Moving Towards the Mess | John 4.1-4
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. John 4:1-4 | ESV
Back to the story. Jesus. In Judea. Baptizing. A lot. And the Pharisees – the law-thumping religious purists of the day – know he is. And Jesus knows they know. He’s now a significant blip on their religious radar, his activity gathering even more momentum than John’s as more and more people flock to him, say they’re all in, and show it by being dunked in the river – though Jesus himself didn’t do the dunking, curiously; he let his fledgling disciples take front and center with that. Jesus, aware of the stir he’s beginning to cause in religious minds takes his act further upstream out of Judea, away from the Jewish Bible Belt, and heads north back to his Galilean stomping grounds.
But first a detour.
Actually, it was the most direct route back to Galilee. It’s just that good Jews never took it. Samaritan land. Feuding neighbors. Ethnic, religious, cultural bad blood. Long story. But Jesus doesn’t mind walking right into it. In fact, he had to. MAV
Shifting back to the initial stirrings of Jesus’ ministry, John enters some completely new territory. Samaritan revival. What an unlikely story in such an unlikely place. The bad blood between Jews and Samaritans has its roots in the history of 2 Kings 17:24-41. It was a feud with religious and ethnic overtones, and it was over 700 years old by the time Jesus arrived on the scene. Ancient blood feuds? In the Holy Land? Who would have thought. You’d think the Holy Land is occupied by people. This blood feud was so bitter that Jews who traveled from north to south, or vice versa, typically crossed to the other side of the river to make the journey, since the Samaritans had the gall to park themselves right in the middle section of the Holy Land. I’ve heard of crossing to the other side of the street to avoid someone, but just how much do you detest someone to cross to the other side of the river? And, of course, Samaritans weren’t known for being welcoming to Jews who did cross through their land. But this Jew had to. That’s a bit of a teaser for us, that word “had” to. Why did Jesus “have to” pass through Samaria? Was the Jordan running too high, was it at flood stage, or was he in a hurry, or what? And while it’s usually less than helpful to speculate over matters an author doesn’t see fit to address, perhaps here it’s pertinent, because just maybe the reason behind the “had to” is at the very heart of who Jesus is, what his message is all about, and thus what we are to be all about as his followers. Perhaps it’s a reflection of a prime directive of the kingdom of God: God always moves towards the mess. We love detours around the mess. Every time. Give us that wide-open expressway lined with the pleasant, the congenial, the peaceful, the serene, and we’ll opt for it every time. No messy detours, please. And so when dealing with bitter feuds or even milder disagreements, we find alternative routes around them, rather than walking right into their territory, and sitting on a well in the shadow of their most holy place, and risking a conversation. St. Francis had a basic prescription for wannabe Christ followers: read the Gospels and do what you find there. Good habit to embrace as we follow Jesus moving towards the mess of ancient feuds and religious controversies, and instead of engaging in theological fisticuffs, offering the enemy a drink.
What messes in your life are you currently trying to avoid? How might God be challenging you to move towards them?
Lord, give me the grace and the unflinching courage to move towards the mess today rather than seeking a detour around them to greener pastures. Through Christ.
For all of this week’s small group resources including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.