As a boy being raised in Virginia, I witnessed racism in all its ugliness. Gas stations (called service stations in those days) still had separate water fountains and bathrooms for “colored” and whites. The idea was the failure that was “separate but equal” attempts that kept segregation alive and well in the South. And to make matters worse, I was regularly schooled by my family that “colored” people were inferior and we should not associate with “them”. Our schools finally obeyed the federal injunction to integrate when I reached 7th grade (incidentally one of the last southern states to comply). You can imagine my fear and apprehension when the white and colored schools were suddenly merged and classrooms were filled with students and teachers of all races. I was an anxious kid as a rule and this didn’t help my psyche at all!! But the experience was not as traumatic as I envisioned. In fact after a few very touchy days, all of us began to get to know each other and found out that we were all basically the same, dealing with the same apprehensions and fears.
I was a pretty good student, usually in the top few in my class academically. And though I was never what you would call a “star athlete”, I did enjoy sports and played pretty hard with the guys when we got the chance. At the end of the first grading period I had reached a pretty well thought out conclusion. I had been taught wrongly when it came to race. Students of color regularly scored much higher than I and I found myself jockeying for academic position with several really sharp, intelligent African American students. Not only that, but us white guys just couldn’t compete athletically with African American guys. We were getting out butts beaten regularly in sports, and it didn’t really matter what the game, we were inferior.
Our family always ate dinner together and discussed our days with our parents and siblings. I remember one particular moment when I thought it was time to inform my family of my new hypothesis. I stated my case, giving ample evidence that I believe our belief that people of color were inferior was not only greatly flawed but totally erroneous and wrong. You could cut the air with a knife as silence now replaced a normally jovial mood. My parents were amazing, but for this point, and respected my newfound discovery but wanted me to reserve my final judgement until more time had passed. More time passed and as it did, my opinion turned into a life truth. There was no difference in the races except the color of our skin. Any ineptitudes could be traced to dysfunctional family situations or a lack of opportunity, but these facts also showed no real consistent race. So my nature overcame my nurture and now am more convinced than ever of my conclusions.
There was also another major factor in my transformation. I began after graduation to study for ministry at a local seminary. I had read the Bible cursively but when I studied it I found that God had been fighting racism for centuries.
I found that the races as we know them today actually began with the three sons of Noah and where they settled after the flood. Shem migrated to the African continent and became the father of the Negroid peoples. Ham migrated to Asia and became the father of the mongoloid peoples and Japheth migrated to Europe and became the father of the Caucasoids. So there really Biblically are only three races, the mixture of which comprise the many current people groups . Later in Genesis we see the dispersion of these peoples even further when at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11), God confounded the languages and developed the linguistic chains that we now trace back to this point.
The Jewish peoples certainly also weren’t without their prejudices as well. During the Assyrian relocations in 722 B.C. under Esarhaddon, Jews from the central part of Israel were replaced with Arab relocated peoples from other parts of the Middle East. As these folks intermingled a new race of peoples were created in Israel called the Samaritans. “Samaritan” was a racial slur created by the Jews that meant “empty headed, worthless one”. When the pure bred Jews returned from captivity, the Samaritans were despised and even hated. Even when traveling to other parts of Israel Jews would go around Samaria and bypass their land as to not contaminate themselves or enrich them through trade.
Jesus was called a Samaritan by the Jewish leaders… John 8:48
Disciples wanted Jesus to call fire down and kill Samaritans… Luke 9:52-55
Ten Lepers that were cleansed were Samaritans… Luke 17:16
The Good Samaritan was a Samaritan… (duh!!) Luke 15
The Woman at the Well(Jesus reverses 800 years of racism in 24 hours) John 4
Jesus purposefully goes through (not around) Samaria in John 4 (much to the disciples chagrin) to minister not only to a Samaritan but an unmarried Samaritan woman who had been married 5 times!!!
Jesus Meets the Samaritan Woman on Common Ground!!
The Samaritans believed the first 5 books of the Bible but rejected the rest of the Old Testament. (perhaps this is a result of them being descendants of Abraham through Ishmael) As such they highly revered Abraham and his family. Jacob dug this well in Sychar to water his flocks as they traveled through this arid area and this landmark was highly prized by the Samaritans. Knowing this Jesus meets the woman on this common ground to begin His faith conversation with the woman. We all have common spiritual needs that can only be met by Christ. Thank God He is willing to meet us there!!
Give Me a Drink from Your Cup!!!
I don’t think anyone who has never faced this type of racism knows the significance of this statement. Jesus was going to drink from the Samaritan’s cup!!! Our prejudice must get to the point where we are willing to live life together, enjoying and appreciating cultural contributions (especially food and drink!!!)
“If you Ask Me, I Will Give You Living Water”
Jesus meets this woman at the point of her real need. Freedom from guilt over her sinful lifestyle and living water that restores and rejuvenates to wholeness!! Regardless of race, all people need forgiveness of their sin and freedom from guilt that Jesus offers through His death and resurrection.
“Go Call Your Husband…”
This woman had a sordid past… 5 previous husbands and living currently with another man. There is no mention of children, upbringing etc. Jesus did not excuse the sin that the woman was currently in, but did mention that her sinful choices need to be called into accountability in order to completely accept this “Living Water”. Past restitution of sin needs to be discussed to bring about complete healing and closure. We cannot ignore the “elephant in the room” and expect there to be complete closure and complete healing through Christ.
Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet….
The woman is amazed at Christs’ perception of her current relationship situation and immediately asks a spiritual question about the difference between the Jewish worship system (the temple in Jerusalem) and the Samaritan worship system (temple on Mount Gerizim) . Note: the Jews and Samaritans for 800 years had worshipped separately. So that means that the Samaritan tradition and teaching in their families was one of correct worship at Mount Gerizim (separate but equal??)
“Salvation is Of the Jews!!”
At this point, Jesus plainly states that the Samaritans had devised a worship that was not sanctioned by God but a substitute faith based on racism and separation. In this one statement Christ addresses the most racial issue in Israel! His motive was to once again unite the Jews under one worship system (which eventually happened after Pentecost under Christ…see Acts 1:8,9 So Jesus was stating to the woman, “What you have been taught, even for generations is wrong!!” “God has sanctioned salvation through the Jews!!” At this point the woman had to do some evaluation of the whole conversation… why would a Jew who knows everything about me, attempt to convert me from Samaritan faith (essentially the same as the Jews only in a different place..) (sidenote; it’s often been said that the most segregated hour of the week is during Sunday worship!!! ) unless He was special…
When Messiah Comes….. I that speak to you am He!!!
Jesus clearly affirms that He is the Messiah promised by God in the Old Testament!! But there is a message for us all in the fact that the woman was saying “When Messiah comes…He will straighten us all out!!!” When Jesus says “I AM HE!!” He is stating that He (the Messiah) is already HERE!!! We do this today! We look at social injustice and prejudice, among other things and “kick the can down the road” and place it all under the blanket of “When Jesus Comes He’ll straighten us all out!!!” But Christ is already here!!!!!!!!!!! He wants us to be the emissaries of His justice and peace!!
Enter the disciples…
At this point the woman leaves in excitement and goes back into the city (about 5 miles away). She is so excited she leaves her water jar on the edge of the well. When the disciples come back with lunch, they know something significant has happened.
We often have to separate ourselves from racist people to make the point…
I don’t believe the water would have ever come to Jesus’ lips from a Samaritan’s water jar if the disciples had been present!! Jesus sent them away to buy food to deliberately separate them from the situation to begin the process of teaching them to face their prejudices. By this time there was no doubt in the disciples mind that Jesus was the Messiah (and as such God and establishing God’s desires on earth and teaching by doing as well as speaking).
The Fields are White Already Unto Harvest!!
The Samaritan woman by this time was returning with apparently quite a host of people anxious to see Jesus!! Their white tunics (because of the desert heat) reflecting the sun gave an appearance of a field of grain ready to be harvested. Jesus pointed the disciples to this illustration and in essence was saying “Broaden your horizons to incorporate others not like you into the kingdom!!” This was HUGE!! Many of these disciples probably had never had a conversation let alone a meal with a Samaritan, now Jesus was saying they are welcome into His new kingdom of grace!!!
Jesus Stayed 2 (two) days with the Samaritans!
Now the very people that the Jews avoided were asking Jesus and the disciples (Jews) to stay for several days and eat, drink, sleep, talk, laugh etc with them!!! Amazing!!! Jesus did in 24 hours what we have been trying to do for centuries!!! When we realize that the same Jesus who saves us also unites us by His Spirit..we can also have great fellowship and “hang out” time together.
Often the church today overlooks the very thing that would create a drawing net to the world. Our division (racially and inwardly) alienates and offends a world that so desperately needs the message of Christ we possess. There are still many “women at the well” in need of Living water. May God give us the grace and good sense to realize that God is NOT a racist and repel this evil in all its forms so His kingdom can be one and an illustration of peace and victory to a world filled with sin.