Love for Samaritans and women
Jesus passed through Samaria in chapter 4 with the evident purpose of bringing the gospel to the Samaritans.
This is crazy. After all —
* Samaritans were known to kill Jews who passed through their territory, and yet Jesus chose to sit alone by a well, sending his disciples into town.
* Jesus chose to spread the gospel via the testimony of a woman, in a culture that considered women worthless as witnesses.
* Jesus chose to speak with an immoral woman.
* Indeed, Jesus — a rabbi — chose to teach some of his most valued lessons to an audience of one, with even his own disciples absent.
Jesus loves women, and he loves them even when they are morally imperfect. Moreover, although the Jews of his day despised the Samaritans, considering them subhuman, entirely unworthy of love and compassion, Jesus treated them as sons and daughters of Abraham. He brought them the gospel before the Gentiles.
He was courageous, both in terms of his physical safety and his willingness to confront a potentially hostile crowd. After all, the Samaritans in the nearby village were hardly guaranteed to receive his message favorably.
What kind of man discusses challenging theological concepts with a single Samaritan woman? Well, a man utterly without bias or prejudgment. She might have been a sinner, but that hardly made her ignorant and stupid. He was willing to share his knowledge with anyone, regardless of their standing in society.
The most pitiable lame man in Jerusalem
In chapter 5, Jesus chooses to heal a lame man. It’s hard to imagine a more pitiable sight — a man who had no hope of being first in the water because, not only was he lame, he had no one to help him. And yet for 38 years, desperate for a cure, he hung around by the pool. He was living a delusion, because reality was unbearable.
And so, of all the sick and lame surrounding the pool, Jesus picked the most desperate and most hopeless. He had compassion on a man drowning in hopelessness. And so Jesus healed him on a Sabbath — at the risk of his own life.
I guess there are free lunches!
Then Jesus went and fed 5,000 people. Why is this a big deal? Well, the prophets had associated the coming of the Kingdom with a feast —
(Isa 25:6 ESV) 6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
as well as with free food —
(Isa 55:1-2 ESV) “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”
The crowd easily discerned that Jesus must be the Messiah, and so they prepared to make him an earthly king — a king who provides unlimited food!
Jesus demonstrated God’s generosity and abundance, but he avoided the crowd. He had no desire to be an earthly king. Satan had offered that to him already, and so this was not the first time the temptation was offered to him.
Imagine choosing the cross over an earthly throne! This was no easy choice.
Deliberately offensive Christianity
Later, in chapter 6, Jesus taught the crowd to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Not surprisingly, the crowd was confused, even revolted. Jesus is willing to present his ministry in terms that are frankly confusing and challenging to most people. He doesn’t make it easy. Rather, a follower has to look past difficulties to accept Jesus.
Jesus does not soft-peddle the gospel. Indeed, if anything, he makes it more challenging than we’d think it needs to be. Why was it essential to present the gospel in terms of drinking blood — to a group of Jews who’ve been taught that drinking blood is an abomination before God?
Yes, we can interpret Jesus’ words metaphorically, but we can’t change the fact that he chose obviously offensive figures of speech to make his point. Why? Why give offense seemingly unnecessarily?
Well, why heal on the Sabbath? The lame man wasn’t going anywhere. Why not wait? And so, why speak in terms guaranteed to offend devoted followers of the Torah?
Rather than seeing offense as something to be avoided, Jesus seems to assume that his followers must be willing to get over the offensiveness of the gospel. It seems that he sees the gospel as necessarily offensive, so that, to avoid the offense is to weaken or even destroy the gospel. Really.
Just so, the apostles seem to have reveled in the fact that Jesus died on the cross — making him accursed as one hung on a “tree” (Acts 5:30; 10:39; Gal 3:13; 1 Pet 2:24). The “offense of the cross” (Gal 5:11) is a key element of the gospel.
Modern Christians work hard to eliminate anything the least offensive about the cross and the gospel. We ignore some of the hard doctrines just so the gospel is an easier sale — whereas Jesus and the apostles seem to have taken the very opposite tack.
As a result, modern Americans often feel betrayed by God when they aren’t given a soft and easy life in exchange for their faith, and they are astonished when Christian leaders call them to genuine service and commitment. After all, they were sold a low cost, low risk religion.
Jesus knew better.