Monday, April 15, 2013

Through the Bible: Week 33 - Why Jesus Went Through Samaria

Jesus Between Galilee and Jerusalem (Luke 9-19)

In between Jesus’ Galilean Torah-Synagogue centered ministry (part one of Luke’s Gospel) and his Judean/Jerusalem Temple centered ministry (part three), there is a long travel narrative that contains a lot of material that is unique to Luke (part two, 9:51-19:44).  This narrative unfolds in and around the region of Samaria.  The region and its history is a crucial sub-text to the stories one finds in Luke’s travelogue.  The narrative frames the embedded stories (cp. 9:51-56 and 17:11-19), providing clues to understanding them.  The narrative is critical to our discipleship because the issues addressed are perennial problems for disciples of Jesus.  Most of our lives are lived between Galilee and Jerusalem, the liminal space between initial and final salvation. This narrative teaches us how to live in this space, theologically described as sanctification.
Samaria and the Samaritans had a long and checkered history with Israel, dating from the schism of the Northern Kingdom.  After Samaria's conquest the Assyrians intentionally mixed the region with pagans and paganism.  Despite sending priests to help rehabilitate the Jewish faith, the result was a form of syncretistic Judaism where the people “feared God but served idols” (cf. 2 Kings 17:24-41).  Over time Samaritans redefined three pillars of Jewish faith and practice, having their own version of the Torah, their own Temple and their own Territory.  In other words, Samaritans were “Jewish heretics:” doctrinally, ethically and ethnically deviant. 
If Samaria was not always enemy territory, it was decidedly unfriendly territory.  Thus, most Galilean Jews would not travel through it on their way to Jerusalem but take the more circuitous route along the Transjordan valley.  However, Jesus “had to go” through it (compare Luke 9:51-54 with John 4:4).  It was not a geographical but rather a theological necessity.  What Jesus has to teach his disciples requires an immersion in Samaria.  As introduction to this narrative and its many brilliant parables and sayings of Jesus, it is helpful to identify keys themes and parallels.   Some of the crucial themes and emphases are:
1.       Journey – Jesus is “to go”, “going,” to Jerusalem, etc ((:51, 52, 53, 56, etc).  This parallels other travel narratives of scripture such as the wilderness wanderings of Israel and the wilderness journeys of David between being a shepherd then a King.  In each instance, God’s people are undergoing a transformation of their imaginations, a liberation of their wills and affections, as they learn the deeper meanings and costs of following God in the establishment of his reign. 
2.       Resolve – Jesus is determined to go Jerusalem (9:51-56). Jesus “sets his face” to Jerusalem, much as the suffering servant of Isaiah (50:7), not despite what is going to happen there but because of what will happen there.  When the disciples ask Jesus to fight his opponents, he continues to “set his face” to Jerusalem as if to say “this is the way I fight.” 
3.       Role of disciple – Jesus disciple are sent ahead and often miss the point of Jesus mission.  We see this at the beginning with James and John’s response to the Samaritan village that refuses Jesus (9;51-56) but also when Jesus plain meaning appears to hard to obey (17:1-6).  This is not Discipleship 101 and there are important parallels between Jesus disciples and John the Baptist.  Even the best of us “don’t get” Jesus.
4.       Rejection of Jesus – is a recurring motif, stated at the beginning (9:58) and echoing the beginning of his ministry in Nazareth (4:28).  Part of this rejection has to do with Jesus' compassion for socially marginal and/or theologically deviant peoples.
5.       Jesus' preferred way of reaching these people and training his disciples is through the indirect approach of parables.  This study will closely examine 3-4 parables and prophetic acts and conclude with Jesus' direct engagement of a Samaritan woman in John’s Gospel.

Jesus is a metaphorical theologian of the highest order, re-minting the narrative of Israel around his own person and mission.  We will read closely a few episodes of these narrative theologies and see that some of Jesus' best teaching was done with disciples as they journeyed in and among the heretics of Samaria. 

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