Prejudice in the Kingdom
John 4:27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”
We are jumping into the scene of the woman at the well. Here she is a Samaritan woman and Jesus has been spending time talking to her. All of this was improper. Jews didn’t talk to Samaritans! The disciples were quite appalled at the action of Jesus and their own prejudice informed them. While some commentators suggest that the disciples’ response (or lack there of) was out of respect and awe, there are others who would like us to consider that that they didn’t say anything because they were embarrassed by Jesus’ behavior. How in the world could he sit and talk with someone of another race or group of people that they looked down on — and besides that, the person was a woman. Their prejudice was showing.
Jewish rabbis were to avoid women because they were considered a distraction from the study of the Torah. These “other” people — a minority group, Samaritans — and then a woman — were considered of much less worth than the higher class of Jewish rabbis. The prejudices had been instilled in them since their birth and suddenly they were confronted with the behavior of their rabbi Jesus.
In their own minds they were probably concerned that Jesus had some how not understood how this would look to the rest of the world. Rabbis were to avoid women — not even to talk to their own wife on the street so that no one would think that there were any sexual innuendos or advances. In essence women were thought to be evil temptresses that would drive men astray and therefore they were to be avoided at all cost. Conversation with them might open the door for temptation and yet, here was Jesus embarrassing them all.
Origen, one of the great leaders in the early church challenges us on this scripture. He says that we become “carried away with pride and arrogance, despise those below us and forget that the words, ‘Let us make man according to our image and according to our likeness’ apply to each person.” Jesus was breaking down long-held barriers of prejudice and revealing to the disciples that there was a new kingdom being ushered in where the barriers would be destroyed and everyone would have access to the Messiah. Cyril of Alexandria says Jesus shows here that he is the Creator of all, and as such, “ he does not give men only this life through faith but imparts this faith to women as well. Let him that teaches in the church follow this pattern and not refuse to help women.” And I would hasten to add — and not refuse to help anyone. There can be no prejudice in the kingdom.
Today’s passage challenges us to look at our own potential prejudices. The events in the United States in the last number of weeks have asked us to examine ourselves and recognize that we may have our own preconceived notions of how we “see” certain situations and circumstances. The woman at the well becomes a context in which we may examine our own response because we may be one of the characters in the story.
The woman — she had grown accustomed to being treated poorly. She was a Samaritan! She was born into the wrong people group. A Jewish rabbi would never talk to her because she was considered so far beneath him. This woman knew how to act in the presence of a man like Jesus — like she wasn’t even there. Compared to him she had been taught that she wasn’t much of a human being and she knew this is what he would think of her. I can imagine her downcast eyes and steeling herself for the encounter — or lack there of — where she might just be invisible to this man.
The disciples — followers of Jesus Christ who were blessed to encounter teaching from him on a daily basis and yet, they carried with them their cultural bias and prejudices. How could they not recognize that their response was something that should happen in the kingdom? They are embarrassed by Jesus!
Jesus — is ushering in a new kingdom in which all the barriers are removed. There is no more walking on the other side of the road away from the Samaritan. No longer does he avoid the woman because she might contaminate him! Instead, Jesus carries his holiness with him, reaching out and touching a needy world and bringing holy healing along the way.
This becomes the vital difference of those living within the kingdom. Christ’s holiness is contagious as we walk the highway of holiness and the result is that the walls of prejudice are destroyed. Reflecting Jesus means that we bring Christ’s holy healing to a needy world, not afraid to encounter those that others may view as being different. Jesus’ behavior is an example for us — there can be no vestige of prejudice among God’s people. Jesus intentionally went to a Samaritan well and then began talking to a woman who was stunned by his loving response. We are challenged to go and do likewise.
When the holy love of God consumes his followers there is no room left for prejudice and Christ’s holy healing overflows. This is God’s kingdom.
Lord, please help us as your followers to be intentional about breaking down the barriers which have been created. Amen.