BUILDING BRIDGES

Commentary of John 4: 1-42

In His conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus disregarded the status quo, ignored long standing tradition and demonstrated that building bridges is what He was about. The account is recorded in the fourth chapter of John’s gospel.

His destination was the northern province of Galilee from Judea, where He made His home.  A separate route had been constructed to Galilee so the Jews could deliberately avoid the despised cities of the central province of Samaria. But Jesus chose to go through Samaria because His Father’s will led Him there. The wide chasm between the Jews and Samaritans immediately surfaced in Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman. She did not respond to His requested need for water, but merely saw an ethnic difference between herself and Jesus.

These hard feelings began centuries before the incarnation of Christ when, in punishment  for the sin of idolatry, the God of Israel caused the ten tribes of  the Northern Kingdom to be carried away into Assyrian captivity. The inspired writer records how the Assyrian king imported people from the eastern basin to dwell in the then sparsely populated cites of Samaria (II Kings 17:24-41). These new residents cohabitated with some of the remaining Jews and produced a new ethnic group which came to be called Samaritans. This sexual union violated the divine injunction that the Israelites were not to marry those of other nations (Deuteronomy 7:1-4), and further angered those patriotic and religiously upright Jews, who were not a part of the deportation.  The reason for the prohibition was not to advocate racial separation, but to maintain religious purity and identity (Deuteronomy 7: 5).

The fire of this contention burned hotter, when the Jews of the Southern Kingdom, returning from Babylonian exile refused the offer of help from the Samaritans in the reconstruction of the temple and city walls of Jerusalem (Ezra 4:1-3). Rejected and insulted, the Samaritans who were half Jews, built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim, worshipped the God of Israel and entertained the promise of the Messianic hope (John 4: 20, 25).

“The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans”, was her acidic response to Jesus’ request for water.  Jesus ignored the insult and proceeded to offer her the water of eternal life that He had come to bring to the Jew first, but also to the Gentiles. His words and attitude so impressed the woman that she brought the whole city of Samaria to see Him. They affirmed their belief in Him as the promised messiah, initially because of the woman’s word, but later because they had seen and experienced Him for themselves (John 4:39-42).

What chasms exist in the church where you worship today? Are they social, political, national or even racial?  Jesus demonstrated that the first step in bridging these gaps is meaningful dialogue. By doing this He was affirming the brotherhood of humanity and demonstrating that building bridges was more important to Him than maintaining the status quo. Let’s talk about our hurts, prejudices and differences. It’s the first block in the construction of the fellowship bridge.

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