The news is filled lately with reports of racial and political tension across the country. Sadly, this tension has spilled out into violence, destroying people in its wake.
I had an opportunity to visit the Middle East earlier this year, during the time of the recent fighting in Gaza. It does not take much to find conflict between different groups: Israeli vs. Palestinian, Muslim vs. Christian, Sunni vs. Shiite Muslim, etc.
Well-meaning preachers like to tell “what Jesus would do” in these situations. But most often, their descriptions of Jesus look like themselves, and their view of Jesus is limited to advancing their own agendas. Their descriptions of Jesus look a lot less like the Eternal Son of God, and a lot more like a noble person out to clean up the world.
But Jesus did (indirectly) show an example of dealing with people across racial, political, ethnic, and religious divisions. I had a chance to study another bitter battle between two different groups this past week.
In 722 B.C., the Assyrian army conquered the kingdom of Israel and destroyed the capital city of Samaria (see 2 Kings 17:1-6). The Assyrians removed most of the Jewish inhabitants of the Samaria region and replaced them with foreigners. These foreigners intermarried with the remaining Jews and also mingled their own religious practices with the native Jewish beliefs.
It was almost 200 years later, in 538 B.C., when Jews were allowed to return from exile and they began to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The native people (known as Samaritans) offered to help rebuild the temple but were refused because of their mixed blood and mixed beliefs (see Ezra and Nehemiah). Instead, the Samaritans built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim.
“On all public occasions the Samaritans took the part hostile to the Jews, while they seized every opportunity of injuring and insulting them.”  During the Hasmonean revolts of the 2nd century B.C., the Samaritans supported the Syrian “oppressors” (The Samaritan temple was destroyed by Hasmoneans).
The Samaritans considered themselves descendants of Jacob but believed only the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy). They did not respect the worship in Jerusalem but held to their own worship on Mt. Gerizim. 
By the time of Jesus, the Samaritans were bitterly hated by the Jews and were considered unclean by the devout Jews. Many Jews would travel several miles out of their way to avoid going through Samaria and to avoid any contact with the Samaritans. The term “Samaritan” was also synonymous with “heretic” or “foreigner” (see Luke 17:16-18, John 8:48).
This is the history of the bitterness between the Samaritans and the Jews. However, Jesus is most known in this section for ignoring the protocols and the problems between the two groups. Jesus meets an immoral, outcast Samaritan woman and he has these simple messages for her:
- You need eternal life (John 4:13-14)
- You need to worship God correctly (John 4:22-24)
- Jesus is the Messiah (John 4:25-26)
Jesus is the Savior of the world (John 4:42). Jesus is not for our world, not for the Jewish world, but the entire world. Jesus came for the righteous, upstanding Nicodemus (John 3) just as much as he came for the immoral, outcast Samaritan woman (John 4).
We will study the contents of these messages in a later post.
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