“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
The Jews and the Samaritans had a long history of living in close proximity to one another, although they came from the same father, unfortunately most of their history included being unkind to the other. The Jews thought the Samaritans were ungodly and the Samaritans believed the Jews were ungracious. Truth be told, they were quite happy to stay two different kingdoms. “You stay in your space and I’ll stay in mine.” “You stay on your side of the border and I’ll stay on mine.” This was the uneasy “truce.”
I remember a truce like this in my childhood. I shared a room with my sister from the time she was born. And when we were angry with each other, but still had to live in close proximity to one another we created these kinds of truces. A line made with tape would be placed down the center of our room and there was an unspoken agreement to not even look at the other. This was the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans. Which is why our passage is so scandalous.
“What? You want us to go to Samaria? Jesus, we’re all in for talking to our neighbors and those who think like us in Jerusalem and Judea and we’ll even go to the ends of the earth, but please do not make us go to Samaria. Please do not make us go to our nearby neighbor with whom we have a bad history. Please do not send us to those we don’t like. Please do not send us to those who don’t want us around. Please do not send us to people we have rejected and who are sure to reject us in return.
The Jews and the Samaritans had a past and not a pretty one, the water under the bridge was pretty murky and that was going to make sharing living water rather difficult. Because I’ll tell you what I know, it’s pretty difficult for any of us to receive good news, even good news about Jesus, when it comes from someone who has judged us and especially if the “good news” is accompanied by an attitude of superiority. This is what happened in in Luke 9:51-56. The Samaritans rejected the disciples and the disciple’s response was a desire to “call down fire from heaven to destroy them.” Jesus rebuked them and began to teach them that going to Samaria was going to require a humility beyond what many religious people had ever been capable of offering.
I believe our Samaria today, are those people who have been hurt by those who claim to be the most pure followers of religion. Our Samaria are those people that we have judged, those who know they have been judged by us, those whom we have kept on the other side of the tape, those whom we have snubbed or excluded because we are confident we are more right than they are.
Let me give you just two obvious examples of our Samaria today. From the crusades to the present day most Christians have drawn a line in the sand when it comes to our Muslim brothers and sisters. Although we come from the same father Abraham we have slaughtered one another and we so often claim we have nothing in common. And as a result many Muslims pull up the welcome mat when Christians come close not because they are not interested in learning more about Jesus but because they are not interested in learning more about Jesus from a Christian who has already condemned them.
Or we could consider much of the LGBTQ community that feels the same way. Being told you are going to hell before people even know your faith convictions and sometimes being told you are going to hell even after people hear you are a follower of Christ is quite a painful experience. If I had been judged in this way, when I see Christians coming, I might pull up the welcome mat as well. Not because I’m not interested in learning more about Jesus, but because I’m not that interested in learning more about Jesus from someone who has judged me before they know my name.
This Jews and the Samaritans had a past and not a pretty one and it’s pretty difficult for any of us to receive good news, even good news about Jesus when it comes from someone who has judged us. And so Jesus, in a now well-known parable, gives his followers some advice about the posture they should take if they are going to heal the wounds of past judgments and divisions (Luke 10:25-37) And he sums it all up with the commission to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And “Who is my neighbor?” The Samaritan, the one whom you have judged and the one who has every right to reject you. Love them like yourself.