Today, I would like to focus on one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. In our current climate of rising xenophobia, nationalism and racism, this story has a lot to teach us about how to treat one another.
By the time Jesus was born, the Jewish people and the Samaritans had been bitter enemies for more than 400 years. Simply put, they hated each other. Most Jewish people at that time would go out of their way to avoid traveling through Samaria because they considered the Samaritans to be a "mixed race" who had contaminated their ethnic identity as "the chosen ones" by marrying pagan foreigners.
In John chapter 4, Jesus purposely chose to travel through Samaria, because He refused to live by cultural restrictions brought on by hatred. There, He encountered a Samaritan woman by a well.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" … The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)" (John 4:7)
This woman was absolutely shocked when Jesus, a Jewish teacher, spoke to her. After all, she was a part of a rejected ethnic/religious group. In fact, this woman had faced rejection at almost every level.
In the first century Jewish culture, women were not treated very well. They had no rights, no political or employment opportunities. They were treated as second class citizens. In fact, a woman’s testimony in that society would not even be relevant in a court of law.
We learn in verse 16 that this woman had been rejected and abandoned by five husbands. In that day, a woman did not have any legal right to divorce her husband. However, the husband had the right to leave his wife for just about any reason.
We see in verse 18 that she was now living with a man who was not her husband. In that culture, this would have made her a moral outcast with a very bad reputation.
She was most likely the woman everyone made fun of and laughed at. Everything about her life spoke of personal rejection. By virtue of her ethnicity, her religion, her gender, and her moral mistakes, she was one of society’s outcasts.
Yet, here was the holiest of men, God in the flesh, talking to her, treating her with dignity, respect, tenderness, compassion and love. Here we see Jesus building bridges, not walls.
This woman — who had faced rejection in every aspect of her life — may have felt that even God had rejected her. However, here’s the truth of the matter: God felt that this woman was so important that she was one of the first people on earth to hear that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah.
The woman said, "I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us." Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he." (John 4:25-26)
What an honor! Her natural first instinct was to go and share her discovery with others, thus, in effect, she became one of the first missionaries of the Christian faith. What a privilege!
If the scourge of discrimination and racism is ever to die, it will only do so on the biblical basis of respecting each person in his or her distinctive splendor — granted by virtue of being created in the image of God. In rejecting any part of humanity, we will essentially reject ourselves.
Russ Whitten is a local minister and musician. He plays guitar for The Bonhoeffers, who perform 5:30-9:30 p.m. every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night at Cuvée. He is the author of "Have You Ever Wondered? Christian Evidences for a Skeptical World" available on Amazon.com.