“Jesus left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria.” – John 4:3-4
Yesterday, we looked at Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan Woman from John 4. As it’s still fresh on our minds, I wanted to bring us back to the very first verse we read yesterday morning, and the implications it has for the way we go through life as followers of Jesus.
In John 4:4, we read that Jesus had to pass through Samaria. Though it might not mean a whole lot to us, this simple word, had, is packed full of meaning! And to grasp it, we have to step back in time for a little bit, because until we better understand the relationship between Jews and Samaritans, I’m not sure we’ll best appreciate this passage, and the intentionality of Christ in taking the direct route north to Galilee. (Think of this also when you read the parable of the Good Samaritan!)
The relationship between Jews and Samaritans was contentious at best. Josephus, a first century AD historian, recounts in his work, Jewish War, that at one point the fighting between the two groups was so intense that the Roman Emperor, Claudius, had to call in Roman soldiers to maintain order. The best modern analogy I can think of to describe their relationship comes from the Harry Potter series, and it is the relationship between the wizarding class and the mud-blood class. Good, God-fearing Jews would not go through Samaria…ever!
Why the contention? The Samaritans were the ones left behind during the exilic period. When Assyria and Babylon conquered Israel and Judah, they took exiles, but they only wanted the best and brightest, those who could contribute best as slaves in their empires. Everyone else was left in the destruction to fend for themselves with little shelter or food. And so, to survive, the people intermarried with the surrounding (pagan) cultures, and continued to worship at Mt. Gerizim, near where Abraham and Jacob had built altars, and where different OT peoples received blessing from God (see Deuteronomy 11:29; 27:12).
The map below provides a good visual to the extent at which they would avoid interaction with the unclean, less-than Gentile, Samaritans.
The blue route, called the Central Ridge Route, is the one Jesus took. As you can see, it is clearly the most direct route, following the central mountain ridge from Jerusalem northward.
The red route, called the Eastern Route or the Trans-Jordan Route, was the most common route choice for the Jews to take as they’d travel N/S from Jerusalem to Galilee. It might not look like much, but it’s about a 20 mile hike down the mountains to cross the Jordan River from Jerusalem. And on top of that, there’s no vegetation at all until you cross the river and start heading north!
And still, others would travel all the way out to the coast before heading north or south!
And so, when John’s first readers would have read that Jesus intentionally takes the direct route through Samaria, they would have been shocked! This was scandalous…and the Messiah did that?!?! (This may have even been more socially upsetting than the fact that Jesus met with a woman.)
But, if we stop to think about it, doesn’t this reflect Jesus’ ministry? Isn’t Jesus always about taking the direct route to bring mercy, compassion, and justice?
Zacchaeus…you, chief tax collector…you, chief thug and bully and scam artist…come down from that tree, for I need to come to your house for a meal today…
Levi…you, tax collector…come and follow me and be my disciple…
Often I feel like we, the Church, are really good at standing afar, or walking the indirect path, and pointing out the need for others to repent and turn their lives around. But, when we look at the example of Christ, he took the direct route into people’s lives, spending time with them, eating and drinking with them, and still challenging them with the call of repentance and righteousness.
In our Life Group last night, as we read over the day’s devotional, one line stood out to me. The author writes: “The Gospel of John gives us a wonderful snapshot…of who God is and how God treats those whose lives have been wrecked by failure and sin. This story (John 4) is about how God comes to people who do not think they belong.”
Let that sink in for a moment…
God comes to people who do not think they belong…
What do our personal lives look like?
What does the life of our church look like?
What does the life of the greater Church look like?
Are we taking the direct route?
following His leading,
~ Pastor Joe