Samaria was the first cross-cultural mission site of the early church. So I am looking at Samaria from a few perspectives.
- The Problems of Samaria (This post)
- The Preparation for Samaria (Next post)
- The Potential in Samaria (Third post)
A fourth perspective (Projects to Samaria) will not appear as a post, but just as a sermon here in the Philippines. That is because it is tied too specifically to the region.
Problem #1. Their Ancestry. Samaria was the land in Present-day Israel that at one time was the land inheritance of the children of Israel… particlarly the tribes of Epraim and Manasseh. According to the Old Testament, when the Northern Kingdom was broken up, Assyria took away tens of thousands of the Israelites and relocated them in present-day Iraq. Then they brought in thousands of foreigners into this region who intermarried with the Israelites that were left behind.
Later in the book of Ezra and Nehemiah, there were priests who intermarried with foreigners. These were driven out of Jerusalem. The Jews in the time of Christ thought of the Samaritans as descendents of these groups. In other words, Samaritans were viewed as Israelites who violated God’s call to maintain racial “purity” and intermarried with other people.
The Samaritans were relatives of the Jews… but were those type of relatives that one likes to ignore… “black sheep of the family.” Samaritans were the black sheep of the Jewish family.
Problem #2. The History. After King Solomon died, Israel had civil war and the nation divided in the Kingdom of Israel in the North, and the Kingdom of Judah in the South. The Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah often, not always, but often fought with each other. The Kingdom of Judah had as its capital, the city of Jerusalem. The Kingdom of Israel had its capital set up as the city of Samaria. So the Jews… the people of Judah were often in conflict with the people of Samaria… for hundreds of years. After the Babylonian captivity, Nehemiah returned to rebuild the destroyed walls of Jerusalem. While he was doing this, local people tried to prevent the rebuilding of these walls, even sending letters to Persia suggesting that the Jews were involved in sedition. The Jews considered the Samaritans to be descendent from these enemies of Judah and Jerusalem. Continued feuding, and occasional violence, continued up until the time of Christ. So to the Jews, the Samaritans were bad neighbors. But because they were also related, they were more than bad neighbors… in fact, there was more than black sheep in the family. There is bad blood.
Problem #3. The Faith. According to the Old Testament, after Assyria transplanted foreigners in to the region of Samaria, the people suffered from a curse (wild animals). The people followed a tried and true method… learn about the local god and try to appease him. They set up a religion reminiscent of the local faith of Israel. Ultimately, they developed a competing religion that utilized a version of the Pentateuch, and eventually its own competing temple and synagogues. As such, despite similarities, the Samaritans were seen as apostates.
Problem #4. The Real Problem. Many Jews had allowed these differences to engender hate in their hearts for Samaritans. They would commonly avoid Samaria in their travels. It seems that (from John 8:48) one of the harshest things a Jews could say about someone was that he was a demon-possessed Samaritan.
The disciples were not immune to this attitude. Luke 9:53-54 describes two of Christ’s disciples wanting to destroy an entire Samaritan village due to a lack of hospitality.
This is a problem that Jesus had to correct. It is not surprising in Luke 10:5 that Jesus told His disciples not to go minister to Samaritans or Gentiles. Some have seen this as a racist attitude on the part of Jesus. A reasonable alternative explanation is that Jesus knew that His disciples were not ready to effectively minister cross-culturally.
I have certainly known good Christians who are so enmeshed in their own culture, that they cannot effectively minister to people in other cultures. They need preparation.
The next post will be on Jesus’ preparation of His disciples to minister in Samaria.