I’ve known for years that I’m too much Martha, not enough Mary. And as I mentioned in the recent Let’s Get Real series, I might be more like a Pharisee than I realized.
But imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when it was revealed to me that I’m also a Samaritan – and not the good kind from Jesus’ famous parable.
The bad kind.
The trouble started, as it often does, at church. My pastor, Stephen Hambidge, tends to give sermons that disturb and challenge me – as if he thinks that’s his job or something. Anyway, one of the passages Stephen’s June 30 sermon, Setting Your Sights High, discusses is Luke 9:51-56:
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.
Not an unfamiliar episode in the life of Jesus by any means. But there’s so much going on in this passage – Jesus setting out resolutely for Jerusalem, and James and John playing little, annoying Chester to Jesus’ Spike and asking for permission to smite the ungrateful Samaritans – that I’ve never thought about why the Samaritans were so unwelcoming. It never seemed important enough to investigate. However, Stephen provided some much-needed illumination, which led to a humbling conviction.
He pointed out that the Samaritans wanted to avoid having anything to do with Jesus because He was Jewish. ‘Headed for Jerusalem? Sorry, you play for the wrong team. Feel free to take your business elsewhere.’
We all know that Jews didn’t like Samaritans – they regarded them as interlopers and impostors – but I didn’t fully realize that the feelings were mutual. Samaritans, I’ve since learned, had their own temple on their own holy mountain – Mount Gerizim in Shechem. They had no truck whatever with the plain-bellied sort and their Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
The Samaritans believed they had legitimate historical, political and religious justification for preferring Shechem to Jerusalem, and some of that was probably valid. But there’s no doubt that part of the root cause of this mutual aberration society was plain, old-fashioned spite. The Samaritans disliked and excluded the Jews because the Jews disliked and excluded the Samaritans, and vice-versa and back again.
Here’s the part where I’m kinda like the unwelcoming Samaritans.
I belong to a Protestant church that baptizes babies and follows a prayer book that tells us what to say and when, during our services. We also follow a lectionary that tells us which Bible passages to read in church each week. And in all of these areas I feel like we’re in the minority – the free-form churches that scorn infant baptism, where ritual elements are eliminated (or at least downplayed) and preachers preach on whatever passages they feel called toward that week, seem to be more numerous and more popular.
And it’s very easy to assume that the Anabaptists think they’re right and we’re wrong – or at least wronger than they are. After all, they were part of the Babybaptist-liturgical tradition until a few centuries ago, when they broke away and started their own churches, presumably because they didn’t like what they saw in the liturgical churches of the day.
And while there’s been an ecumenical thawing over the past decade or two to be sure, the lines have definitely not gone away. Therefore, when I come into contact with an Anabaptist Christian, I tend to feel like they see me as being from the wrong side of the tracts.
And thanks to Stephen’s sermon, I’ve discovered that this disdain is a two-way street.
It’s not that I oppose what they do, it’s that I oppose the fact that they oppose what we do, and I assume they don’t accept me as a full-fledged brother in Christ. So I tend to return the favor.
Now the reality is that I really have no idea what any given Anabaptist thinks about Babybaptist Christians in general or me in particular (perhaps they’re far less worked up about this than I am). But either way, the fact is that other people’s opinions of me are none of my business. (That little gem is courtesy of Deepak Chopra, btw.) And whatever they think of me, disliking and dismissing them because of it is hardly becoming of an aspiring disciple of Christ.
But more alarmingly, let’s remember that the Samaritans in Luke 9 missed a chance to interact with, serve and learn from Jesus in His last days, because they were anti-Jew.
Any chance that this piece of history is repeating itself in my life?
What chances to connect with and learn from Jesus through a member of His body am I missing because I’m apparently a little anti-Anabaptist?
And if any of this applies to you, too (regardless of what kind of church you attend), I invite you to ask yourself the same question.
Maybe there’s a little of the Bad Samaritan in all of us.
Peace be with you.