They just aren’t like us. They’re half-breeds! Unworthy of being a part of the people of God! While we were suffering, they stayed and fit into the pagan worlds of our enemies. They don’t deserve to be called ‘Children of Abraham!’
That’s how the Jewish world talked about Samaritans. While Israel was in exile, those who were not deported intermarried and mixed into the cultures around them. When Israel was resettled, these “half-breeds” were marginalized and became a people unto themselves. They still considered themselves a part of God’s people, so they didn’t truly belong to the cultures around them. But they didn’t fit into the Jewish world either. The Samaritans kept a version of the Mosaic Law and had their own Temple in order to continue in worship of the LORD their God. But the divisions between the Jews and Samaritans ran deep, and their differences brought deep divisions and hatred.
This makes Jesus’ interactions with Samaritans all the more remarkable. Jesus took his disciples through Samaria instead of going around it, like everyone else (see John 4, ESV). He took his people through the hood. And of all people to encounter, he befriended a woman who had been married and divorced multiple times. She represented the lowest of the low among a people who were already despised and rejected.
In the chapter before this encounter with the Samaritan woman Jesus had a conversation with a religious leader among the Jews named Nicodemus (John 3:1-21, ESV). That conversation ended without telling whether or not Nicodemus believed in Jesus or not. He also came to Jesus at night, under the cover of darkness so no one would know about the conversation.
But this Samaritan woman (I wish we knew her name!) encountered Jesus in the middle of the day, and she ran into town to tell everyone about him! Her shame had been replaced with great boldness, and the people actually believed her. The whole town came out to meet with Jesus, and he stayed with them for two days. TWO DAYS! Considering the ethnic hatred between Jews and Samaritans, this is truly remarkable.
Imagine what would’ve happened if Jesus never took his disciples into Samaria. Would the disciples have known that the Gospel is truly good news for ALL people, or would they have thought those were simply words? Would they have gone into all the world with the message of Christ crucified, or would they have only gone to those places and to those people who seemed like they were worthy?
Ethnic divisions don’t crumble quickly. The animosity between Jews and Samaritans lasted for hundreds of years. No wonder the disciples weren’t on board with Jesus’ plan to go through Samaria. And when they discovered Jesus talking with this woman they were shocked! Of course they were. Everything they had been taught in life led them to conclude this woman was beyond the scope of God’s plan. It turned out, their understanding of God’s plan wasn’t quite right.
One of the more remarkable aspects in John 4 comes towards the end of the story. The people received Jesus. They didn’t place all the blame on him for what the Jews had done. Jesus didn’t stereotype them. They didn’t stereotype him. Instead, they loved and accepted one another. There was something different about Jesus, and they came to discover that he truly is the promised-messiah.
As America continues to renew conversations about racial unity and harmony, may the Church be the leading voice in bringing people together. The gospel drives racial unity. May we come together, listen, and show each other the grace and dignity that Christ showed to Samaritans.