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Where in the World is Samaria?

Recently I heard Brenda Salter McNeil say that Samaria is the place where you do not want to go. It’s the place where the people who you despise live. Samarians are hostile. Samaria is the place we build freeways around so we don’t have to drive through.

There are two significant passages of red letter scripture where Jesus is clear as newly washed glass windows regarding a place called Samaria and a people group called Samarians.

The first is the all too famous story of Jesus` encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Jesus is fully present with the woman at the well. He goes straight to her heart and penetrates her deepest well of her soul. The Samaritan woman is then quick to determine Jesus is who he says he is. Jesus is a credible witness to her in her life.

Luke, the disciple of Jesus and the author of the book of Luke and Acts records words spoken by Jesus shortly before his resurrected body ascended to Heaven. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” –Acts 1:8.

Brenda summed up Acts 1:8 as Jesus basically asking, “Can I get a witness?” I love that. When you get right down to it, being a witness is a movement outward and one that might be uncomfortable.

Jerusalem is where we feel culturally at home. Jesus pretty much tells us his witnesses can’t stay in Jerusalem.

Judea is close to home but it’s the place of sub cultures. Things may look the same in Judea, but when taken a closer look, there you’ll find subtle differences that divide people. For example, I might look the same as people in my Judea, but when it comes to politics, world views and church denominations, there exists a great chasm.

During the time when Jesus walked the Earth, no self-respecting Jew would ever go to Samaria. In fact, they purposely took the long way around to avoid Samaria all together. Samaria is the place that’s just not safe.

Jesus says his witnesses will go from safe to hostile; from the known to the unknown, from the comfortable to the uncomfortable and from a Disney movie to an action movie. I heard Gary Haugen say the same thing a couple months ago.  

We absolutely must move from what we know to what we do not know.

Jesus revealed his credibility to the Samaritan woman and it radically changed her life. Credibility is given to us; it is not something we can give ourselves. This is what Jesus was talking about when he told his followers in Acts that when the Holy Spirit came on them, then they will be his witnesses.  

In order to earn credibility, we must be in the right place at the right time for the right duration of time. Credibility takes time and patience to develop with people.

Take Chicago based social activist and Catholic Priest Michael Pfleger for example. No matter what your views are on many of the decisions he has made and continues to make, one thing’s certain; Chicago is his Samaria.  In the early 1990’s Pfleger began protesting billboards going up in the neighborhood and very close to a school advertising drugs and alcohol. When his protests got him no where, Pfleger and company climbed the billboards and defaced them by painting right over them. Pfleger was of course arrested and what was his defense? Simply put, he was compelled.

Jesus said we will receive power when we show up in Samaria. We seek the face of God and we follow his banner. That is what we must do.

The church was always supposed to be cross-cultural, multi-lingual, ethically diverse, economically diverse, etc. We are transformed people by the journey from Jerusalem to Samaria. As we participate in the move, we transform to credible witnesses into Samaria. Our ‘withness’ becomes our witness.

Jesus gives life giving water to all who thirst. As John brings the writings of his vision of Heaven in Revelation to a close, he speaks of a mighty river of life that flows from the throne of God, through the city. This river is lined with trees and the leaves of these trees are for the healing of nations.

Collaboration with our Samaria’s always begins with a posture of prayer. Praying for God to break our hearts for what breaks his is our foundation when on the move to Samaria. Justice lives will flow out of this discipline of prayer.

Samaria is the place where we feel God’s wrath if deserved and where we want to help God take people to hell.


So where’s your Samaria?


*The post here is a combination of what I heard Brenda speak on at a recent conference called The Mighty Waters: Preaching and Living God’s Passion for Justice as well as my own reflections and thoughts on what I took away from her talk. In the next few posts on CL, I’d like to share with you more of what I took away from the 2 ½ day conference from some of the other speakers. Cool? :)


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I drink coffee, read books, and travel. I’ve been able to drink coffee and discuss books with friends all over the world, simply because someone built a bridge and I made it east of the Mississippi and beyond. For this reason, I love bridges.