This Samaritan Life 03/10/2009

Posted by Dave Clayton on

I read a really intriguing article by Tim Stafford. I am going to post a few excerpts of it on this blog. Hopefully it will help us think through what it looks like to be followers of Jesus in a city where “being Christian” is more often a category on your facebook page than a way of life. Denis Haack, who critiques films, books, and music says that Christians often act like they live in Jerusalem. Not so argues Haack–Christians live in Babylon. If this is the case, then why are we surprised when we see a movie that offends are values? Babylonian movies reflect Babylonian values, not Christian ones.

The problem is, as Christians, we don’t live in Babylon. We live in Samaria. 

Babylon is far from Jerusalem and it doesn’t know much about its religion. What you believe or how you worship is of little significance to Babylon, so long as you keep the peace and contribute to civic life. This was the case with Daniel and the other Jewish exiles. They only got in trouble when the undermined the government or got caught up in petty politics. Babylon could have cared less about their religion.

But Samaria is different. The people in Samaria know plenty about Jerusalem’s religion (though some of the information may be distorted). And unlike Babylon where the people are indifferent to Jerusalem’s religion, Samaria holds a grudge against it.

If you read the story of Jesus sitting around the well with a Samaritan woman (John 4), you will remember that Jews and Samaritans had a long history of not getting along. They were like estranged relatives. They had a partly shared worldview (both studied the first 5 books of the Bible), they had a shared point of origin (both came from the line of Jacob), and they had well defined points of contention (where do we go to worship and be forgiven?). 

They knew each other…or at least they thought they did, so therefore they didn’t associate with one another. Their familiarity with one another led to suspicion and hostility. 

This often rings true for life in America. The problem is not that my religion is strange. The problem is that my religion in familiar. Like Samaritans and Jews, Christians and Non-Christians have a partly shared world view (Our Western Traditions, Our Southern Values, even the Bible and Prayer), we have a shared point of origin (after all America was born out of Christendom), and well defined points of contention (the exclusivity of Jesus). 

We are familiar with what one another believes. Or at least we think we are. This often leads to hostility, and at the very least…deep seeded grudges.

For us to move past this, we must respond the way Jesus did. Jesus sidestepped all of the classic arguments, using creative language (i.e. “living water”) to provoke curiosity. He pointed ahead to times when Samaritans and Jews would drown their differences in a newer, and deeper reality. 

It is more than refining our conversation though, living in Samaria requires patience and love for the long haul. No one can change a grudge by direct assault. Instead we have to outlive it, and look for fresh opportunities to begin anew. We have to love the people on the other side of our grudges and presuppositions. 

After all, Jesus clearly did. He honored Samaria when he chose a Samaritan for his parable of being a good neighbor (who do we choose for our illustrations of virtue?). He sent his disciples to Samaria to announce his resurrection (Acts 1:8). If you remember the rest of the story, Phillip took Jesus seriously and amazing things happened.

What does it look like for you and I to follow Jesus in a place like Samaria? Do we have the patience and the love to outlive our country’s presuppositions about our faith in Christ? Do we have the ability to view Samaria the way Jesus did…not as our enemy, but as our neighbor?

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