So Jesus left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee. To get there, he had to pass through Samaria. He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon. John 4:3-6 MSG
“He had to pass through Samaria” cannot mean that he geographically had to pass through Samaria to get to his destination. Israelites regularly went around Samaria to get from point A to point B. Why? The Israelites had irreconcilable differences with the Samaritan people. They considered them “less than”. More on that in a minute, but first a question: who can you no reconcile with? Who do you avoid as a people group?
Last night we went with friends to MamaZu’s in Oregon Hill (a neighborhood in downtown Richmond, VA) for dinner. It’s a dive of a place with a crazy door. The screen door is on the inside of the establishment and the heavy metal door is on the outside of the building. It looks like a dump but the food is delish. Joe, one of my dinner companions made the comment that when he was a youngster, Oregon Hill was one of the roughest neighborhoods in Richmond and was to be avoided at all costs. Today we have several neighborhoods that vie for that spot but Oregon Hill is not one of them. Part of this historic avoidance was a people group thing. Throughout history, we struggle with creating false systems of us versus them. Brene’ Brown attributes this to the need for intimacy. This is a quick and dirty, fake way to feel intimate. We can believe that if we have a common enemy, then we are friends. But what if our common enemy is a friend of God’s? How do we reconcile that?
The Samaritans in biblical times occupied the country formerly known as the land of the tribe of Ephraim and Manasseh. Samaria was the capitol and had once been a wonderful city. When the ten tribes were carried off to captivity, foreigners moved in and the populations intermarried - hence, the first split. Eventually the Samaritans mixed their religious practices. They followed the Torah but kept some pagan practices as well. They opposed the rebuilding of the Temple after the Israelites returned from captivity. They served as a refuge city for outlaws from Judea. This was all a problem for creating harmony between these people groups.
No, Jesus did not HAVE to pass through Samaria for geographic reasons, tomorrow we will see WHY he HAD to. But do not miss this point: this was a naughty thing Jesus did in the eyes of the Israelites. This is breaking the brotherhood code. This goes against conventional wisdom. This stirs up conflict. This creates a PR nightmare. And yet, Jesus went.
How does our own desire to go along to get along interfere with making tough but right calls?