Friday, February 19, 2016

For Those Who Have Ever Felt Excluded

Gosh it stinks to be on the outside. 
Have you ever been in that spot? I have. 

Left out.

If Excluded is an ugly word then Included is a pure ray of sunshine.

This guy I know and love is such a beautiful includer. And as the most powerful person in every room he enters, his inclusive nature changes the world. 

The Gospels are full of gripping stories of him, most of which I have heard dozens of times. But as I read them peering through the lenses of inclusion, they became all the more compelling. 

Jesus the Includer.

The fringe people, the sinners, the awkward, the very young, the very old, the Overloooked and the Undervalued, Jesus included them all in his message.

In the Gospel of John we find this breath-taking story of an Outsider turned Insider and we sense that God is saying so much more then he is saying.

To really appreciate this story, we need to understand a few things about the culture that Jesus was born into. 

Culture is a funny thing. It is practically invisible to those on the inside of it because it is just how things have always been done, how things have always been perceived. 

When my husband and I moved to Southeast Asia, we realized for the first time what our culture was. Our Western culture was individualist and forthright. We valued being punctual and candid. Our host country's culture was opposite in most of those ways. Not bad, just different. 

Jesus came in a specific time to a specific culture and he chose the Jewish culture and he chose this exact time to make his appearance. 

There are a few things about the Jewish culture in the time of Jesus that it is important to take note of: how they viewed women and how they viewed the ethnic group called the Samaritans. 

The Jewish religion was Judaism and it heavily valued men and lightly valued women. So much so, in fact, that women were seen as second class citizens instead of equals with men, could not testify in court, could not own land and received little education. 

One of the Jewish men's morning prayers included the phrase, "Thank God I'm not a woman."

The Rabbis (or teachers of God's law) of that time taught that men should avoid women in general and they made it a practice not to speak to women in public, not even to their own wives. 

Young boys went to school to learn reading and writing and reciting, all based on the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament Bible). Young girls were not taught the Scriptures but were trained to do household chores by their moms. 

In Jesus' time, an influential rabbi by the name Eliezer is quoted as saying:
"Rather should the words of the Torah be burned then entrusted to a woman... Whoever teaches his daughter the Torah is like one who teaches her obscenity."*

It would be safe to say that Jewish women were Excluded and Undervalued.

Then there were the Samaritans.

Hundreds of years before Jesus came on the scene, the Babylonians invaded the southern kingdom of Judah and took most of the Jews captives, all except the lowest classes of their society. The Jews left behind intermarried with the different ethnic and religious groups around them, contrary to what Judaism taught them. As they intermarried, their laws and customs morphed into a mix of Judaism and the false religions around them.

These "half-bred" Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people. They were seen as sell-outs and impure. 

The Samaritans were definitely Excluded and Undervalued.

And onto this scene, Jesus does his finest including.

The Gospel of John tells an unexpected story in chapter 4.

It starts out with Jesus walking his disciples right through the heart of Samaritan-ville, also known as Samaria. Although the road ran conveniently right through the community of the despised, most pious Jews took the long-cut, the long way around. 

Not Jesus.

Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar... 
and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 
Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water.

Their culture placed water carrying squarely on the women's shoulders. Or heads. Maybe hips. The water fetching usually happened earlier in the mornings, before the sun was hot and the day's chores half over. But this woman was coming at the perfect time. There was a divine appointment about to happen.

Jesus said to her, "Please give me a drink."
He was alone at the time because his disciples had 
gone into the village to buy some food.

Wait. Wasn't Jesus a Rabbi, a teacher of the law? Did they not avoid greeting women in public? He must be nearly dying of thirst to speak to this woman. And asking her for a favor seems way out of place. Is he really that desperate for water?

The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. 
She said to Jesus, "You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. 
Why are you asking me for a drink?"

Yes, Jesus. Why?

Jesus replied, "If you only knew the gift God has for you 
and who you are speaking to, 
you would ask me, and I would give you living water."

This is going beyond a desperate plea from a dry and scratchy throat. Jesus is pulling her into conversation. He is talking to her on purpose, for a purpose.

The conversation about this water and another kind of water continue until Jesus gets a bit personal with the Samaritan Woman.

"Go and get your husband," Jesus told her.
"I don't have a husband," the woman replied.
Jesus said, "You're right! You don't have a husband- for you have had five husbands, 
and you aren't even married to the man you're living with now. 
You certainly spoke the truth!"

No one can accuse Jesus about wimping out. Confronting people about their sin takes some guts. Jesus brings up her sin and isn't shy about the truth. But notice, it is after he has included her and drawn her into conversation, showing her value. He even commends her for owning up to her junk!

Where is this conversation going?

"Sir," the woman said, "you must be a prophet. 
So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, 
while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, 
where our ancestors worshiped?"

Did she just change the subject on Jesus? She sure did. 

But Jesus let her. 

Jesus replied, "Believe me, dear woman, 
the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether 
you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 
You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, 
while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. 
But the time is coming-indeed it's here now- 
when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. 
The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 
For God is Spirit, 
and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth."

Now it is really getting good.

Do you see what Jesus is doing? This is a far cry from a simple request for water. This is going beyond even a conversation with this Despised and Undervalued woman. 

Could it be? Could Jesus possibly be teaching this Dear Woman?

Oh wait. It gets even better.

The woman said, "I know the Messiah is coming- the one who is called Christ. 
When he comes, he will explain everything to us."

The title Messiah is a really big one, one we in the West in our time in history can't quite appreciate. See, we have many titles and names for our dear Jesus. 

Prince of Peace
Good Shepherd

But to the Jews, and also the Samaritans who believed in the One True God, the Messiah was the one they had been waiting for, anticipating for centuries! God had promised the One, the Messiah, would be coming to save the people from their sins. Every single Jew was hoping and praying that they would see the Messiah's coming with their very own eyes. Oh could it be in my lifetime?

God had sent dozens of prophets. 
There were hundreds of Rabbis.
But there was only one Messiah, promised but not yet fulfilled.

The Samaritan Woman is anticipating his arrival as well. He will clear things up when he comes. 

When he comes. There might have been a sigh in her voice.

And then Jesus does the crazy, the totally unexpected. Something beautiful.

Then Jesus told her, "I AM the Messiah!"

What makes this so crazy and unexpected is this: she is the only one recorded in the Gospels to have this pronouncement downloaded onto her in this way!

The only other person who got to hear those words was the High Priest at Jesus' trial when he point blank asked Jesus, "Are you the Messiah?" To which Jesus replied, "I AM." He had to ask for it.

Jesus only hinted at his secret identity to his disciples a few times, he never told them outright.

When the religious leaders asked him if he really was The One, he replied, "If I tell you, you won't believe me."

Even John the Baptist, Jesus' forerunner, his predecessor, sent a message to Jesus from prison, "Are you the Messiah we've been expecting or should we keep looking?" And Jesus didn't reveal himself to John! He simply told his disciples to tell John what they had seen and heard. If we were all voting, we would raise our hands for John to know his secret identity, wouldn't we? 

But Jesus was very quiet about that significant detail. 

Except for this one time. 

This one inclusive moment.

Did you just see what Jesus did there? The person standing in front of him was seen by his people as second-class. Third-class even. But not to Jesus. 

In his conversation with her, in his teaching her the ways of his Father, in his revealing his secret identity to her, he was showing her incredible value. 

Ahhh. Inclusion.

Just then his disciples come back.

Not a moment too soon.

They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, "What do you want with her?" or "Why are you talking to her?" 
The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, "Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! 
Could he possibly be the Messiah?"

When the disciples offered lunch to Jesus, he refused it.

"I have a kind of food you know nothing about."

When is food not very tantalizing? I love to eat. Offer me food and unless I'm feeling nauseous, I'll eat it. There are only two times that I can think of that food was dead to me.

My wedding day and the day last summer that I went sky diving with my husband.

After the adrenaline rush of those two plunges, food didn't offer me much. You know?

This is Jesus explanation for skipping lunch:

"My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, 
who sent me, and from finishing his work."

Jesus had just had an adrenaline rush, he was basking in the glow of what had just happened. He felt full and satisfied because of the delicious meal of inclusion that he had just served up. 

This is why he had come. This is his purpose. 

There is one more beautiful inclusion that we don't want to miss. 

As the Samaritan Woman brings her village friends to the well to meet Jesus and convince him to stay, she is included in more thing. 

Not only did Jesus include her in his Message, now Jesus is including her in his Mission. 

Then [the Samaritan villagers] said to the woman, 
"Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, 
but because we have heard him ourselves. 
Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world."

Because she believed the Message of Jesus she couldn't wait to drag her friends and family to him and show him off. That was her Mission, to bring her people to Jesus.

It comes as a package deal, the Message and Mission. When we hear the Message and step into Jesus' circle, we are automatically included in the Mission. 

All of our Mission is the same and yet all so unique. 

Our Mission is to bring people to Jesus. To tell them the most fabulous news ever! That he is indeed the Savior of the whole world.

But the people I invite to hear the Message are different from the people you invite. We all have our different families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, teachers and communities. 

Maybe you invite your people with a microphone or with a pen or with a lifestyle of radical love and forgiveness. Or maybe you draw people to Jesus with one of the other dozens of gifts you possess. 

Just like the Samaritan Woman was included in Jesus' Message and his Mission, so are we. 

If you feel like you are outside the circle, know that Jesus is calling you to be a part, know he is including you. 

He picks you to be on his team!

Now what is your Mission? Who can you include?

*Jesus was a Feminist by Leonard Swidler


  1. Oh yes, this must have a comment! God, you are just so wonderful! Everything about you is amazing!
    And He has given you a gift for writing my friend Carissa.

    1. Isn't he?! I just cannot get over him!

  2. Carissa- this is SO good and I love to see the gift of inclusion working in your life! This is part of your life's message!