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?

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The ten lepers

Jesus passed between the regions of Samaria and Galilee while he was traveling to Jerusalem. Ten men with leprosy approached him when he entered a village. They stood some distance away from him and called out to him, saying “Jesus, Lord, have mercy on us!”

Jesus noticed them and said “Go show yourselves to the priests.” They were healed on their way.

One of them returned to Jesus when he noticed that he had been healed and gave glory to God with a loud voice. He threw himself facedown at Jesus’ feet, giving thanks. This man was a Samaritan.

Jesus said “Weren’t ten people healed? Where are the rest? Has only this foreigner returned to give glory to God?” Jesus said “Rise, and be on your way. Your faith has healed you.”

LK 17:11-19

The Journey to Jerusalem

Jesus decided to travel to Jerusalem when the time drew near for him to return to the Father. He sent messengers on ahead, and they stopped in a Samaritan village on the way to find a place for him to rest. But the villagers didn’t welcome him because he didn’t want to stay there, but to continue on to Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John realized this, they said “Teacher, do you want us to call down the fire of heaven to destroy them, as Elijah once did?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them, saying “You don’t know the Spirit that you are a part of. The Son of Man came to save people’s lives, not destroy them.” Then they traveled on to another village.

LK 9:51-56

Jesus and the Samaritan woman

Jesus left Judea and returned to Galilee when he learned that the Pharisees heard he was baptizing and making more disciples than John. Jesus himself did not baptize, only his disciples did. On his way he traveled to a town in Samaria called Sychar, which is near the piece of land that Jacob had bequeathed to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there and around 6 in the evening Jesus sat down near it because he was exhausted from his journey. A Samaritan woman came near to draw water from the well. Jesus asked her to give him a drink. His disciples had traveled ahead into town to buy food.

She replied “Why are you, a Jew, asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” Jews normally did not associate with Samaritans.

Jesus answered, “If you understood the gift of God, and who is asking you for a drink, you would be asking him, and he would give you living water.”

“Sir,” she said, “the well is deep and you don’t even have a bucket with you. How and where are you going to get this ‘living water’? You aren’t more powerful than Jacob, our father, are you? He is the one who gave us this well. He, his sons, and their livestock all drank from it.”

Jesus said “Anyone who drinks this water will become thirsty again. But anyone who drinks the water I offer will never ever become thirsty again! In fact, the water I offer will become like a spring of water, flowing from within that person for eternal life.”

“Sir,” she said, “let me have some of this water so I won’t get thirsty and have to come all this way to draw water here again.”

“Go get your husband and come back here” he told her.

“I am unmarried,” she replied.

“You are correct in saying ‘I am unmarried,’ because you’ve been divorced five times and the man you are with now is not your husband. You have spoken the truth,” Jesus countered.

“Sir, it is obvious to me that you are a prophet,” the woman replied. “The Samaritans worshipped here on this mountain in years past, yet you Jews believe that Jerusalem is where people should worship.”

Jesus said “Believe me, the time is coming when you won’t need to worship the Father here or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you don’t know, while we Jews know what we worship, because salvation comes into the world through us. However, it is now the time when true worshippers will worship God in spirit and truth. God wants this kind of worship from us. Since God is spirit, God should be worshipped in spirit and truth.”

The Samaritan woman said “I know that the time is coming when the Messiah will arrive” (the One who is called Christ). “He will explain everything to us when he comes.”

“I am the One who is speaking to you.” Jesus told her.

His disciples arrived at this point and they were surprised he was talking with a woman. But none of them asked him what he wanted or why he was talking to her.

Then the Samaritan woman got up, left her water jar there, and went back to town. She told the men “Come with me and see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done! Is it possible this is the Messiah?” They left the town and went straight to where Jesus was.

Meanwhile, the disciples kept urging him to eat something. But he said “I have food that you are unaware of.” The disciples began to wonder among themselves, saying “Could someone else have brought him something?”

Jesus told them “My food is to do God’s will and to finish God’s work. Isn’t it common to say ‘There are four more months before the time for the harvest’? Listen clearly – raise your eyes and look at the fields – they are ripe for the harvest! Right now the reaper is being paid and gathering the harvest for eternal life, so those who sow and those who reap can celebrate together. Here the saying is true – ‘One sows the seed and another reaps the harvest.’ I have sent you to harvest what you didn’t work for. Others have worked and you have benefitted from their work.”

Many people from the Samaritan town believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony when she said “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” Because of this, they asked him to stay with them when they came out to see him at the well. Jesus stayed there for two days. Many more people came to believe because of his word. Then they told the woman “We don’t believe just because of your testimony. We have heard him for ourselves and we know that he truly is the Savior of the world.”

JN 4:1-42

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