Breaking Social Barriers


John 4:27, “At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, ‘What do You seek?’ or, ‘Why do You speak with her?'”

High school was as difficult for me as it is for anyone. While I was not the most popular, people still knew me. For the most part, people liked me, but in some ways I felt like a misfit. I belonged to a youth group at my church, and that was a great experience. But when it came to school, I had a hard time clicking with others. I joined the band, played football, and ran track. I did the whole nine yards. But one thing I remember as well as anything was the desire to belong.

I found it hard to belong to certain groups because it meant ostracizing others. Belonging to one group of people might mean sacrificing my reputation with other friends. My goal was to have my first allegiance always be to Christ, so that put a damper on how loyal I was to any group.

Most of us can identify with the desire to fit in. Many go great lengths to be accepted, and when they finally find their ring of friends, they will do anything to keep it- including the exclusion of others. In the story about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, the disciples faced the exact same pressure to want to belong. In following Jesus, they finally have become involved with something in their life that has brought them deeper meaning. But what happens when the opportunity to belong begins to crumble?

In many ways, life was good for the disciples. They were following a leader who turned out to be the Messiah, the one who would deliver Israel. He could do ridiculously amazing miracles, and he had an impeccable knowledge of Torah, the “Bible” of the day. No one could argue with him. Not only that, but he could turn water into wine. How fun is that?! All was well until…

Jesus had this way of habitually jeopardizing the reputation of the disciples. In some ways, I wonder if the disciples were ever embarrassed for Jesus. Did he know what He was doing when He acted certain ways? After all, the Messiah should act like one, shouldn’t he?

This story is no different. At face value, Jesus “blows it.” He crosses social lines by talking with this Samaritan woman. In some ways, the text suggests that she was a prostitute. Regardless, she was Samaritan and she was woman. It would be an understatement to say it was taboo for a Jew to hang out with a Samaritan. Even more, a man, and certainly a Rabbi, would never approach a woman who was not his wife. Jesus violated social norms in order to extend mercy and grace to the outcast.

Which brings me to the point I wanted to reflect on…

Jesus’ disciples had gone into town to buy some food. When they entered back into the scene they were amazed to discover Jesus entertaining this woman. Amazed is a euphemism for “pooped bricks”. I can picture their jaws hanging open and the groceries slowly dropping to the ground as the disciples were thinking to themselves, “Jesus, stop! What are you doing?! You are messing up everything. Why are you hanging out with her? Don’t let anyone see you. They will never take you seriously. Start acting like the Messiah is supposed to act.” That is essentially how scripture paints their unspoken thoughts as it says, “‘What do You seek?’ or, ‘Why do You speak with her?” Breaking social barriers is shocking for others to see and often difficult to understand.

The story gets even better when the woman hurries into the city to tell everyone how her life was changed. It seems that the disciples were catching on to what was happening, so they tried to distract Jesus from paying further attention to the Samaritan people and thus harming his reputation even more. In effect, they said, “Would you look at the time? Hey Jesus, you’re hungry, right? Yeah, its time to eat Bro. Darn, we know you hate to miss out on ministry, but we gotta eat and run.” The temporal need for food became a distraction for the greater need to help others.  Distractions from good often come from those who are our social contemporaries and in the form of temporal obligations.

It turns out that Jesus stayed in that town for 2 more days and he did plenty more miracles- enough socializing with the outcast to make those closest to Him stock up on Rolaids. When we read this story, we all need to ask, “Who is our Samaritan woman of our day?” Who is it that we would never be seen with? Who is that person or people that if you saw your friend or pastor with, you would ask to yourself, “What are you doing hanging out with them? Isn’t that inappropriate?” Hopefully we don’t have that thought in us. Following Jesus means that we will transcend social barriers and distractions that would keep us from ministering to others.

Transcending social barriers eclipses the personal prejudice and barricades that are put up against others. What is interesting is that the very desire to belong often feeds intolerance of others. For some reason we intuitively think we cannot have both/ and. We think that if we demonstrate acceptance of those different than us, then our friends may think less of us. This would not happen in a genuine friendship, and regardless, a follower of Christ is ultimately concerned about what the King expects.

The reality is that we all struggle in some way with reaching out to those who are different. So my proposal is that we stop being amazed in the same way the disciples were when they saw Jesus ministering to the Samaritan woman. Extending love to weird people should not be shocking. It should be as normal as loving “normal” people. Who do you know that you have neglected, ignored or failed to help because they are different than you? What are some practical ways that you can extend mercy and grace in their life?

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