Attitude of Jesus Towards Ethno-religious Identities

Samaritan woman at the well

During his earthly ministry, Jesus had encounters with people from many social, cultural and religious backgrounds. Among these encounters the one with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well was exceptional.

It was unique because Jesus had to cross many barriers. First, he had to go to a place forbidden to Jews at that time. Jews regarded Samaria as a defiled region and did not even pass through that land to go to the other side. Jesus broke this barrier and went to Samaria to meet this woman. After he had been to Samaria he crossed two more psychological obstacles. One was a Jew meeting a Samaritan; the other was a man meeting a woman.

It was also not acceptable for a rabbi or a respected teacher to meet a woman at a well in isolation. Also, she was not an ordinary woman but was said to be sinful. These are the risks Jesus was willing to take to enable isolated, rejected and disrespected people to gain worth in society.

Let us examine the encounter Jesus had with this woman. When he crossed so many barriers to meet her he began with a simple request - for water to sustain him. The woman knew the social customs of that time and was not sure whether to help Jesus or not. She would have been surprised that a Jewish rabbi should ask for a drink from her. It is typical of Jesus throughout his earthly ministry to surprise people and to widen their horizons so they would become better people, and so use them for the extension of God’s kingdom.

In this encounter, we see how the Samaritan woman gradually came to understand Jesus. First, she saw Jesus as a man and a Jew; then as a rabbi; and finally as the messiah. In this, we see how Jesus enabled her to widen and deepen her spirituality. Jesus helped her to go beyond all her limitations and so to recognize him as the Messiah and so empowered this so-called sinful woman, a Samaritan and an isolated human being.

The woman tested Jesus by asking a very sensitive, ethnoreligious question about Jewish and Samaritan worship: the main separation between Jews and Samaritans was on this issue. She wanted to hear from Jesus the 'correct' way to worship God, according to Samaritan or Jewish practice.

How did Jesus respond? Did he say everyone should accept the Jewish way, or did he encourage the woman to follow the Samaritan way? His response was exemplary. He said that true worship is not confined to this mountain or that mountain, but it should be done in Spirit and in truth.

Do you think that Jesus did all these things as a social example? Look at this whole encounter carefully. For Jesus, it was a spiritual exercise. Do not we face similar dilemmas in our lives? Often in our everyday life, we meet and deal with people who are from different ethnicities and religions. Often we want to know which ethnicity or religion is true. I think even after 2000 years Jesus’s answer is a constant. “We should worship in spirit and in truth”

Are we ready to cross our narrow boundaries as Jesus did, as a spiritual exercise?