at the places where Jesus walked and learning from these locations what it means for us to follow in his footsteps. Today, for us to really understand the way of Jesus we need to understand a little history, so let’s go back 800 years before Jesus. The nation of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian Empire to the north and the King of Assyria, King Shalmaneser, relocated most of the people of Israel into his home country, but some of God’s people remained in the land of Samaria. Not wanting the region to become a desolate wilderness overrun by wild animals, Shalmaneser brought in people from many different tribes and nations to help populate the area and continue to work the land and these people began to intermarry with the Israelites who stayed and their children became known as Samaritans.
So the Samaritans were half Jewish and many of them carried on the religious beliefs and practices of the Jewish people but when the people of Israel who were led away into captivity finally returned – they looked down on the Samaritans. They considered the Samaritans half-breeds and treated them as social and religious outcasts. The people of Israel would not allow the Samaritans to worship in the Temple in Jerusalem because they were considered impure and unclean. In time the Samaritans built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria so they could worship God themselves and over the years, a longstanding feud formed. Each group saw themselves as being the true people of God and the others side as being the heretics and so there developed deep resentment and even hatred between these two groups of people.
In Jesus day, the division between the Israelites and the Samaritans was so strong that many good Jewish people refused to even travel through the region of Samaria. If a Jew was travelling from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south, they would think nothing of adding a few days on to their journey in order to travel completely around this area, but not Jesus. In John 4 it says that Jesus was making his way from Judea (in the south) to Galilee and in John 4:4it says He had to go through Samaria. (emphasis mine)
Now the truth is Jesus didn’t have to travel through Samaria – no one was forcing him to take this road and in fact many other people would have traveled a different road, so Jesus chose to go through Samaria. Jesus made a choice to travel through a region that was home to people that others saw as social and religious outcasts and this choice begins to tell us something about the way of Jesus.
So let’s look at John 4:5-7. Now let’s stop here because there is a lot here about the way of Jesus we need to understand if we want to follow in his footsteps. That Jesus chose to travel through Samaria tells us that he was not afraid to associate with people others might see and consider outcasts, but it goes deeper than that. Most Jews would not have started up a conversation with a Samaritan, but Jesus did. A Jewish man would never have spoken to a Samaritan woman but Jesus did and no good Jew would take a drink from a cup that a Samaritan woman touched because both she and the cup would have been considered unclean, which would make them unclean. That Jesus does all of this, that he speaks to this woman and asks her for a drink and takes the drink from her says a lot about how Jesus saw people. Jesus chose to reach out to those who were considered outcasts because he didn’t see them that way. He saw the outcasts as valuable children of God.
Now let’s look at verse 6 because we find out here that this woman is not an ordinary Samaritan woman. It was the custom for women to travel to the well together early in the morning before it got hot, so that this woman is here alone at noon tells us something about her. It tells us is that she was an outcast among her own people and as we read on in John 4 we find that this is the case. After asking this woman for a drink, Jesus conversation with her continues, look atJohn 4:16-18.
So the woman has had 5 husbands and is currently living with a man who is not her husband which begins to suggest why she was not welcome to join the other women at the well. They looked down on her because of her choices and reputation. They saw her as a sinner. So not only was she an outcast, she was a sinner and Jesus knew this, but none of it kept him away. In this one encounter with a sinful Samaritan women we see Jesus intentionally reach out to build a relationship with a woman who is not only a social and religious outcast but a sinner among her own people.
It’s important to see that Jesus doesn’t condemn this woman. He doesn’t judge her. Jesus doesn’t put her down or force her to repent or even tell her to change or ways. What he does, frankly, is amazing. Look at John 4:19-26. The first thing Jesus does is take the time to teach her and then he tells her that he is the Messiah. Jesus wasn’t this clear with his own disciples! Jesus wasn’t this clear with the religious leaders or political leaders of his day. It is to an outcast, sinful woman that Jesus most clearly identifies himself as the Messiah. I have to be honest and say that I had never noticed that before but since we talked last week about Jesus revealing himself to the disciples on the water, it got me thinking about Jesus revealing himself as the Messiah to different people, and the truth is that it is here that Jesus is the most clear. To an outcast, sinful Samaritan woman Jesus is the most clear and again that tells us something about how Jesus saw people.
So Jesus doesn’t just choose to travel through Samaria, he chooses to reach out to those that other people wanted to overlook and ignore. The ministry of Jesus is filled with stories of him offering hope, help, healing and the fullness of life to outcast and sinners and the poor. Jesus called a tax collector named Matthew to be a disciple at a time when tax collectors were considered to be some of the most notorious and hated sinners in the community because they were Jewish people who had sided with the Romans. In fact, did you ever stop to think that one of the gospels, the gospel of Matthew, was written by a man who all the good religious people would have seen as a sinner?
And then Jesus went to Matthew’s house for dinner where he ate and drank with all of Matthew’s friends who were other people the community would have seen as unfit and inappropriate. And Jesus lifted up the poor as being righteous and blessed at a time when poverty was a seen as a sign of God’s curse. Again and again Jesus made his way among those society deemed unfit and unclean and unworthy and the truth is that if we want to follow in the way of Jesus we need to make this our way as well.
To walk in the footsteps of Jesus means that we need to make choices to intentionally reach out to those that others might consider social and religious outcast – the unclean of our society. To walk in the footsteps of Jesus means that we need to reach out to those who our world might see as notorious sinners and people who are unworthy of our time and attention. Now too often when begin to understand this way of Jesus and want to follow in it, we start by trying to identify who these people are. We ask ourselves who the Samaritans and tax collectors, prostitutes and lepers are today, but I think that’s the wrong way to do it. As soon as we start trying to define who the outcast and sinners are we starting to pass judgment. We are decided which sin is really bad and which one isn’t so bad and which behaviors we will tolerate and which ones we won’t. I don’t think this is the way of Jesus at all, so let me suggest a fundamentally different way to follow Jesus in Samaria.
Let’s look at another encounter Jesus had with a woman the world saw as a sinner. Luke 7:36-40 and then Jesus said to Simon,7:44a. Do you see this woman? To which I am sure Simon said to himself, of course I see her. We all see her Jesus and her reputation goes before her, she is a sinner. In fact, that is what Simon had said to his friends earlier. What Simon saw was a sinner, but who Jesus saw was a child of God. What Simon saw was a woman filled with faults and failures, but what Jesus saw was the potential and value that God had placed in her. What Jesus saw was a woman who wanted more in life than what she was experiencing. What Jesus saw was a woman of dignity and sacred worth who longed for God’s grace and love. At the end of the story Jesus says to this woman, Your faith has saved you; go in peace, which tells us that what Jesus saw was a woman of faith.
The reason Jesus reached out to sinners and the outcast and the poor was because he didn’t primarily see them as sinners, outcast and the poor, he saw them as children of God. If we are going to follow in the way of Jesus then we need to start seeing people the way Jesus did. So instead of trying to define who the outcast sinners are – we need to train ourselves to look at everyone as children of God who have deep value and worth.
I want to close with a personal story of how it feels when people see you as an outcast or a child of God. When I was the pastor in Altoona, we took our youth group to Impact at Greene Hills and on the second day of the event a girl in our group came up to one of our leaders and said that her head really itched and when the leader checked, sure enough – she had head lice.
We immediately did everything we needed to do to take care of the problem but as we were washing everyone’s hair a girl from another group came through our site, found out what was going on and literally went running from our camping area screaming “They have lice!!!!” From that moment on, our group was treated like outcasts. The director of the camp wanted to quarantine us. They wouldn’t let us eat in the dining room but instead drove all our meals to us in the campground where I honestly expected to see them get of their trucks in hazmat suits. And then for the evening session they wanted us to sit far off on the hill by ourselves.
Needless to say, I was outraged. I honestly felt like we were lepers being cast out of society and when I looked at our youth I began to see in them and feel myself the hurt and pain of being an outcast. I was ready to pack our bags and head home when finally the nurse on duty for the camp arrived. She had been gone all day and when she got there she looked at all the camp leaders and said, what are you doing? These students are fine.
That nurse was Jesus for me that day because she didn’t see us outcasts that needed to be cleaned but as children of God who at that moment needed to simply be accepted and encouraged. It’s too easy to look at people and see the sin and the problems, but that’s not the way of Jesus, Jesus looks at people and sees potential. Jesus looks at people and sees brothers and sisters. Jesus looks at people and sees value and worth and dignity and that is the way of Jesus. And that needs to be our way as well.
The Way ~ Samaria
Jesus traveling through Samaria shows us the way of Jesus includes reaching out to sinners, outcast and the poor.
For Study and Reflection:
Reflect on Jesus calling Matthew (the tax collector) to be a disciple (Matthew 9:9-13). What are the implications of Jesus eating at Matthew’s home and with his friends?
Reflect on Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:3-42). What relationship building principles are seen here?
Why do you think God chose to enter this world in poverty and intentionally reached out to those who were poor?
1. Ask God for the ability to see all people the way Jesus did, not as sinners and outcasts, but as children of God with dignity, value and potential.
2. Are there people in your life the world might define as sinners and outcasts that God is calling you to love? What step can you take to initiate a deeper relationship with them?
3. What place and or people do you avoid and why? What would it look like for you to travel in these areas this week?