“Crossing the Line” (Part 1)

“Cultural divide” is a term that attempts to describe the differences in reaction, response, and perception of people exposed to multi-cultural situations.

The phenomenon of the “cultural divide” emerged as far back as when people began to explore the world, and encountered vastly different languages, lifestyles, foods, values, worldviews and local customs.

In essence, the term “cultural divide” refers to the “virtual barriers”, caused by cultural differences that hinder interactions and harmonious exchange between people of different cultures. Most of us sense this phenomenon to one degree or another. For those seeking to overcome these differences, the cultural divide can be bridged, and harmony and understanding can occur. For those opposed or closed to such exchange, those barriers aren’t overcome, and division and alienation often occur. 

You and I are confronted with this issue of dealing with our differences with others all the time!  And the question ultimately arises for us in dealing with these differences, “Shall we or shall we not overcome our differences?”  

In the present cultural chaos and pandemonium, the cultural divides that exist in our society, it seems to me divisiveness, dissension and disunity are being championed by some. As God’s people we must reject and oppose any effort that would promote isolation and insulation from people who are different. In fact, as ambassadors for Christ, we must be willing to cross barriers, real or imagined, in order to love people and proclaim to them the truth that sets men and women free!

Additionally, we can’t be satisfied with simple tolerance or co-existence, for we are called to a higher standard than the world, and our mission is much different.  We’re called to go out and make disciples. William Tyndale stated “The church is the one institution that exists for those outside it.” We are called to be His witnesses wherever we are and wherever God leads us. The stakes are high because as the church we have “Kingdom” responsibilities that require us to not only tolerate or accept those different from ourselves, but at times may require us to actively engage, relate to and love them. To love the unlovable, to touch the untouchable, to overcome differences, many of which arise out of our own human sensibilities, preference, pride, and even our prejudice.

In short, God calls us to be willing to ‘cross the line,’ reaching out to those who are different!

In this, as in all things, Jesus is our example. 

In John 4, Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at a well. Notice His intentionality in verses 3 and 4: 

“He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria.” 

The backstory to this account is important. Jews and Samaritans harbored a hatred for each other that went back hundreds of years. Jews considered Samaritans “half-breeds” due to the intermarriage that occurred when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was exiled to Assyria seven centuries earlier. Jewish people traveling this route usually avoided Samaria, choosing to go around it rather than step on Samaritan soil. Yet we read Jesus “needed to go through Samaria.” 

In Jesus’ day it was culturally taboo for a Jewish man to talk with a woman in public. Jesus not only spoke with a woman, but He spoke to a Samaritan woman. And not any Samaritan woman, but a Samaritan woman who had five husbands in the past and was now with another man. This woman was considered an outcast among her own people. The Lord had to go through Samaria to minister to an outcast of the outcasts and share “living water” with her, revealing His identity as Messiah. 

The narrative continues:

So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

Why would the Samaritan woman come to this particular well to draw water at the sixth hour of the day? The sixth hour of the day was noon, usually the hottest part of the day. Generally, women drew water in the cooler part of the day. Her reputation may have been known in a small town. She comes in the heat of the day to avoid other women. Jacob’s well is outside the town, even farther out than other wells nearer to the town.

Why does the woman question Jesus when He asks her for a drink?  She questions Jesus for several reasons: (1) Contact between Jew and Samaritan would go against the general relationship between Jews and Samaritans (as mentioned above); (2) Jewish men wouldn’t normally address a female in public. In fact, the strict rabbis forbade other rabbis to greet any women in public; and (3) A Jew would normally not drink from a Samaritan’s cup.

To the Samaritan woman, Jesus’ words and actions are strange. To the religious establishment, this would have been unacceptable! 

But notice Jesus introducing His motive in John 4:10: 

Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” 

Jesus crossed the line to offer this precious person the gift of God, living water! It is the one thing she truly needs and at the same time the one thing she knew not of! What is the gift of God? We’ll unpack that next time.

For now, do you have an outcast in your sphere of influence who needs living water, the one thing only the Lord can provide? As I pen these words I’m scheduled to minister at a local prison later today. To some, inmates are outcasts. And to some, going to them is crossing a line. Yet, inmates are precious to God.

Next time, we’ll see the inspiring result of Jesus crossing the line, for it is magnificent!

For now, is there an outcast in your life whom God is calling you to? Is there a “Samaria” in your neighborhood, city or elsewhere where He is leading you to go?

Perhaps a person and place come immediately to mind. Or perhaps this is a matter of prayer.

In our increasingly diverse culture and with increased pressure to take sides and marginalize, demonize and castigate those different from ourselves, God’s people are called to cross the line for the sake of the gospel.

Will we?

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