Summary: Jesus shattered the stereotypes of "us" and "them."
BREAKING BARRIERS AND BUILDING BRIDGES
Theme: Jesus Shatters the Stereotypes of “Us” and “Them”
February 13, 2005
In 1962, George Wallace ran for governor of Alabama on a platform that was blatantly racist. He promised to fight integration to the point of defying federal orders and personally blockading schoolhouse doors. He ended his inaugural address with the infamous statement, “I say segregation, now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” That summer, he refused to allow black students to register at the University of Alabama until forced to do so by the threat of military intervention. Through his tenure as governor and a run for the presidency in 1968, Wallace spouted racial hatred while blacks were beaten and jailed, black churches were burned, and black children were murdered. Source: Tim Woodroof, Walk This Way: An Interactive Guide to Following Jesus, [Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1999], pgs. 62-63 (Joel Smith, SermonCentral)
George Wallace models for us how to build barriers and burn bridges to those who we perceive as different from us. I trust that few if any of us have held such hatred towards those who are not like you, but odds are that you have harbored biases towards others. But we don’t like to face the sometimes ugly truth about ourselves.
In “Youth Worker Journal,” Will Eisenhower tells of a typical experience he had as a counselor at a youth Bible camp: “It had been an exhausting day; the guys in my cabin were asleep, and I was dead to the world. Then there came a dim awareness: Ants were crawling all over my body. I was so tired, and sleep felt so good, that I actually resisted rousing myself. I knew that if I were roused even a little bit, I would have to acknowledge that my sleeping bag had become an ant freeway. I didn’t want to know the awful truth, so for at least several seconds I tried to fight it. At some deep level, I told myself that sleep was the reality and the ants were a dream.” (Rodney Buchanan, SermonCentral)
Truth can be just like ants in our sleeping bags – an unwanted reality that we refuse to face. Winston Churchill once said, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” The problem is that nothing ever changes if we don’t face the truth.
The problems of stereotypes and prejudice are not new problems. These were major problems in Jesus’ day. But what made Jesus so attractive to so many people in his day was the way he shattered the commonly held stereotypes of “us” and “them.”
What stereotypes and prejudices were problems in Jesus day? Well, let me tell you about the Samaritans. The Jews had a long-seated hatred for the Samaritans. Why? It started over 700 years earlier when the nation of Israel was taken into captivity into Babylon. Now you need to understand that not all of the people were taken away to Babylon. A few were left behind. And after the Babylonians moved many of the Israelites out they then moved other conquered people groups in. What happened then was that during the 70 years that the captivity lasted those Israelites that were left behind intermarried with these new people groups that were brought in. The result was a mixed blood race that was part Jew and part Gentile.
To make matters worse this race of half-breeds also practiced a blended form of the Jewish religion. They only accepted the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible that were written by Moses) as scripture. And then they blended in elements of the pagan religions from these other people groups. This form of Judaism was highly offensive to true Jews. And so when the Jews returned from exile they drove these half-breeds out of Jerusalem and Judea. They moved north into Samaria and there you have the Samaritans.
The Jews had such animosity for the Samaritans that they refused to even walk through Samaria. Look at the map of Israel on the next PowerPoint slide. In the southern part of Israel you have Judea, where Jerusalem is. Then north of Judea is Samaria. And north of Samaria is Galilee, where Jesus was raised in a town called Nazareth. The Jordan River runs north and south along the eastern borders of these territories. This posed a problem then if you wished to travel from Judea to Galilee or vice versa because Samaria was in between them. So devout Jews would go out of their way and cross the Jordan River and then travel north were they would then cross the Jordan River again to enter Galilee.
Clearly the Jews despised the Samaritans because of the deep-seated prejudices that they held onto. But then Jesus comes along and in today’s passage he begins to shatter the stereotypes the Jews had against the Samaritans. As we look at today’s scripture passage I want to share with you three steps that you will need to take in order to break barriers and build bridges to those who are different from you.