Commentary by Walter Albritton


February 27, 2005


We Can Overcome Prejudice

By Seeing People through the Eyes of Jesus


John 4:1-42


Key Verse: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28


When I was growing up you could insult another person by saying derisively, “You sorry dog.” Little did I realize this was not a new way to demean someone. The Jews called the Gentiles “dogs” 2500 years ago. Even Paul called the Judaizers “dogs” to emphasize his disgust with those who sought to weaken true Christian doctrine with false teaching (Philippians 3:2). Jesus called upon his followers to give up prejudiced thinking about people different from ourselves.

Prejudice has always divided people. It is a harsh reality in our day. The truth is all of us are tempted to scorn people of other ethnic groups. Bigotry stands at the threshold of every heart, ready to walk in whenever self-righteousness leaves the door ajar.

I realize I am not racist only by the grace of God. Growing up I embraced the racism of my parents. Fortunately, I saw them change. Like me, they found that one cannot truly love Jesus and remain bigoted toward other people.

Jesus leaves us no “wiggle” room at the point of racism. Either we give it up or we forfeit the privilege of living as his disciples. We cannot love people and discriminate against them at the same time. John the beloved makes it very clear:

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also (1 John 4:20-21).

The disciples were Jews. They were glad that Jesus was a Jew. They were not happy when Jesus insisted on going “through Samaria.” Evangelizing the despised Samaritans was not on their agenda. Their attitude toward going through Samaria was like ours about going through a cemetery late at night – if we have to go, let’s go through it as fast as possible.

Jesus did not accommodate them. Not only did he tarry there for a couple of days, he ignored social custom by talking to a Samaritan women. Evidently she was a “street” woman who was ostracized by other women. That would explain why she went to the well for water in the heat of the day instead of early in the morning, the common practice.

When Jesus draws the woman into a conversation, she does not understand what he is talking about. This was not unusual; many others in the Gospel – like Nicodemus and even, at times, the disciples themselves – failed to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ teaching. She was thinking of ordinary water used for washing, cooking, and drinking. Jesus was talking about spiritual water, the Water of Life, the kind the songwriter was speaking of in his inspiring song, “Fill My Cup Lord.”

Like so many of us, the Samaritan woman was aware of her thirst for God’s grace but unaware that Jesus was the very one who could satisfy the thirsting of her soul. Sad it is but true that we live in the presence of the Christ every day but remain thirsty of soul because we refuse to humbly plead, “Come and quench this thirsting of my soul” with living water.

The woman revealed even less understanding when she began to argue with Jesus about the best place to worship God. Strange it is that such arguments about worship continue to the present hour. In our own day there are those who resist the changing styles of worship. Some are adamant that God must be worshiped with “traditional” music while others insist on using “contemporary” music. One of the great conflicts of the church today pits the pipe organ against the praise band. Some want one; some want the other.

Jesus raised the question, “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” We might paraphrase that by asking, “What argument shall a man insist on winning in exchange for his soul?” When it comes to styles of worship, it is not important for “our side” to win. What is important is the worship of God, no matter what style is chosen. Lose sight of that and we will be in deep trouble.

Fighting about church music is not a worthy “ditch to die in.” There are plenty of churches to choose from, so wise Christians will give up fighting and find a church that offers the style of worship they prefer. Life is too short to spend any of it arguing about how fast, or how loud, our worship music should be. We should be ashamed to argue about worship inside the church when outside there are millions who do not know our Savior as Lord.

Look at the disciples. They were focused on traditions. Jesus was concerned about a woman’s salvation. The woman found what she needed. That is what is important about worship – that hurting people find what they need, the saving grace of Jesus.

The woman was so excited that she left her water jar to share her good news with others. Because of her testimony, many people trusted Christ. What should matter to us is that our worship lifts up Jesus, and that our love be extended to all people.

Jesus refused to allow prejudice to hinder his mission to all people, even the “dogs” of his day. If we become genuine disciples of his, we will go and do likewise! We will not only celebrate our oneness in Christ Jesus; we will demonstrate it also, by overcoming prejudice with love.

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