“Now he had to go through Samaria…”John 4:4 NIV
“He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’”Jonah 4:2-3 NIV
The disciples of Jesus in the book of John shared a lot in common with Jonah—none of them wanted to go where God wanted to take them. Jonah knew God would be merciful to the people of Nineveh. He didn’t want the people of Nineveh to receive God’s mercy and grace, he wanted the wicked people of Nineveh to be judged. Jonah would’ve liked to have shouted at the Ninevites, “Burn in hell!” Instead, they repented, and God relented, and mercy reigned. So Jonah got mad.
Jesus’ disciples wouldn’t normally be caught dead in Samaria, not to mention alone, with a Samaritan woman, talking, in broad daylight, and yet this is where the Son of God takes them, into the land of invisible tribal “Us vs. Them” fences. The Jew hovers around the well of the Samaritan. Jonah sets foot in Nineveh.
There are neighbors’ lawns that I don’t want to go stand in, neighborhoods I don’t want to drive through, people I’d rather not make eye contact with on the street for fear of what those eyes might ask of me. It’s so much easier to elbow my pals and say, “Can you believe those people? Thank God we’re not like them.”
I don’t want to go there, wherever “there” is, the land of the tax collector, the land of the robber, the evildoer, the adulterer. In my arrogance and pride, I’m comfortable. In my wealth and prosperity, I forget my need for grace and mercy. My posture matches the Pharisee, who prayed, “Thank you, God, that I’m not like these people.”
It was “these people” God ministered to in Nineveh. “Those people” God met by the well in Samaria. “These people” today God loves and pours out his mercy on. I want to be with God. I want to walk with God. I want to follow God wherever he leads, because I know where he leads is life, and life everlasting. But, am I willing to go there?
Points of Reflection
- Where is the “there” you don’t want to go?
- Who are the people you can’t imagine God loving and saving?
For the Kids
- Who tells people about Jesus, the Messiah, in John 4? Does that surprise you?
- Why do you think Jonah was so mad at God for showing mercy to the people of Nineveh?
Sit humbly before the Father and ask him to show you the prejudices you are carrying for “those people.” Prejudices can have deep roots—the racist slurs that were said in my home as a child still surface, unwanted—but we can take active steps to dig out those weeds and supplant them with the seeds of the fruit of the Spirit: love. Ask God to show you a way you can actively step into the places you don’t really want to go. Ask him—expectantly—to prove his wondrous love and mercy that changes “not my people” to “sons and daughters of God.” Look for ways to move closer to that same Spirit of love and live out of that Spirit.
This spring, I read Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones. I count it among one of the most perspective shifting books I’ve read this year, perhaps this decade. I didn’t understand drug addiction. Now I have a better understanding. I grew up in a very white, rural community. I have struggled through the years to understand the perspective of African Americans, but thanks to The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson, and other books, now I have a better understanding. For most of my life, it has seemed as if the church was at war with members of the LGBTQ+ community. Walking the Bridgeless Canyon: Repairing the Breach Between the Church and the LGBT Community by Kathy Baldock helped me to understand the history of this relationship. Now I have a better understanding. Through these and other books, God shines the light of truth and helps me to see the way God’s love has gone and is going into all of the places I’ve hesitated to go.
Your personal prejudices and journey of faith likely look different than mine, so go find books that speak to the voices in your heart that tell you someone is “other,” someone is undeserving of love, someone is less than. God will most certainly meet you there if you’ve invited him into those dark places and will shine his light of truth and love to extinguish the darkness.