The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into town. (John 4:25–28)
As Jesus was talking with the Samaritan woman, the disciples returned with food. Immediately, they were surprised that He was talking with a woman. Their surprise reflected the prejudice of their hearts. Jesus was, among many things, a rabbi. According to some Jewish thinkers, it was a waste of time for a rabbi to teach or even to talk to a woman. What’s more, the woman was a Samaritan. The Jews and Samaritans shared mutual indignation toward one another. The Jews saw them as half-bloods with a deficient version of the Jewish religion. You can imagine the disciples’ surprise when they found Jesus talking to her. When the disciples interrupted Jesus’ conversation with the woman, she returned to town to invite her neighbors to come and see Jesus.
A scandal is something that causes general public outrage by a perceived offense against morality, a law, or the social norm. Jesus’ course of action at the well offended the Jewish sensibilities of His disciples. This shows us the culture-challenging power of the mission of Christ. His mission extends beyond societal prejudices and reaches across human-derived divisions. Let’s briefly consider three areas in which Jesus’ mission challenges cultural norms by reaching across dividing lines.
First, Jesus’ mission reaches across the gender line. He invites both genders—men and women—into His kingdom and affirms their equal dignity before God. Women are not second-class citizens in the kingdom. This would have scandalized first-century Jews.
Second, Jesus’ mission also reaches across racial and ethnic lines. Jesus invites Jews and Samaritans (and all people) to repentance and faith, and affirms their equal dignity before God. Samaritans are not second-class citizens in the kingdom based on their ethnicity. This likewise would have scandalized first-century Jews.
Third, Jesus’ mission reaches across social lines. This woman was a social outcast because of her history of sexual sin, but Jesus was committed to reaching and redeeming those whom nobody else wanted to be around. It would have been scandalous for a religious teacher to come so close to a person with such sinful baggage, and it certainly would have appeared outrageous to first-century Jews. But such societal obstacles proved to be no interference to Jesus’ mission.
Mosaics of Stone, Glass, and Shell Casings
Recently, my wife, Jenell, and I went to a mosaic shop—a place where you can create your own mosaic art—to celebrate the anniversary of some friends. We decided that we wanted to make a “C” to hang on our wall. So, we got a big wooden “C,” sat down, and started gluing little pieces onto it. We had several different buckets before us on the table, each one with different pieces in it. Some had glass, some beads, some old bronze, some bullet shell casings. We would reach into the different containers to place the different pieces, one by one, onto the “C,” until, in the end, we had created a beautiful piece of art.
This is what the mission of God looks like. It’s as if God is sitting down at the table and creating a masterpiece using all different types of pieces. What the world would normally divide and put into different containers of hostility, Jesus brings together. He reaches into one container to save men and into another to save women, and He glues them together. He reaches into one container to save whites and into another to save blacks, and He glues them together. He reaches into one container to save the outsider and into another to save the insider, and He glues them together. He transforms them all into a beautiful piece of art—wholly unified, yet beautifully diverse.
Our old creation identities—male, female, Jew, Samaritan, Greek, slave, freeman, Scythian, barbarian, circumcised, uncircumcised—must now be viewed in light of the fact that we are part of an inaugurated new creation in Christ. As such, the church is the only place where genuine unity can exist in the midst of real diversity—a beautiful mosaic.
Joining God’s Mission
What would it look like to follow Jesus into His scandalous mission? Because it is Jesus’ mission, it is the church’s mission also (John 20:21), and local churches are designed to have this heart of mission to reach the lost. It is not enough to love only a certain type of person. We must cultivate hearts of love, mercy, and compassion for everyone in our sphere of influence, for whatever type of person happens to be at our well. Jesus is going before you and walking with you in spite of your fears, and He is walking with you when you find yourself in foreign territory, both local and international. Jesus is not afraid to be on mission where we are afraid to be on mission. Like the disciples, Jesus is calling us to overcome our worldly prides, fears, comforts, and hatreds that we might join him in His beautiful mission to seek and save that which is lost.
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on March 9, 2018.