Intentionally Entering Into Other Spaces

October 10, 2016

There’s a famous story in the Bible of Jesus interacting with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.  The whole story is teed up this way:

[Jesus] had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. (John 4:4—5)

It’s an interesting statement, “Jesus had to,” because it’s only technically true.  Samaria was the straightest shot between Jerusalem and Galilee, but most Jews in the first century wouldn’t take it.  They would prefer to go way out of their way (and even cross a river twice) than go through Samaria.  The problem with Samaria was the people who lived there.  They were a racially mixed, religiously squishy people and as John reminds us, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” (John 4:9)

But Jesus just had to go there.

Why?

To sit down at a well and have a conversation with a Samaritan woman whose shame ran so deep she wanted nothing to do with her own people, let alone a Jewish man.

Jesus intentionally entered her space.

I have a friend who teaches at Michigan State and he often challenges his students to intentionally enter spaces where they are the minority, where they will be perceived as the “other.”  There is a natural discomfort baked into situations like this, especially when you are used to being around people like yourself.

I know this all too well because I have spent more than half of my life entering into spaces like this because I am married to a Korean woman.  When we began dating nearly 25 years ago, I recall meeting her family, worshipping at her church, and spending time in her community and having absolutely no idea what was going on.  These places were all in Chicago, but my time with her there was exclusively spent in Korean sub-communities (and the occasional Cubs game, of course).

I have learned so much that I never would have known if I stayed where I am the majority.  I have tasted (ever so slightly) what my wife must feel every day as a racial minority in a predominately white city.  And I still have those fantastically awkward moments like a wedding I attended last week where I was pretty much the only white guy there (shout outs to the few others in the crowd…I saw you).  My wife’s aunt didn’t recognize me because of my beard, but then she figured out who I was and gave it an affectionate tug, which I took as her way of saying “hi” to me because she doesn’t speak English.

There is a richness in this experience that requires intentionally stepping into these spaces like Jesus walking through Samaria.  His love for a woman who felt like an outsider to her own people brought many into relationship with him.  And his work that day moved the world down the path toward this (still future) day when we will get to meet those people face to face:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9—10)

I sure am glad that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah from Galilee, intentionally stepped into my world and saved me so one day I will get to experience this crazy, multi-ethnic, worship service in Heaven.

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