Gentle Jesus

Published by DonDavidson on

The Samaritans occupied parts of what had previously been the northern kingdom of Israel. The Jews in Jesus’ day refused to have anything to do with them. (See John 4:9.)  The feud probably originated as far as 722 B.C. when the Assyrians (from what is now northern Iraq) conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians’ customary practice when they conquered a new territory was to deport the population and replace them with people from other parts of their empire. This would presumably make rebellion more difficult, since the deported people would now be scattered in unfamiliar locations and unable to unite.

2 Kings 17:6 tells us that the Israelites were resettled “in Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes”—areas which are now parts of Iraq and Iran. Those Israelites were lost to history and became known as the Ten Lost Tribes. In their place the Assyrians brought people “from Babylon and from Cuthah and from Avva and from Hamath and Sephar-vaim.” (2 Kings 17:24) These areas are believed to be in parts of modern Syria and Iraq (though that is uncertain).

These new residents were not Israelites by either race or religion. To the extent that they intermarried with any Israelites who had escaped the deportations, they were at best a mixed race of idolaters whom the Jews considered beneath contempt.

So the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4:5-26) is quite astonishing when viewed from a Jewish perspective. Not only was she a Samaritan, but she was a woman at a time when women were viewed as second class citizens. In addition, she was a sinner, since she was living with a man who was not her husband.

The woman came to the well to draw water—and she came alone, which may imply that she was regarded with disfavor by her community. Then Jesus asked her for a drink of water—surprising not only because he was flouting convention by talking to a Samaritan woman, but that he was apparently prepared to drink from the same cup as her.

The woman’s response expresses not only her surprise, but perhaps also a bit of contempt at the Jews’ condescending attitude toward Samaritans: “How is it that You, though You are a Jew, are asking me for a drink, though I am a Samaritan woman?” Ignoring the rudeness and evasiveness of her reply, Jesus engages her in conversation, offering her the “living water” of salvation and eternal life, and impressing her with his knowledge of her personal history.

Throughout this story, we see Jesus acting toward this woman without judgment, without harshness, without condescension. He instead seeks to steer her toward a better and brighter future, and even reveals himself as the Messiah—something he rarely did even among the Jews.

Jesus consistently acted with kindness and consideration toward sinners, so much so that he gained a reputation as “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”[1]

Is there a lesson here for us? As Christians, should we treat sinners with contempt, judgment, and condescension? Or should we treat them with compassion, kindness, and love, as Jesus did?

Let’s explore this topic more next week by talking about the people who provoked Jesus’ anger.  

[1]. Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34


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