Part 3 of 3 – Jesus and the Living Water

womanatwell

Jesus and the Living Water

Part 3 of 3

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” (John 4:16)

Stop, and consider.

A woman comes for water every day in the middle of the day, instead of the early morning when she would be with the rest of the women in her town.

Why?

In a society where women found their place beneath men, some women found themselves lower still. This woman was held in lower esteem than even her female peers. Why? This woman had a story.

She had been married five times. Try to consider this not from the perspective our gender-egalitarian culture today but from the patriarchal social constructs of her time. Remember that marriage then was in some regards similar to marriage today, but within first-century Judaism, the social construction of marriage was significantly different. Women belonged to their husbands as little more than property. This was most apparent in divorce. Women could not divorce a man, but men, in this male-dominated hierarchical construction of marriage, could divorce a woman, under the Torah for any reason they so choose. Granted, a woman could not be passed back and forth between husbands, but her present husband could pass her to another if for any reason he deemed her no longer desirable (for faults as simple as burning the food or being less desirable than younger options).

This woman whom we find this day at the well had been sent away by five men. She had been told five times, “You are not desirable. You are not wanted.” We are not told what her present arrangement was, but suffice it to say, she was with a man now simply so that she could have some type of existence in that culture that required her to be connected to a man.

Jesus does not hold her responsible for any of this. There is no “go and sin no more” talk between then. There is no “love the sinner hate the sin” mantra that Christians today are so famous for touting. There is simply the understanding that this woman has been the victim of a marriage institution gone completely wrong. Yes, it was monogamous, but it was no more than serial monogamy. The kind of marriage this woman had experienced only served to objectify, dehumanized, and degrade women to a status lower than men.

Next, we encounter Jesus’ offer to her of “living water.”

What Jesus offers this woman would answer her heart’s desperate cry to love and be loved: a water that would so satisfy her basic, inmost needs that it would not only fill the deep void insider her but overflow into a beautiful force toward others, flowing from her as a source of healing for others.

However, there was a catch. When she responds favorably and asks Jesus for this water, He cannot simply give it to her. No, the water Jesus offers this woman can be only experienced within the context of complete honesty and authenticity. She must come to a place where she is herself, regardless of what the other Torah–observing women might say. If she is going to truly experience what Jesus extends to her, she must be given a safe space with Him to be who and what she is, no longer hiding, even if that means facing her past of begin repeatedly told, time after time, there was something wrong with her.

Jesus draws her into this safe space.

“Go get your husband.”

The woman scrambles. ‘My husband?’ she thinks. ‘There’s something different about this man in front of me, yes, but the last thing I want this strange Jewish man to know is how many times I have been rejected, labeled as unwanted, sent away by one man after another. I know what I’ll say.’

“I have no husband,” she says.

Jesus, with a look that subtly tells her that she can trust Him, says, “I know. I know you’ve been married five times, and the man you’re with now is just keeping you around.”

There is something different that she sees in this man’s eyes.

She changes the subject, though. Jesus will bring it back around.

What is Jesus saying to this woman?

The same thing He is saying right now to you, too.

“My love is not blind. I know everything about you there is to know. My love is not diminished by this knowledge. I love you AND I already know everything there is to know about you. Honestly, I knew you before you even did—even the things you are still in denial about. I know everything there is to know about you, and My offer to you is still on the table.”

We do not need water that will leave us thirsty (conditional love). We need the living water for which we were made. We must not settle for less. We must have the water that satisfies the deepest human thirst. We need Jesus’ living water of unconditional love, a love in which we are simultaneously fully known and fully embraced, loved and accepted. A love that knows all there is to know about us and loves us all the more still.

Who are you reading this right now? What are you hiding? What are you not being honest about, not with others but with yourself and possibly with God? Would you like this living water, too? Then it is time to enter the dangerous honesty of this radically inclusive Kingdom Jesus came to bring. Whatever you are hiding, He won’t turn away from it, and He won’t turn you away, either. You might feel like you have to come to the well at midday to protect yourself from others’ opinions, but you don’t have to with Jesus. As a matter of fact, He is already at the well right now, waiting for you to arrive.

In the past two decades, I have met many people who have come to a place where they can be honest with God about who they are. Some I find to be still hiding. Others are very much on this journey of deep introspection. All these stages are okay. What Jesus would have us all know, first and foremost is that, regardless of who we are, we don’t have to hide from Him. His love is unconditional. He already knows, even before you do, and His offer is still on the table. His hand still extends to you a cup. Are you thirsty for this water? Come. Drink. You will never be the same again.

The lady at the well did not fit in well with the religiously valued, normative social constructs of her day, either. Look at how Jesus relates to her. If you hear nothing else, hear Jesus’ words to you right now:

“My dear daughter, my dear son, I already know everything about you there is to know. And I’m still here. I won’t abandon you. I love you. I’ve come to extend to you, too, the invitation to a world where worship on ‘this mountain’ or ‘that mountain’ is irrelevant. I’m offering you a way into a radically different world, with a river of living, wet, soul-thirst-satisfying, radically inclusive love, not just for you but also, through you, to all those around you who were made for this kind of water, too.”

Do you have the courage to be honest with Jesus?

The first step is to believe that Jesus really does give us space to be honest without the fear of losing Him. The next step is to believe what Jesus said to Philip: “If you have seen Me, you’ve also seen God” (cf. John 14:7–10).

HeartGroup Application

1. This week, I want you to spend some time in contemplation with Jesus. What might you be hiding? Consider if there remains in you a door to that most private room of your heart that you have kept locked.

2. Invite Jesus into this, whatever it is. Watch what He does next. Journal what He shows you.

3. In the context of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at Jacob’s well, share what Jesus shows you with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.

Keep living in this love. Allow it to also flow out to others around you until the only world that remains is a world where Christ’s love reigns.

I love you guys.

See you next week.

Part 2 of 3 – Jesus and Women

womanatwell

“Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman” (John 4.27).

Last week we looked at Jesus and the “Us vs. Them” paradigm of the Jews and the Samaritans.  This week, I’d like to take a brief moment to notice the breathtaking way in which Jesus related to women, especially within a first century Palestinian patriarchal culture.

The disciples return and find Jesus speaking with a woman.  John tells us that the disciples were astonished at this.  The question I’d like you to ponder is why were they surprised?

Treatment of Women in the first century.

Last month in the eSight entitled Jesus Stops a Lynching, I made mention of the double standard that existed within the Torah concerning adultery.  Adultery was not defined as a male engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage, but as a married woman engaging in such.  In other words, if a married man had an affair with an unmarried woman it was not considered to be adultery because the woman did not belong to another man.  A man could only be committing adultery if the woman was married to another man.  The adultery laws of the Torah were not concerned with marital fidelity per se, as much as they were protecting the property rights of husbands to whom their wives belonged. Remember, women in this culture were looked upon as being the property of their husbands.  In John 8 we have a married woman about to be punitively punished for her unfaithfulness to her husband, and Jesus breathtakingly comes to her defense, disarms the crowd, siding with the woman about to be turned into a scapegoat, advocating for this woman against the religious male leadership.

The second example I’d like us to consider is the question about divorce put to Jesus in Matthew 5.  Remember, divorce laws in Jesus’ day were another example of male-dominance law.  Women could not divorce their husbands.  A woman was her husband’s property.  But, a man could divorce his wife.  What is remarkable is that under the Torah, a husband could divorce his wife for something as simple as burning his dinner, becoming less sexually attractive as she aged than the new younger options, or literally any reason for which the husband was no longer pleased with her.  This is how it was under Moses.  Jesus comes to women’s defense stating that, in the Kingdom, there is no reason for treating a woman unjustly.  You may be able to justify sending her away under Moses, but not so within the Kingdom that Jesus was coming to establish.  Let me say a word about Moses.  Moses was an improvement from where the Hebrews were in their unjust treatment of women (See Deuteronomy 24).  But, that was only as far as that culture could walk, at that time.  It wasn’t far enough. Jesus takes protecting women from injustice within marriages within a patriarchal culture to a whole new level by stating that the only reason a woman could be divorced was if she herself was martially unfaithful.  This was to protect men from being taken advantage of too, but notice that Jesus’ strict words about divorce arise from the backdrop of abuse of women in a marital context within a strictly patriarchal culture.  There was no egalitarian treatment of women within marriages during His day.

We could discuss the woman who was bent over that Jesus called forward into the males-only section of the synagogue to be healed on the Sabbath, or the woman, healed and then affirmed by Jesus, who violated the Torah and touches Jesus even though she has an issue of blood; but, what I want you to notice about all of the examples is the gender pyramid that existed in Jesus’ day and Jesus’ engagement with it.

I’ve spoken elsewhere about the economic pyramid structure that Jesus came to overthrow (see Luke 6.20-24).  I’d like you to consider the gender pyramid structures that existed in Jesus’s day as well.  Jesus had come to turn social pyramids upside down.  Those at the top of pyramids, in the places of privilege, would find themselves removed from these privileged positions.  While those at the bottom of these pyramid structures, who were slaving away to benefit those at the top of the pyramid, would find themselves liberated.  When it came to the gender pyramid in Jesus’ day, men were at the top and women were at the bottom.  In the Kingdom that Jesus came to establish, all of this was to be turned on its head, “upside down” as they said in Acts 17.6, where women and men would now be valued and treated equally.

Consider the story of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus.  Martha, who is slaving away at the bottom of the pyramid domestically that day, notices that she hasn’t seen Mary in quite a bit.  Wondering why Mary has left her to do all the “slaving” alone, she walks into the room to find Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus.  What makes this appalling for Martha is that this was a place reserved for men only.  Anyone could be in the room listening to Jesus, but women were typically at the back; then there were the men, and then, if you were a man who was aspiring to become a Rabbi, there was a special spot reserved for you.  Your place, as an aspiring Rabbi, was at the feet of the Rabbi who would be teaching that day.  Remember, being a Rabbi was a men’s only club and, therefore, the “feet of Jesus” was a place that would have been reserved only for men.  And yet, Martha finds Mary, abandoning her domestic place at the bottom of this social pyramid, and seated at the top, right there with Jesus.  What Martha is telling Jesus is that He should put Mary back in her place.  Jesus says, “Leave her alone.”  In Jesus’ Kingdom, women would no longer be relegated to a lower place than men.  Mary had chosen what was best, and she would not be denied based on her gender.

The parallels between the Genesis narrative of the fall and John’s narrative of the Resurrection also cannot be missed.  Both narratives take place in a garden.  Both narratives involve a woman.  But, where the Genesis narrative places the woman as the first to be deceived, the Resurrection narrative places the woman as the first to be enlightened.  She is then sent as an Apostle to the Apostles. She is the first person to proclaim the risen Lord; she is the first to proclaim that a whole new world has begun.  As followers of Jesus, we do not live in the narrative of an old fallen creation where the woman was the first to be deceived by the serpent.  Our story is the narrative of the Resurrection where the woman was the first to believe in the risen Lord.  The Female Narrative within the Hebrew culture has been redeemed through the Resurrection. Woman is now first into the new world!  Surely, the last (bottom of the pyramid) has become the first and the first (top of the pyramid) has become the last.

Some will try and use Paul to overthrow the Jesus story.  But, this is a misunderstanding of the subversive nature of Paul’s use of the word “submit.”  Paul told Jesus-following slaves to “submit” to their unbelieving masters, not because he believed in slavery, but as a subversive way to win over their masters so that they could become Jesus followers too, so that, once converted, the relationship between slave and master would be undone.  Paul uses this same word, “submit”, in relation to the kingdoms of this world as a subversive way to overthrow those same kingdoms, winning over the nations and the kings of the Earth so they would bow down as well to the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  And lastly, Paul speaks of women believers “submitting” to their unbelieving husbands (and vice versa) as the subversive way of winning unbelieving spouses to becoming followers of Jesus as well, where hierarchical authority structures even within marriage would be abolished for the egalitarianism of the Kingdom.

Now, let’s return to Jesus.  Jesus is not afraid to refer to the “maternal” nature of God, even within his own patriarchal culture. Yes, Jesus did speak of God as Father the majority of the time, speaking within His own male dominant culture, but at appropriately subversive and controversial times He also took care to speak about our Mother God as well. (Matthew 23.37; Luke 13.34)

There are undeniably two streams within the scriptures that Jesus followers hold in high regard.  While there is a clear patriarchal stream, there is another, very clear, egalitarian stream as well. (Galatians 3.28)  Jesus followers must discern whether Jesus is moving us away from the egalitarian stream to the patriarchal stream, or whether Jesus is moving us away from the patriarchal stream to the egalitarian one.  Which direction is the Jesus story moving us in?

Again, we can’t allow other sections of scripture to embolden us to ignore Jesus’ treatment of women.  Jesus simply stepped over the gender boundaries of his own day, ignoring them. For those who claim to be following this Jesus, the question we have to ask is are we following Him too?  This is not becoming more like the world.  It’s simply that the world has been listening, in this regard, to Jesus’ spirit, more than the church has.  If this is true, it would not be the first time.  And I’m sure, before the time of all things being restored, it won’t be the last.

“They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman.”  Why? Because Jesus refused to place women beneath Him.  Instead, Jesus believed God viewed, as well as treated, women with egalitarianism and Jesus was going to do so as well.  After all, if you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father. (John 14.7-10, cf. John 5.19)

HeartGroup Application

1. This week I want you to spend some quiet time with Jesus contemplating what a world would truly look like in which women were treated the same as men.  Where people are evaluated on the value God places on them.  Where voices are heard based on content, not gender.  And where service is based on giftedness rather than gender.  Remember, we are called to put on display what the world changed by Jesus looks like and to give witness to the Resurrection that this new world has begun.

2. Ask Jesus to show you how you can put this new world on display in your own life, within your own sphere of influence.

3. Share with your HeartGroup what Jesus shows you.

Wherever this finds you, keep living in love, loving like Christ, until the only world that remains is a world where Christ’s love reigns.

I love you guys,

See you next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 1 of 3 – Jesus and the Samaritans

Jacob's_Well_1839

 

The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)  (John 4.9)

This week I want to begin a three part contemplation of the scene in John’s gospel that took place at “Jacob’s well.”  There are three ways we can approach this story.  The first thing to note is the cultural context and meaning within which Jesus was associating with the Samaritan. The second thing to note is that Jesus was speaking, not just to a Samaritan, but to a Samaritan woman.  The third thing is how Jesus relates to someone, regardless of who they are, someone who might have a sketchy past by which they define themselves and feel ashamed.  We’ll look at each of these over the next few weeks, but for now, let’s begin our contemplation with the first way to approach this story.

Who were the Samaritans in the First Century?

Original Split

The history of the Jews and Samaritans is a complex one, much like a divorced couple giving two different stories.  But one thing is for sure: their history is rooted in schism.  Samaritans claimed to be descendants of the tribe of Ephraim and Manasseh (as well as the tribe of Levi).  After the death of Solomon, the Kingdom split into two parts: the Northern tribes of Israel whose capital was Samaria, and the Southern tribe of Judah with its capital at Jerusalem.

Return From Exile

The schism continues within the narrative of the Jews returning to their land and being given permission to rebuild their temple.  When the Samaritans (remnants of the Northern Tribes after the dispersion of the Assyrians) heard that the temple was being rebuilt, they, as kinsmen, wanted to help.  “They approached Zerubbabel and the heads of families and said to them, ‘Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of King Esar-haddon of Assyria who brought us here.’ But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of families in Israel said to them, ‘You shall have no part with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus of Persia has commanded us’” (Ezra 4.2-3). Zerubbabel, discerning that the Samaritans’ worship of Jehovah had, over time, become a syncretistic religion, worshiping Jehovah as well as other gods of the surrounding nations, considered these descendants of the Northern Tribes no longer “Israelites” and thus not “fit” for helping in rebuilding the temple.

Maccabean Revolt

The last straw was during the Maccabean Revolt, when under Antiochus Epiphanes a holocaust of the Hebrew people was attempted in an effort to Hellenize his entire kingdom.  During this time the Samaritans, desiring to be spared, repudiated all connections of kinship with the Jewish people.  They were spared and this, above all, was the source of hatred by the Jewish people in the days of Jesus.  Jesus over and over refers to this history within His ministry (see Luke 4).  Jesus not only wanted to teach the Jews to love their historical enemies the Seleucids (Sidon/Syria), He wanted the Jews to learn to forgive and embrace their Samaritan brothers and sisters as well.

Due to their rejection during the time of the temple’s reconstruction in Jerusalem, the Samaritans had built their own temple on Mount Gerizim.

Mount Gerizim was the original place of the binding of Isaac by Abraham, and possessed a rich tradition of worship within the history of the Hebrew people.

“When the LORD your God has brought you into the land that you are entering to occupy, you shall set the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal.” (Deuteronomy 11.29)

The Samaritans, like the Jews, in the time of Jesus believed in One God, Yahweh, the same God recognized by the Hebrew prophets.  They taught the Torah as it was given by God to Moses.  Yet they worshiped on Mount Gerizim which they believed was the true sanctuary chosen by Israel’s God, rather than the sanctuary at Jerusalem which was associated with Judah’s God.  It is true that in Jesus’ day, the Samaritan religious belief systems had become a hybrid of the worship of Yahweh combined with beliefs associated with the worship of other Gods.

In the time of Jesus, both Jewish and Samaritan religious leaders taught that it was wrong to have any contact with the opposite group, and neither was to enter each other’s territories or even to speak to one another.  Josephus also reports numerous violent confrontations between Jews and Samaritans throughout the first half of the first century.

What we have to recognize and be confronted by is that Jesus ignores all of this.  He sees Samaritans as children of God just like Himself and treats them accordingly.  This is why the Samaritan woman was so shocked:

“The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)”  (John 4.9)

Jesus repeatedly confronted the tensions between the Jews and Samaritans.  He told the story of a good Samaritan, whose actions were so at variance with Jewish religious leaders.  Jesus’ story describes a Samaritan leper who is the only one of ten lepers (the other nine being Jews) to say “Thank you” and worship Jesus.  He rebukes James and John for wanting to call down fire on the Samaritans and destroy them.  Jesus did not relate to Samaritans according the script He had been handed by His Jewish culture. He rejected the rules He had been handed on how to play the game.

Notice, the woman reveals how the Samaritans still claim to be descendants of Abraham, still followers of Moses.

“‘Are you greater than OUR ancestor Jacob, who gave US the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’”  (John 4.12, emphasis added)

To continue the dialogue.

“Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain [remember the Hebrew people originally worshiped on Mt. Gerizim before the temple was built in Jerusalem], but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”  Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know [Both the Jews and Samaritans had been influenced by Hellenization by this time, so this was not a jab at the “hybrid” nature of the Samaritan worship. The Jews too contained some level of “hybrid” from Greek influence.  Rather the Samaritans believed the Messiah would come from the lineage of one of the Northern Tribes of which they believed they were descended]; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews [the Messiah was to come through the lineage of Judah and thus the Jews, yet be for all people]. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  (John 4.20-24, emphasis added)

Let’s unpack this a bit.

First, Jesus says the hour “is coming.”  By is now here he is saying that shallow outward signs rooted in space-time debates such as which mountain they worship on would not distinguish true worshipers. True worshipers would, through Jesus, worship God in Spirit and Truth.

Let’s look at what Jesus meant by Spirit first.  Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ use of “Spirit” here in John 4 is seen in 2 Corinthians 3 where he distinguishes between the Spirit of the Law with the Letter of the Law.  The original Hebrew people formed a community, centered in the teachings of Moses, to which certain promises had been made.  One did not earn a position within that community by following all the teachings of Moses.  One simply had to demonstrate a desire to join the community by endeavoring to follow its teachings.  Jesus comes to create a new human community, rooted in the Jewish community, but now centered around His own teachings.  Today one does not earn a place in Jesus’ new human community by following His teachings, but we do demonstrate that we desire to be a part of this community, and a part of this new world Jesus is creating, by endeavoring to follow the teachings of this Jesus in whom this new world is centered.  Jesus’ teachings are found in the Sermon on the Mount.  And although they are of the same “Spirit” of the “Law and Prophets,” Jesus’ ethical teachings are deeper, broader, and even more demanding at times, than Moses’ ethical teachings ever were.  Jesus’ teachings are a fuller revelation.  At times, following the Spirit of the Law in Jesus will be a deeper expression of the Letter found in Moses (see Matthew 5:21-28). Sometimes following the Spirit will be a direct contradiction to the Letter found in Moses. (See Matthew 5.38-43, as well as the woman of Luke 8, the woman of John 8, and the accusation of the early Jesus followers as being “lawless” according to the book of James.)  Which leads me to the next identifier, Truth.

John too contrasts the law that came through Moses with the Truth that came through Jesus.  What are we to make of this? It is true that both Jesus and Moses belong to the same moral trajectory.  Yet God through Moses was leading them as far as they could possibly be led in that time.  The Torah of Moses still included nationalism, polygamy, slavery, lex talionis (eye for an eye), the way of sacrifice (Matthew 9.13; 12.7), and violence against one’s enemies.  Jesus moves us further toward an understanding of God and the truth about God that eliminates all of these.  John states that you can have the Torah, yet still not truly see God until you meet Jesus (John 1.17-18).

There are some things between Moses and Jesus that are the same.  Yet there are some things within their teachings that are radically different. (In much in the same way I am teaching my 6 year old not to talk to strangers while I am teaching my 17 year old how to talk to strangers effectively.  Am I the same parent?  Yes.  Are these contradictory rules?  Yes.  Are my children in different places in their development and thus need different rules at different stages?  Yes.)

What Jesus is telling this woman is that He has come to initiate a new human community which would no longer be distinguished by external arguments over the Torah or the teachings of Moses (Do we worship on this mountain or that one?), but rather that this community would be centered around Himself, His teachings, which are from the same Spirit of the Torah, but offer a much Truer revelation of God, how God sees ourselves and how we are to see everyone else around us.

The woman finishes with:

“‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to US.’  “Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’” (John 4.25-26, emphasis added)

Jesus said the time is Now!  This new community would no longer be defined by arguments over how to observe the Torah.  This new humanity would be centered around a new way of seeing God, ourselves, and others who inspire us to live according to the ethical teachings of Jesus found in His Sermon on the Mount.

Time is coming and Now is!

Christians, Jews, Muslims and Samaritans have all fought over this well, historically dug by Jacob.  Each has taught that it is wrong to associate with the opposite group. They have continued in the worship, not of the God of Jesus, but of the God of “us vs. them.”

Today, we must squarely face this first revelation of Jesus talking to this Samaritan at Jacob’s well to confront us.  Today we have Christians with different theologies who all claim to follow the same Jesus. We are told many times that it is wrong and even dangerous to associate with the “them” instead of just our “us.” A list of doctrinal truths and lifestyle behaviors has become the test of which ones are truly following God and who are not.  Today Jesus would say to this: “Neither this mountain nor Jerusalem, but My ethical teachings in My Sermon on the Mount.”

Today we have multiple world religions.  Critics ask, “If all religions teach peace than why can’t they get along?”  They each teach, to varying degrees, that it is wrong or dangerous to associate with those who are of a different creed.  A creed has become the test of who are following God and who are not. To this Jesus would say again, “Neither this mountain nor Jerusalem but My ethical teachings in My Sermon on the Mount.”

Today, we practice dividing the world between Jews and Samaritans by nationality. Consider the West’s attitude toward the Taliban: anyone who disagrees with this view is “sympathizing with the enemy” and probably a terrorist. Such disagreement must be met with violence. Anything less is unpatriotic or treasonable.  Tribal loyalty has become the test of who are following God and who are not. To this Jesus would say, “Neither this mountain nor Jerusalem but My ethical teachings in My Sermon on the Mount.”

Today we practice dividing the world between Jews and Samaritans by economics.  Whether it is the refugee who appears at our border, or the foreign worker who threatens our jobs, we respond with territorialism rather than hospitality, self-interest instead of sharing.  Fidelity to capitalism has become the test of who are following God and who are not.  To this Jesus would say, “Neither this mountain nor Jerusalem but My ethical teachings in My Sermon on the Mount.”

Today we practice dividing the world by race. It is appalling that any group bearing the name of Jesus would still practice segregation. We all drink from the same “Cup.” But some denominations still say that it is best for everyone not to integrate. In some areas, the complexion of one’s congregation is still the test of who are following God and who are not.  To this Jesus would say, “Neither this mountain nor Jerusalem but My ethical teachings in My Sermon on the Mount.”

Today we practice the way of dividing the world between Jews and Samaritan in matters of gender. I know of religious communities that teach that women should not be permitted to be in a position to teach men.  They say it’s morally wrong to place women in an egalitarian position with men.  One’s position on gender in religious leadership has become the test of who are following God and who are not. To this Jesus would say, “Neither this mountain nor Jerusalem but My ethical teachings in My Sermon on the Mount.”

And lastly, we see this way of dividing the world between the heterosexual majority and the homosexual minority.  Protestors carry signs that proclaim “God Hates Fags!”  “Love the sinner Hate the Sin!”  “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”  It is argued that “they” must be opposed or “they” will corrupt “our” children. One’s position on gay marriage has become the test of who are following God and who are not.  To this Jesus would say, “Neither this mountain nor Jerusalem but My ethical teachings in My Sermon on the Mount.”

In all the ways that we divide each other, ways that cause us to see others as “the enemy,” ways that echo the First Century’s divisions of Jews and Samaritans, we have forgotten the first teaching of Jesus: We are all children of the same divine parents.  On the inside, we are all the same.  Jesus died and was resurrected to save us all from the ways of Cains against Abels.  These divisions will one day cease.  One day we will all, once again, sit at the same table.  It’s this table practice that Jesus put on display in His ministry, and it was this table practice that got Him killed.  I know we are addicted to our exclusive clubs, but Jesus is offering us the privilege, in our present age, of putting on display what the beautifully restored inclusive age to come will look like. We are called upon to show how the world will look when transformed and restored by Jesus.

If Jesus were alive today, He would tell the story of the good Catholic (if He were among protestants, or the good Protestant if he were among Catholics, or maybe the good “both” if he were among Eastern Orthodox). He would tell the story of the good Muslim, the good Hindu, or the good Buddhist.  He would tell the story of the good terrorist, the good immigrant, the good “welfare recipient”.  He would tell the story of the good ordained woman priest or female preacher, the good gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer.

I know what your thinking.  You’re thinking “But, but, but, but . . .” Whatever is wrong with the “other” group you are having a problem with, remember, the Jews had persuasive arguments, rooted in the Torah, against the Samaritans as well, and yet Jesus ignored all of that and extended His invitation to them as well.

Whomever our “them” is, whomever we have labeled as “the enemy,” we are going to have to confront Jesus going into Samaria, stopping by the well to talk with this Samaritan, and inviting her to embrace Him as her Messiah. He broke every “us and them” rule that existed that day, and the question we followers have to ask ourselves is, do we?

Jesus is seeking to create a new humanity, centered in Himself, comprised of people of all our present ways of dividing ourselves. Are we helping Him, or are we standing in His way?  It is Jesus and His new world rooted in His Sermon on the Mount by which this new humanity will be defined.  Nothing else, and nothing less.  I have a sneaking suspicion that we choose to dived ourselves by these periphery standards to give us a sense of assurance in the midst of the fact that we are all, to a large degree, hiding from the fact that we find Jesus ethical teachings too radical to follow.  We are not following the Sermon on the Mount, so we have to come up with lesser things to distinguish others as different than ourselves by.  The very first teaching of Jesus is that we are to stop this way of dividing ourselves. We are all in a process.  And as we are in this process, we must remember that we are all children of the same God and that Jesus is seeking to restore and reconcile us all to Himself and to each other.  It was Jesus’ radical inclusivity that got Him killed.  We must be careful or we may one day see that the hammer and the nails are once again being raised, and in hands that belong to us.

HeartGroup Application

1.  This week I want you to spend some time with Jesus. Ask Him to show you whom your own “Samaritan” is that you feel should be excluded, shunned or simply not associated with.

2. Ask Him to show you what these people look like through His eyes rather than your own.

3. Journal what He shows you and share what you discover with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.

Next week we’ll look at the shocker: This wasn’t just a Samaritan, but it was a “woman” within the context of First Century, Palestinian, Jewish, patriarchal standards.

And the week after that we’ll look at Jesus’ relation to her, not as a Samaritan, nor as a woman, but as simply a human being with a past she felt ashamed of.

Stay with me over the next few weeks.

It’s a beautiful picture of God, a beautiful picture of how God sees each of us, and a beautiful picture of how we too are to see each other.  The picture will emerge, but we first have to fit together all the pieces of the puzzle.

Wherever this finds you, keep living in love, loving like Jesus, till the only world that remains is a world where love reigns.

I love you guys,

I’ll see you next week.