There are many stories in the Gospels about the Samaritans. Why are they referenced? Who are they? Why is the fact that they are Samaritan significant? I believe a little background is in order to help us understand the Gospel stories in question.
The following is taken from the Wikipedia article “Samaritans”. It is rather long. For our purposes the entire article can be reduced to these few paragraphs –
“The Samaritans are adherents of Samaritanism, an Abrahamic religion closely related to Judaism. Samaritans believe that their worship, which is based on the Samaritan Pentateuch, is the true religion of the ancient Israelites from before the Babylonian Exile, preserved by those who remained in the Land of Israel, as opposed to Judaism, which they see as a related but altered and amended religion, brought back by those returning from the Babylonian exile.
Ancestrally, Samaritans claim descent from the Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (two sons of Joseph) who survived the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) by the Assyrians in 722 BCE, as well as from the priestly tribe of Levi.
Samaritan historiography places the basic schism from the remaining part of Israel after the tribes of Israel conquered and returned to the land of Canaan, led by Joshua. After Joshua’s death, Eli the priest left the tabernacle which Moses erected in the desert and established on Mount Gerizim, and built another one under his own rule in the hills of Shiloh.
The Samaritans claimed that they were the true Israel who were descendants of the “Ten Lost Tribes” taken into Assyrian captivity. They had their own temple on Mount Gerizim and claimed that it was the original sanctuary. Moreover, they claimed that their version of the Pentateuch was the original and that the Jews had a falsified text produced by Ezra during the Babylonian exile.
Both Jewish and Samaritan religious leaders taught that it was wrong to have any contact with the opposite group, and neither was to enter each other’s territories or even to speak to one another.”
The stories that have Jesus directly interacting with Samaritans are:
Jesus and the Samaritan woman JN 4:1-42
The parable of the good Samaritan LK 10:29-37
The ten lepers LK 17:11-19
You can look the verses up in your Bible, online on BibleGateway.com, or by using the search feature on this blog on the far right column, towards the bottom.
I invite you to read these stories now, either again or for the first time, knowing the huge rift that was (and still is) between these two faith traditions. Notice how Jesus bridges these traditions to point them towards the One True God – with no more divisions. Jesus says that we are to love God where we are, that there isn’t a specific place to worship (not a mountain or a temple). Jesus says that are to love everyone equally, and this includes those people who historically have been our enemies.
What does this tell us about what the Church is – is it a place, or a way of living?
What does this tell us about how we are to interact with people of other faith traditions?
What does this tell us about how we are to show the love of God in the world, as followers of Jesus?
What does this tell us about including and excluding?
Specifically relevant to the issues of the day, what does it tell us about refugees who are of other faith traditions?