Sunday, August 12, 2012

Meditations in John Chapter 8 – IX

The Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not rightly say that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me,” John 8:48 – 49.

The conversation between Jesus and “those Jews who had believed Him” (verses 30 – 31) continues its downward trajectory; the anger builds against Jesus – they accuse Jesus of having a demon, they also accuse Jesus of being a Samaritan. Jesus rejects the charge of having a demon and reiterates His identification with the Father; Jesus does not respond directly to the assertion that He is a Samaritan – for no response is needed; in fact, by allowing the assertion to stand Jesus is responding.

Every society, every subgroup in every society, has some element, some social group, which is looked down upon by others. This is the nature of sin in fallen humanity. Fallen man needs someone to look down upon in order to feel self-righteous, in order to feel justified, in order to feel better. Other groups can be perceived as threats to social or economic stability; their customs and traditions can be seen as strange and threatening. When religion is thrown into the mix differences can become volatile. The Jews looked down upon the Samaritans and would have nothing to do with them; interesting that Jesus uses a Samaritan as the good neighbor in the parable of the Good Samaritan; interesting that we have Good Samaritan laws that protect people who in good faith render assistance to those in need. Jesus chose to use a member of the untouchables (from the Jewish point-of-view) to portray what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.

In John Chapter 8 Jesus is accused of having a demon and being a Samaritan; Jesus rejects the charge of having a demon, He does not reject the accusation of being a Samaritan.

The Samaritan accusation by the Jews is a logical result of the discussion’s trajectory, it stems from a denial by the Jews that they are in slavery to sin; it stems from their self-righteous insistence that they are Abraham’s children and have never been in slavery to anyone. Self-righteousness breeds judgment of others, and since the Samaritans were the lowest of the low the Jews accuse and judge Jesus as having not only a demon, but also of being a Samaritan. Jesus does not counter by saying, “I am not a Samaritan, I am descended from Abraham and David, I was born in Bethlehem.”

Jesus does not reject the Samaritan accusation because He is, of course, a Samaritan, just as He is an Arab, or an Iranian, or Irish, or German, or Zulu, or Navaho, or Korean – Jesus is the Son of Man, He came to indentify with all of us and each of us. To reject the Samaritan accusation would be to reject His mission and His incarnation and His Father – for His Father is the Father of us all (Ephesians 3:14 – 15).

But what about us? What about me? What about you? Do we identify with others outside our socioeconomic class? Outside our racial and ethnic class? Outside our religious tradition and thinking? Our political thinking? Or do we use various divides to justify ourselves, to protect ourselves, to isolate ourselves? Do we paint others as evil, as undesirable, as unlovable – and ourselves as good and righteous? If we were accused of being the equivalent of a Samaritan would we refute the charge or let it stand, knowing that in Christ we are called to identify with all humanity and to be broken bread and poured out wine to every person?

The following is something I’ve shared more than once over the years; it bears repeating:

When I was in seminary and Vickie and I lived in Beverly, MA, north of Boston, we both used to take the commuter train into Boston; Vickie on a daily basis and I on those days when I worked in the city (I had part-time jobs throughout seminary). The regulars on the train platform were generally men and women either dressed in suits or dressed “business casual”. The same women and men were there day after day, traveling to and from Boston. There was, however, a marked exception to the suit and business-casual crowd, his name was George. George was disheveled, often wore clothes that appeared to be strangers to soap and water…and perhaps worst of all…it wasn’t unusual for George to smell…stink is a better word. George’s scent radiated a good six feet or more, it was a danger zone to the nicely-dressed crowd.

I still see the platform, George on one end, the crowd on the other. But wait, there is someone else over there by George, over by him on a regular basis. The person is talking to him and listening to him. Who is it? Let’s take a closer look, it must be the seminary student, he must be working today. But no, it isn’t him, he is over with the crowd; well then, who is with George? Why it’s Vickie, the seminary student’s wife, she’s the one over by George on a regular basis, even though she’s wearing a suit or is business casual everyday on the platform. Doesn’t she know? Doesn’t she get it? She belongs back with the crowd, what’s wrong with her?

God used my wife to deal with my pride and vanity on that platform, it wasn’t the first time and I pray it won’t be the last. Hopefully we all have Georges in our lives, I say hopefully because hopefully we are not isolated from humanity. Will we identify with others no matter what rest of society may think of them? Will we bear the jeers and sneers and snobbery and judgments of others to identify with the Samaritans of this world? Will we be the Presence of Christ in a broken world?  If we were accused of being the equivalent of a Samaritan would we refute the charge or let it stand, knowing that in Christ we are called to identify with all humanity and to be broken bread and poured out wine to every person?

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