Original post at http://jmsmith.org/blog/thayer-samaria/
Chris Thayer is the Director of Discipleship at Good Shepherd Church in Charlotte, NC where he oversees adult life groups and Biblical education. On Thursdays I share his weekly “Thayer’s Thoughts” for small group leaders, which are based on the previous Sunday’s sermon. Click HERE to watch or listen to the accompanying sermon.
Where were you September 11, 2001?
I’d be willing to wager that you know exactly where you were and what you were doing.
Now: where were you on February 18, 2001?
Unless you had a momentous occasion on that date or you have an uncanny memory: odds are your recollection of that day is not nearly as vivid as September 11, 2001. I don’t have to tell you why this is the case, either. All I have to do is write “September 11, 2001” and images of planes, the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania come flooding to your mind. Our context – the circumstances that influence how something is communicated or perceived – sets the stage for us and gives that date a depth of meaning it wouldn’t otherwise have.
It’s no different for the Biblical authors and their original audience. John could write about Samaritans, a woman at a well at noon, and worshiping God at either a mountain in Samaria or Jerusalem – and it would all be packed with meaning because of the original hearer’s context. To us, however, much of this meaning is lost without a little bit of research. This shouldn’t surprise or dishearten us, though. The Gospel of John was written half way around the world almost 2,000 years ago! Imagine asking somebody in Romania what happened on September 11, 2001 two thousand years from now in May of 4014. Unless they’re a history buff, they will probably have no clue.
So today we’re going to briefly address two questions from John 4:
*Who were the Samaritans?
*Why did the woman at the well bring up worshiping God in Jerusalem or at “this mountain.”
First, the origin of the Samaritans begins with the Israelites in the he Old Testament. After King Solomon, the Kingdom of Israel split into two. Those who defected from Jerusalem made their capital in the North, Samaria. In 722 BC, the Northern Kingdom was conquered by Assyria. After being conquered, Assyria exiled the Israelites and resettled Samaria with people from various surrounding areas who brought in their own gods and idols. Following an interesting story about lions and Gods judgment over the people that resettled in the area, Assyria sent a priest of God back to the land to teach the people how to follow Him. However, they worshipped God AND their own idols, remaining in idolatry. This account can all be found in 2 Kings 17.
In the fourth century BC, the high priest in Jerusalem married a Samaritan (which as you can imagine caused a rift in the community!). So, the father of the Samaritan woman offered to build the high priest a temple to God in Samaria on Mount Gerizim and keep him as high priest if he didn’t divorce his daughter. The temple was built around 388 BC. So the Samaritans worshiped God at Mount Gerizim and the Jews said the proper place to worship God was in Jerusalem.
Knowing just these two bits of information greatly informs our reading of the story of Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well. Now we understand that it was a big deal for Jesus to speak with this woman, and why the woman at the well brings up the proper place of worship as her conversation with Jesus gets increasingly uncomfortable.
Understanding scripture in context is not an exercise for the ivory towers of universities and seminaries, but is something that every believer in Jesus should pursue to better understand who God is, and what Jesus did for us.
Keep digging. It’s worth it!
Sermon Title: Shame Wash