Sunday, January 31, 2016

Crossing Cultures

Crossing cultures has been forefront in my mind recently. A friend I met through the Velvet Ashes community started a blog this month to encourage Christians to cross cultures with their hospitality. She asked if she could interview me about my family's experiences over the past 4 ½ years of relating with Chinese Muslims in central western China. These are the two parts of the interview: Showing Hospitality to Chinese Muslims and Receiving Hospitality from Chinese Muslims.


This week I also started reading Charly's favorite recent book, Why Jesus Crossed the Road by Bruce Main. I'm only about halfway through, but would already call it one of my favorites as well. Very challenging!

This passage from the book especially struck me:

“Jesus crossed borders and challenged barriers. I can think of no better example than his encounter with the Samaritan woman in John's Gospel. In this one encounter Jesus crossed at least three roads that were considered taboo for an orthodox Jewish holy man. But part of Jesus' mission was to challenge social barriers that created hatred and mistrust among people.

Now (Jesus) had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) (John 4:4-9)

Samaritans were a mixed race, the result of generations of mixed marriages. In a culture that equated purity of race with a form of godliness, it is no wonder that the religious leadership in the Jewish community was intent on keeping those groups separate.

When the woman asked Jesus, “How can you ask me for a drink?” it was the perfect segue for Jesus to talk about living water. Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water” (4:15).

The unnamed woman was able to abandon her skepticism (4:11-12) and experience inclusion through Jesus' dismantling of ethnic, religious, and gender barriers. She desired the promise that Jesus offered.

I especially like the ending of this story. Other Samaritans in the village came to believe in God “because of the word of the woman who testified” (4:39). “The one whom they had marginalized was now the one through whom they believe.” In addition, the Samaritans pressed Jesus “to stay with them” (4:40). Jesus, a Jewish traveler crossing through Samaria to Galilee, ended up in the welcoming arms of antagonists. Skepticism had given way to Christian hospitality, on behalf of the Samaritans, in the deepest sense. Jesus ended up staying a few days. He accepted their offer, “and because of his words many more became believers” (4:41).

Bruce Main concludes this section by saying, “I am glad Jesus lived with his feet on the ground and allowed his feet to take him places where others would not go.”


This passage in John 4 has become even more significant to me since I realized that it took place on the plot of land that Jacob had given to Joseph. A precious piece of the Promised Land that generations of Israelites longed for. Home. And Jesus chose to reveal Himself here as the long-awaited-for Messiah. To first reveal His true identity, to an outcast of a woman. A foreigner. An enemy. 

And through this marginalized woman's encounter with Living Water, the people of her village eagerly extended hospitality to Jesus, and came to know Him personally. Jesus crossed cultures. And broke down barriers. So that God's blessing could extend to all nations. His promise through Abraham.

Bruce Main writes about hearing this Prayer of Confession at Magnolia Presbyterian Church:

Loving God, we admit to attitudes that exclude rather than embrace. We prefer to associate with others who think and act as we do. We turn away from those who are different from us. We identify some as enemies to be avoided or even destroyed. Forgive us, God, for seeking to limit your family. Awaken us to the limits of our understanding and the narrowness of our dealings; show us the better ways you intend and make us bold to respond, we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.”

He goes on to say, “Prayers of confession do not lead to change. They are simply words that make us feel good because it is 'Christian' to make those kind of statements and think those thoughts. Only when we venture out of our sacred cocoons and build relationships of difference will our prayers of confession come to life.”

What roads have you or can you cross to extend God's blessing?


(Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of "Metaphor.")

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