“The Samaritans, Part 2”
by Pastor George Van Alstine
In last week’s article I gave the historical background for the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans in Jesus’ time and why the Samaritans were treated as a despised minority. I suggested that there are some parallels to the treatment African-Americans have suffered in our society throughout the history of our Nation. In this second article, I’d like to review the way Jesus interacted with Samaritans and what difference this should make to how his followers deal with minorities in the societies they live in.
There are three passages in the Gospels that describe situations in which Jesus took the Jewish prejudice against Samaritans and turned it upside down into a condemnation of their sense of superiority:
The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35). This familiar parable was told by Jesus in response to a skeptic’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus set up a story about a critically wounded man laying by the roadside. Some of the religious leaders, who should be expected to reach out to help the man, instead moved as far away as possible. By contrast, a Samaritan who came by was “moved with pity” and nursed the man back to health. Jesus asked who was the true neighbor in the story, and the obvious answer was, This despised Samaritan!
The Ten Healed Lepers (Luke 17:11-19). In one village, ten people with the fatal disease of leprosy called upon Jesus for mercy, and all were healed. Nine of them were preoccupied with their own good fortune, but the tenth came back to Jesus and thanked him profusely. The Gospel writer adds in simple understatement, “And he was a Samaritan.” Jesus marveled, with a touch of irony, “Where are the other nine? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
The Woman at the Well (John 4:7-42). The account begins with the words “A Samaritan woman came to draw water.” Jesus got into a discussion with her about their different religious traditions, but soon she came to see that he was the Messiah both Jews and Samaritans were hoping for. She couldn’t wait to tell the people of her town about her life-changing encounter with Jesus. As a result of her testimony, “many Samaritans from that city believed in him.” He stayed in this alien environment two more days, teaching and inviting people to know God through him, and “many more believed.” The Gospel writer reports that they said, “We know this is truly the Savior of the world.”
After Jesus died and rose again, he met with the disciples before ascending into heaven. He indicated that they were destined to become his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). They would start their ministry at home, and they would ultimately reach the whole world, but on the way to fulfilling the Lord’s Great Commission, they would have to go through Samaria. Just as the Old Testament prophet Jonah had to bring God’s message to the people of Nineveh, whom he hated, so Jesus’ disciples would have to bring the Good News of salvation to the people they were brought up to despise, the Samaritans.
And they did. The Lord had changed their hearts, and they now had the attitude of Jesus toward the Samaritans. Philip was the first to preach in Samaria, and the people “listened eagerly,” responding with”great joy” (Acts 8:5-8). Peter and John went to check out the reports of these conversions, and they also proclaimed “the good news to many villages of the Samaritans” (Acts 8:25).
The lesson we should learn from how Jesus related to the Samaritans is that when we embrace his gospel, we must also embrace the despised and oppressed minority group nearest to us. It’s a sad fact of American history that white Christians were sending missionaries and humanitarians to the ends of the earth while they were still treating nearby Americans, with darker skin and African ancestry, disgracefully.