Do you often find yourself in uncomfortable situations? Working with teenagers and in church world in general, I’ve learned to simply “lean into the awkward.” Make light of the situation, laugh at yourself… whatever it takes. The awkward situations are not that big of a deal anymore. But what about the uncomfortable situations?
- The friend that shares the personal struggle she’s facing but hasn’t found the courage to share with anyone else.
- The neighbor you know could use a friend but comes from a different walk of life than you do and you’re not sure you can relate.
- Your best friend who is making poor decisions, but you’re not sure you can call him out for fear of losing the friendship entirely.
In John 4, we read that Jesus decided to travel from Judea to Galilee. His disciples, naturally, follow him. If they had the benefit of reading verse 4 before committing to this journey, they most likely would have changed their minds.
"And he had to pass through Samaria." (John 4:4)
In the days of Jesus, Jews and Samaritans did not get along. The Jewish people knew they were God’s chosen people, which was true. The issue was their limited view of people of a different religion or race than them. God had yet to show the world the widespread, unlimited expanse of his love.
An understanding of geography during the days of Jesus would affirm verse 4. In order to get from Judea to Galilee, the more direct route was through the town of Samaria. It was roughly 70 miles, a two and a half day journey by foot. Jews in that day, however, would often elect to take a longer, more difficult route that led south of Samaria. They knew the difficulty of the journey, but they would much rather endure the physical pain than run the risk of running into a nasty Samaritan along the way. So, geographically, verse 4 makes perfect sense. But theologically and relationally, the disciples were headed toward something very uncomfortable.
So, here are these 12 people, following Jesus toward the last place they want to be. They get just outside of Samaria when Jesus says, “Hey guys, I need a break. Why don’t you all run into town and get us some lunch – I think there’s a Chick-fil-A just off the highway.” We’re not told how the disciples responded to Jesus. Maybe nervous laughter at first hoping he was just messing with them. I’m sure they pleaded with Jesus once they realize he was serious.
Disciples: “Wait, really? It’s bad enough you brought us near Samaria – now you want us to go into town? Jesus, those are bad people. Don’t you know that we don’t associate with Samaritans?”
Jesus: “Yeah, I know. I’ll take a number one, hold the pickles.”
At times I wish the Bible expanded on what happened during this errand. We know the tension the disciples must have felt, as well as the people of Samaria! Not to mention the amount of prejudice toward one another: racism, nationalism, God-loves-me-more-than-he-loves-you-ism, and the list goes on. But the Bible leaves this account untouched. Maybe there just wasn’t room in John’s gospel, or maybe it’s left open so we can insert our own uncomfortable encounters into the story. Regardless, we know this principle to be true: Following Jesus will often lead us directly toward what we do not understand.
Jesus takes it a step further when the disciples return to find him having a conversation with a Samaritan woman. Not just any Samaritan woman, but the kind of woman that can’t seem to settle down relationally. The disciples, of course, are distraught. Add sexism and classism to the list.
We can’t blame the disciples too much. After all, this is how they were raised! They were just beginning to learn that Jesus came to usher in a new relational world order. Modern day believers, however, have no excuse. Sure, we are also raised in a particular culture in a specific time in history which naturally leads us to form our own ideas, opinions, and beliefs. But we have the example of Jesus, the son of God, who entered into our messy situation to bring hope, healing, and a holy way of living.
If you’re Christ-follower – if you’re doing your very best to follow him every single day – where, what, or who is your Samaria? Where might Jesus be wanting to use you that makes you anxious just thinking about it? Who is the person, or group of people, that you regularly go out of your way to avoid? Is there a chance that Jesus is trying to lead you directly into their world?
If you’re not a Christ-follower, I hope you have seen Christians in your life that live this out. We tend to get a bad rap for being a group of people that “avoid” anyone who is not like us or who we feel may “lead us astray.” While that may be necessary for a specific person in a specific circumstance, the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus did not live a life of avoidance. In fact, he went out of his way to spend time with those who many Christians today do not feel comfortable associating. So if there is a believer in your life that is trying to be a part of your world, I encourage you to give them a chance. They’re hopefully just doing their best to follow the example left behind by Jesus which, of course, is a big task.
Jesus never promised that following him would be easy or comfortable. In fact, he promised just the opposite. So again I ask, do you often find yourself in uncomfortable situations? If you do, don’t change a thing. I think you just might be following Jesus exactly where he wants you to be.