Who are the Samaritans? And why is this relevant today?

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 –
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“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.”
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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?

Trunk or Treat

Why do some Christian churches celebrate “Trunk or Treat” rather than Halloween? It is because some denominations are strongly opposed to the idea of Halloween because they think it is honoring the devil. They also are concerned about the safety of their children knocking on strange neighbor’s doors asking for candy. So they want to find a safe alternative.

Instead of having “Trunk or Treat”, perhaps would be better not to have anything at all. “Trunk or Treat” still gives reference to Halloween. Perhaps have a harvest festival if you have to have something. To observe even part of a holiday that you are opposed to is still acknowledging it. Referring to it gives it credence. If they are truly opposed to it, then don’t have any festival of any kind on Halloween or in the week before.

But there are other things to consider. As to worrying about the neighbors, remember that part of being a follower of Jesus means that you should treat your neighbors as you would like to be treated. So you want people to be afraid of you and to never talk to you? If not, then why would you treat the neighbors like that? Why is it that Halloween is the one time of year where we are encouraged to talk to our neighbors? Halloween is a great time to be a Christian. You can meet your neighbors and make new friends.

Another problem is that there is no “trick” in “Trunk or Treat”. It is all “treat”. There is no risk of anything unusual happening. The risk is part of Halloween. Halloween is about things being different, where the unexpected can happen. It is about acknowledging that we aren’t in control of our lives. This too is in line with the words of Jesus, who reminds us constantly that God is in charge, and we aren’t.

The parable of the good Samaritan

There was a man who wanted to justify his actions and said “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus answered him by telling a parable. “There once was a Jewish man who was attacked by robbers as he was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. They took all of his clothes and money, beat him up, and left him lying half dead on the side of the road. When a priest walked down that same road and saw him, he crossed over to the other side and walked on by. After that a Levite did the same thing. Then a Samaritan, sworn enemy of the Jews, noticed him and had compassion. He kneeled beside him and put healing ointments and bandages on his wounds. Then he put the man on the animal he had been riding. Walking all the way, he led the donkey to an inn and continued to take care of the man throughout the night. The next day he gave the innkeeper two day’s worth of room and board. He said ‘Please take care of him. I’ll pay you back when I return if the bill is any higher.'”

Jesus asked, “Which of the three people would you say was a neighbor to the man who had been waylaid by the robbers?” The man replied, “The one who showed him compassion.” Jesus told him “Go and do likewise.”

LK 10:29-37

The Primary Commandment

The Pharisees went to where Jesus was when they heard how he had refuted the Sadducees. An expert in the Law challenged Jesus asking him, “Which commandment is the most important?”

Jesus answered, “‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all of your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second commandment is like it -‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There are no commandments greater than these two. All the teachings of the Prophets and the Law base their foundation upon these two commandments.”

The man who questioned him said “You are correct, Teacher! You spoke the truth when you said that there is only One God, and that we are to love God with all of our being, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. These practices are far more important that all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Because of the wisdom of his answer, Jesus said to him “You are not far from entering the kingdom of God. You have answered correctly. If you do these things you will live. ”

The authorities did not dare to challenge him any further.

MT 22:34-40, MK 12:28-34, LK 10:25-28

What the Duck? Hate isn’t a Christian virtue.

Last Thursday I was in my water aerobics class. There is a lady there who I regularly talk with. She is an evangelical Christian and is a minister in her church. I’ve had better talks about God in that pool than I ever have in church.

Today was different. She came up to me and asked me if I’d heard about the whole Duck Dynasty thing. Of course I have. Who hasn’t, by now? I don’t even watch TV and I know about it. The patriarch of this group of rednecks says some pretty harsh things about gay people and the network his show is on fires him.

She starts talking to me about this as if she assumes I’m going to agree with her. I’m reminded of the times when people start to tell me a racist joke, thinking I’m on their side. She smiles really big and says “But we know who is going to win in the end, right?” She means Jesus. She means to say that she thinks this intolerant, judging, backwater man is right, and that she thinks I agree with him.

I took a breath in. I smiled. I’m learning this is a good tactic to disarm people. Because this is disarming. I’m trying to remove a dangerous weapon from her. I’m trying to remove the most dangerous weapon there is – using Jesus as a weapon.

I can’t stand it when people use Jesus as an excuse to hate other people. Of course, they don’t think they are being hateful. They think they are being obedient. They think they are following the Word.

So, I decided to test this minister. She’s studied the Bible longer than I have, and been examined by her church. She is a lay minister, sure, but she had to be certified and tested by them to say she is a minister. So she should be able to answer a simple question.

She didn’t see this coming.

I asked her – “What did Jesus say about homosexuality?”

Full stop. She looked to the side, in deep thought. She was scanning her memory banks. They came up blank, because Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality. He talked a lot about love. Part of love is not judging other people. He talked a lot about not judging. It isn’t Christ-like to tell other people what they are doing is wrong.

She fumbled. She had to be right. She said “But Scriptures say that…” and I interrupted. “Not Scriptures. What did JESUS say?”

And then she realized that her whole plan was going wrong. She thought she had an ally. I’ve never challenged her on her homophobia before. I’ve let her talk it out. But I certainly haven’t agreed. I’ve hoped that she would come to the same conclusion that I have – that the only sin is to be hateful and judgmental and to not show love.

As Christians, we follow the commands of Jesus. His commands supersede the rules of the Old Testament. Take whatever rule there is in the Old Testament and measure it up against Jesus’ rules – Does it show love to God? Does it show love to our neighbor (i.e. everybody)? Then do it. If it doesn’t fulfill those parameters, it is optional. This is why Christians can eat bacon cheeseburgers, and don’t have to cover their heads, and don’t have to worry about wearing fabric that is woven from two different materials. These rules don’t push us further in love.

The same thing applies to the words of Paul in the New Testament. If his words measure up against Jesus’ commands to show love, then do them. Otherwise, skip them. Remember, Paul is the same person who said that women shouldn’t speak in church. If they have any questions in church they should be silent, and ask their husbands at home later. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35) If she is going to use Paul’s words against homosexuals, she needs to remember that Paul was totally against women ministers, of which she is one.

Now, she has to prove she’s right, so she goes into Scriptures, even though that isn’t what I asked. She tells about the men in Sodom and Gomorrah who wanted to sodomize the angels. (Genesis 19:4-5)

Fine. I’ve read Scriptures too. I may not be a certified minister, but I know this.

I countered with the fact that Lot volunteered to send out his two virgin daughters instead, to be raped by the crowd of men. (Genesis 19:6-8)

Then I added the fact that after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s daughters were convinced that they were the only people left on Earth and that they were responsible for continuing their father’s line. They got their father drunk and had sex with him, and got pregnant. (Genesis 19:30-38)

I pointed out that you can’t talk about homosexuality being wrong in Scriptures without noting that raping virgins and incest is perfectly fine.

This stumped her.

She countered with “Jesus says love the sinner, hate the sin”.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that Jesus said nothing of the sort. Try to find the verse for that. Try to find anything like that in the Gospels. It just isn’t there. It isn’t there because it isn’t loving.

Jesus didn’t define people as sinners.

Jesus died for everybody’s sins. Jesus died to let us all know that we are free of that debt. Jesus died so that we could live.

Plenty of Christians say that they aren’t judging gay people. They say this in the same way that racists say they aren’t racist. They judge them when they say that being gay is a sin. They judge them when they say they aren’t entitled to the same legal rights that every other adult citizen has. They judge them when they exclude them or limit them, or deride them.

When Christians judge gay people, they aren’t being Christ-like. They just aren’t. The bad part is that they are giving a bad name to Christians. Because they are so vocal in their judgment, they give the impression to non-Christians that being hateful is a hallmark of being Christian. It isn’t.

Love is the answer, always.

Thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer.

With the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus was trying to give us a model of how to pray. It is a recipe, a framework, a blueprint. We aren’t supposed to repeat these words mindlessly. We are to use them as an example and make them our own.

Here’s the version I was taught. There are slightly different versions. Some don’t include the “trespasses” part. Some add “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.” at the end.

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Amen.

Really, how many people even talk like this today? Jesus sure didn’t. In spite of what some fundamentalists would believe, Jesus didn’t speak English. And Jesus certainly wouldn’t use King James English in the 21st century. Jesus is all about getting down to our level. Jesus talks like how the people he’s with talk.

How many of us even really understand these words? Who knows what “hallowed” means? How many of us just say these words like they are a magic formula? We have them memorized and we say them and we are done. The words have passed through our lips but not through our minds or hearts.

These words of Jesus are a pattern, not a formula. They provide us a framework. They give us topics to cover. If you cover these basic topics, you’ll have prayed in a good way. Jesus isn’t about people mindlessly muttering words to God. Jesus tells us to pray from our hearts.

God made each one of us a little different, and God wants to hear from each one of us in our own special way. That is way we were made different. For us to pray the same prayer all the time makes no sense.

So what is Jesus saying in this prayer? What is Jesus telling us to do?

Perhaps it is something as simple as this:

Dear God/ Creator/ Divine Source of all that is, You are the master of everything and you are the Lord. (Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.)

Help me to remember that You are always in charge, and You know what is going on better than I do. Help me remember that I don’t have to try to control everything – that you’ve got it all figured out. (Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.)

Thank you for taking care of my physical needs, not just food but clothing and a place to live. Thank you for making sure that I have what I need. (Give us this day our daily bread,)

Help me to remember to always forgive other people, because You have already forgiven me. Help me to hold no grudges. (and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,)

I ask that you not test me by tempting me with things that are bad for me. (and lead us not into temptation,)

Please protect me and keep me safe. (deliver us from evil.)

Amen.

You can formulate it along this pattern. Think about each phrase as if you are seeing it for the first time. Think about each word. Look each one up – not just the ones you aren’t familiar with. What do they mean to you? They will mean something different to you ten years from now.

Some thoughts on this –

The “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever” part is really a repeat of the “hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” part. They both refer to the fact that God is in charge. God is the creator and ruler of everything. God is the beginning and the end and everything in between. God has the master plan. We keep thinking we are in charge, and it is up to us to make sure everything gets done. This is a very unhealthy way to think. So perhaps it is good to refer to this twice in this prayer. It is the key to it all.

In the “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” part, we need to look at the word “as” – it means “in the same way, or like” but it also means “at the same time” Our mistakes are forgiven when we forgive others their mistakes. It isn’t up to us to judge. We have to let it go and let God be in charge. Jesus came to teach peace and forgiveness. This is something that comes from God to us, but it is also supposed to be something that we extend out to everyone. Consider it trickle-down forgiveness, but the trickle is more like a waterfall.

In the “lead us not into temptation” part, I feel that is there because God often tests us to strengthen us. God is like a personal trainer, and wants us to grow strong. We have to be tested for this to happen. Perhaps part of this is also that we are asking that we see that whatever tests do come our way we see as being from God. Then we will have the strength to endure them.

If we live an easy life then we won’t ever get to test our faith. It is easy to “love your neighbor” if your neighbor is kind – it is much harder when your neighbor is a jerk. But it is exactly that kind of neighbor that we are here to be kind to. I also think Jesus put in the “lead us not into temptation” line because God forgets how hard it is to be human.

God gave us all these rules to follow. And we kept breaking them. God gave us more rules, and we still didn’t get it right. So God came down in human form, and finally understood why we couldn’t get the rules right. God finally understood how hard it is to be human because God finally saw what it was like from our perspective.

It is like a professional race car driver trying to give driving instructions to someone who has an antique VW van to drive. The professional is going to keep getting frustrated – why can’t this person get it? It is easy. Then, when the driver finally gets into the old, clunky, VW van with its impossible stick shift and heater that is always on, even in the middle of summer, and the rusted out floorboards, the driver will finally get a clue as to what is going on.

It is as if God says after all that “Of course you can’t do it the way I’ve been telling you. I see now. Here, let me break it down to just two rules. Love Me, and love your neighbor.”

And really, it is just one rule. Love.

Sometimes that is the hardest thing ever.

Forgetting, forgiveness

I know a lady who refuses to go to a certain church because they are OK with gay people. And by OK I mean the denomination not only welcomes gay people but also has gay ministers.

She says that homosexuality isn’t Christian.

I asked her what Jesus said about homosexuality. She got a little defensive and paused. She then admitted that she wasn’t completely familiar with all of what Jesus said. When I told her that Jesus said nothing about being gay, but said a lot about loving other people and a lot about not judging, she got even more defensive.

I wasn’t winning over a convert here. She thinks I’m wrong, and I think she is wrong. She thinks I’m twisting the rules to say that something that she has been taught is wrong isn’t actually wrong. I think she is using religion as an excuse to be a bigot.

The ironic part is that she is living with the father of her child, but they aren’t married. Their daughter is three. So by the same bag of rules that she was handed by society, she too is a sinner.

But she isn’t. And neither are gay people. Or, we all are, and that debt is paid.

No matter how you do the math, it is OK.

On one side, Jesus gave us two rules – love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves. If whatever you are doing honors those things, then you are good. If it violates these things, then stop doing them.
But then here’s the other side. Jesus paid for all of our sins. All of them. For all time. Jesus totally got that it is really hard to be perfect. He got that it is very hard to be human. We make mistakes. We try. We fail again.

When Jesus said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” he might as well have said to us “That’s OK – just try again to do it right the next time, but I know you won’t get it right, and that’s OK too.”

This doesn’t mean that we are off the hook. This doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want and forget the consequences. We need to be mindful. But we need to also be patient with ourselves because we aren’t ever going to get it perfect.

Alexander Pope said “To err is human, to forgive divine.” This bears remembering.

Perhaps what people are afraid of about gay people being welcomed in church is that they think there won’t be room enough. They don’t want to share space with them. They think there won’t be room for them to be in church with all gay people there. Maybe they think that church is only for perfect people – ones who have it all figured out and are living a blameless life.

Maybe they forget that nobody’s perfect, and we are all forgiven.

Maybe they forget that we are all called to love, in the same way that Jesus loved us.

This, too, is forgiven, this forgetting.

On compassion.

Jesus tells us we are to love our enemies. Let us take that as far as it will go. Everyone and everything is created by God. Everyone and everything is our neighbor. While it is easy to love the nice people, it is very hard to love the mean ones – but Jesus tells us they are exactly the ones we must be nice to.

They are the ones who need it the most.

So what about insects? Why do we consider a butterfly beautiful but a beetle creepy? Why do we celebrate one and crush the other?

Are you ready to love a wasp, or a roach, or a spider?

Are you ready to see them as created by the same Creator that made fireflies and lightning bugs?

Stay with this a moment. Breathe it in.

Then go further, and yet back.

Are you willing to be loving and gentle with the person who is attacking you or your friend? Are you willing to show mercy to the bigot, the racist, the homophobe?

Are you in a place in your head where you can love them for who they are, right now?

Do you have a space in your heart where you can see them as being the way God made them because He needs them this way, right now?

How about your own thoughts, your own bad habits? Are you able to love them, and see them as teachers?

How about your inability to get up early enough to go exercise? Your habit of spending all you make? Your love of greasy, fatty food? Your need to control others? Your need to be right?

Everything is a teacher. Everything is a gift, a guest in this house that is your soul, your life.

Compassion is a way of living, a way of loving. It is honoring each being, right where they are. It is seeing the beauty hidden behind all the walls, the veils, the shields that we all put up to prevent ourselves from being whole.

It is seeing the lotus growing out of the muck. It is knowing it is there, even if you can’t see it. It is about the potential. And it is about the present.

Our defenses keep us safe, we think. They keep us from having to get too close to ourselves and seeing ourselves in each other.

We are called to communion, to a union-with. We are called to wholeness. This is within ourselves, with every person, with every created being, and with God, the Creator of all.