A lot of times Jesus is depicted as being fairly passive.
He’s shown patting kids on the heads or wistfully walking among the masses.
Now, Jesus did carry himself with an air of kindness, gentleness and self-control.
But Jesus could also do a really great job of making a bold, courageous point for the purpose of upsetting unhealthy cultural thinking.
Case in point: the time Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman next to a well (John 4).
By daring to converse with this woman, Jesus took on both hateful racism and female inequality.
See, in Jewish culture the Samaritan people were despised.
They we of mixed ethnicity; part Jewish, part Gentile.
On top of that, the Samaritans had taken aspects of religion of the Jews and blended it with other religions. They established as their center of worship a temple on Mount Gerizim, claiming it was where Moses had originally intended for the Israelites to worship.
The Samaritans had their own unique version of the five books written by Moses, the Pentateuch, but rejected the writings of the prophets and Jewish traditions. The Samaritans saw themselves as the true descendants of Israel and preservers of the true religion, while considering the Jerusalem temple and Levitical priesthood illegitimate.
It wasn’t uncommon for a Pharisee to pray that no Samaritan would be raised in the resurrection.
To the Jews, a Samaritan was more revolting than a Gentile (pagan); Samaritans were half-breeds who defiled the true religion.
The hate for the Samaritans was so strong that if a Jewish person needed to travel north from Jerusalem, they would often make a point of going around Samaria, even though it added a lot of time to their travels.
Being a Samaritan was really tough…but being a woman in Jewish culture was harsh as well.
Women were often treated as property, just one step above slaves, to serve the needs of their father, and later, their husband. A woman had to get permission from her father or if married her husband to leave her home. A wife could never divorce her husband, but the husband could divorce his wife by simply handing her a bill of divorce.
In Jesus’ time, women were excluded from much of public life. In fact, for a rabbi to speak with a woman on the street (even it was his own wife!) was considered a disgrace.
So, for the Samaritan woman of John 4, she didn’t have one strike against her, but two. A Samaritan AND a woman!
Yet, Jesus did not allow either of these social barriers to stop him from engaging the woman beside the well.
Jesus’ actions were so bold that John 4:27 tells us how the disciples reacted when they came upon the scene:
Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” (NIV)
The disciples knew Jesus was doing something that wasn’t normally done.
Simply put, Jesus dared to knock down a pair of social constructs that had stood for centuries.
And he did it simply by having a conversation.
Now that’s the Jesus style!
People are really good at putting up walls and barriers.
But Jesus is even better at knocking them down.
Paul wrote these words of Galatians to remind us of the oneness we share as human beings in Christ:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29 NIV)
If we identify as followers of Jesus, we will likely have some pre-conceived walls about people that need tearing down.
Something we were taught.
Or something we came up with our own.
Which people group are you afraid of?
Which people group are you holding a grudge against?
What barrier within your sphere of influence needs to be broken down?
It might come a-tumblin’ down with a simple conversation.