The Least of These, pt. 4

Nov 24, 2021
In the last article in this series, we looked at Levi (who became the apostle Matthew), the political outcast. He lived on the fringes of Jewish society because he was seen as a traitor working for the Roman oppressors. But there were people who were more despised than even the Romans and their tax collectors: the Samaritans.

To set the stage, let's define a Samaritan. This is from

The Samaritans occupied the country formerly belonging to the tribe of Ephraim and the half-
tribe of Manasseh. The capital of the country was Samaria, formerly a large and splendid city.
When the ten tribes were carried away into captivity to Assyria, the king of Assyria sent
people from Cutha, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim to inhabit Samaria ( 2 Kings 17:24 ;  Ezra 4:2-11 ). These foreigners intermarried with the Israelite population that was still in and around Samaria. These “Samaritans” at first worshiped the idols of their own nations, but being troubled with lions, they supposed it was because they had not honored the God of that territory. A Jewish priest was therefore sent to them from Assyria to instruct them in the Jewish religion. They were instructed from the books of Moses, but still retained many of their idolatrous customs. The Samaritans embraced a religion that was a mixture of Judaism and idolatry ( 2 Kings 17:26-28 ). Because the Israelite inhabitants of Samaria had intermarried with the foreigners and adopted their idolatrous religion, Samaritans were generally considered “half-breeds” and were universally despised by the Jews.

The nameless woman at the well was a Samaritan, despised by all Jews, but despised even among her own people. We meet her only in the gospel of John. For the sake of easy discussion, we'll call her “Jane.” It's far easier to key.

Jane wandered aimlessly through life. Whatever guidance she had through her hybrid religion was long ago abandoned. There were rules aplenty, but no power or satisfaction to her hungry soul. Boundaries fell, one by one, until she was looking back on a long list of failures. No man could fill that void, although God knows she tried. The debris of five failed marriages floated in her wake. The man she now shared her life with was perfectly content to enjoy her companionship while denying her the fig leaf of another marriage. She was a woman with a 'reputation', the enemy of women who suspected she was all too capable of setting her sites on their husbands. She felt the glares and caught her share of crude comments and outright rebukes from men and women alike. So while most women came to the well for water and socialization in the cool of the morning, Jane waited until everyone was gone. Noon in Samaria was oppressively hot, still the heat was preferable to the hostility.

But luck wasn't with her. A solitary Man rested by the well that day. Not great, but not so bad. He was a Jew, so there was little chance He would talk to her. Maybe she'd get a grunt of disgust; Jewish hatred and customs would allow for little else. If she was lucky, he would leave so she could complete her chores in peace.

“Give Me a drink," He said to her.

She could identify a hostile tone of voice; this was anything but. Hold your ground, Jane, she thought. Make eye contact. Let Him know you are no coward.

“Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans, yet You ask me for a drink?”

His eyes. Those wonderful, gentle eyes. No hostility. No judgment. Jane found herself embarked on a conversation that was deep, confusing, allegorical; it missed her mental understanding, but it spoke volumes to her aching, hungry spirit. Even her shame of having to admit she had no husband and His telling her of all the shattered vows of her past made little difference. Here was something completely new: a compassionate
Jewish prophet. Here was One who rejected both Mt. Gerizim and Jerusalem with their rituals and traditions, but was concerned about the state of one's heart and the true spiritual worship of God.

Then He said He was the Messiah! To a Samaritan! To a woman! To Jane! The excitement was too much. Jane left her water-pot and ran to the heart of the city, proclaiming to the men what she had heard. To declare to them that this was indeed the Messiah would have set them laughing, so she posed it as a question: You tell me. Is this the Messiah? Who cared if it was strictly prohibited that she speak to men? She had spoken to many men. If she was ridiculed, so be it. Just get them there and let Jesus do the rest.

Jane became the first recorded instance of a female (!) evangelist. Her courage was rewarded. Her entire village believed in Him, and Jesus spent two days with them teaching. Jesus loves an open, receptive, inquiring heart that has no status quo to defend. The entire city opened their hearts, and they, like Jane, were forever changed.

Jane's sins left her less respected in her city than the common prostitutes. That didn't disqualify her from spreading the Gospel of renewal, forgiveness, acceptance, and true spiritual life. Jane never hesitated to put herself on the line for the Gospel. Can we really do less?

If we are honest, we'll admit that there is a long trail of debris and destruction behind us. Some trails are more devastating, but they are there. They leave us with a distinct stain that marks us. Sometimes, we see our own stain and decide that we're too damaged and dirty for God to use us in any meaningful way. Or sometimes we look at another's stains and declare them unfit for use. Brothers and sisters in Christ, please stop. Stop discrediting yourself and stop discarding others. Our stains mean nothing to Jesus. We can't ever become worthy for use by our own actions and earnings. He declares us worthy for use. No amount of debris in our past disqualifies us from accepting our assignments.

Maybe you're one who uses your past as an excuse to avoid accepting your God-given role in Kingdom work. I don't really have to tell you how dangerous that is, do I? Someone who stands for nothing will fall for anything. Maybe you're invested in protecting your pride, your stubbornness, or even your own pet sin. Nothing is worth surrendering your place in God's Kingdom.

So whatever your past, give it over to Jesus. As long as there is breath in your lungs, it's not too late. Forgive yourself. Forgive those who hurt you. Look to the future He has for you. Live your life for Him and be amazed at what happens next.