Subject: The Bible and Racism: What we can learn from Jesus Christ
John 4:9 “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?”
Racism would be defined as ‘the prejudice that members of one race of people are intrinsically superior to members of other races’. In a modern society such as America, where a tragic history of racism should serve to teach us how evil people can be towards each other, we continue to have painful reminders of how damaging racism is.
The Bible also gives us a look into the racism of Jesus’ day, with the treatment of the outcast Samaritans by orthodox Jews. In two of the most cherished New Testament narratives, the ‘Good Samaritan’ of Luke chapter 10 and the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4, it is a Samaritan who is given special attention from Jesus, in both cases to the disapproval of the Jews around Him.
But how did Samaria become so despised as a people? This separation of Samaria from mainstream Israel began about 721BC, when the Assyrian king Sargon II captured this region (which is today known as the West Bank). When the Assyrians conquered a people, they would then settle deportees from other countries alongside the conquered population, and in time the culture of that people would be absorbed into the mix and disappear as unique nation of people. It was Assyria’s strategy to integrate people into their nation and eliminate nationalistic pride among the captives. This was the fate of the conquered people in the region of Samaria.
The new inhabitants brought with them their own gods, and they appealed to Sargon II for the Israelite priests to instruct them on how to worship the “God of that country.” The resulting religion mixed worship of the Hebrew god with these pagan gods of the deported nations. This was the onset of Israelite racism towards Samaritans. Ravi Zacharias explains the mood in Israel during Jesus’ time in his book ‘Why Jesus’: “To call a person a Samaritan was the meanest racial slur one could have cast in that day. The Samaritans were considered an impure race of an impure religion and were despised by the puritanical.”
In our verse this week, the outcast Samaritan woman is amazed that a Jewish rabbi not only asks her for a drink of water, but is willing to be seen in public with her. But notice how Jesus Christ answers the question she asked in John 4:9. Jesus turns the tables on her in the 10th verse by telling her that if she had any idea whom she was talking to, she’d be asking Him for a drink. And the drink she’d be asking for wouldn’t be physical but spiritual – the water of eternal life that every soul searched for and satisfies every longing heart.
This is what Jesus means in John 4:14 when He tells her, “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. What is even more incredible in this historical encounter between a Jew and a Samaritan: she not only believes what He tells her, she believes in Him who is able to do what He tells her. This is the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the reality of the Christian faith.
Jesus Christ demonstrates His love for all people, with no respect for their ethnicity, social status or gender. Again quoting Ravi Zacharias, “What religion in the world today would have chosen this woman as their first evangelist?” There is no one outside the reach of Christ. It makes no difference what others say or think of you. Jesus Christ is the Savior of all mankind.