Breathe: Monday, March 20

Monday, March 20 | Ed Hamlin | John 4:3-6

Breathe and Contemplate: Amish Grace

Consider: Jesus spent his whole life confined to a geographical space that was only about 120 miles long from north to south. But within that territory were three distinct divisions. In the north was Galilee. In the south was Judea and in between the two was the dreaded Samaria, the area of Israel that we refer to today as the West Bank.

Today’s text occurs after Jesus had been very busy preaching the Good News in Judea when he decided to go north to Galilee. Jesus’ popularity had become difficult to manage and his visibility to those in power had increased to the point that he decided a trip to Galilee was a good way to avoid controversy. Jesus knew his hour had not yet come. Pay special attention to verse 4 when Jesus says “he HAD to go through Samaria.”

So what is the big deal about having to go through Samaria? It would seem to be the best route, a straight shot of about 70 miles, a two and a half days’ walk. But a Jew with nationalistic pride, especially one who considered himself to be pious, would never go through Samaria even though the other option would take six days and was a much more difficult trip.

The disdain between Samaritans and Jews is the ancient version of the fight between the Hatfields and McCoys. The Jews considered Samaritans to be traitors, idol-worshiping people, and racially impure. You can only imagine the second-guessing Jesus must have received from his traveling companions when they figured out which route Jesus had chosen. I can hear Peter asking, “You mean we are going there? But why, Jesus?” But since Jesus was concerned only with his Father’s business, he would not be deterred by social convention. He had a job to do and that meant going straight to Samaria, not around it.

We Christians are called to be a unique people, set apart. We are to live life differently in a world that wants uniformity. Jesus never promised us a life without challenges. He did promise us peace and his constant presence with us.

As a unique people we are often called to offer forgiveness when hate seems the most logical reaction. Do you recall when, in 2006, a thirty-two-year-old gunman entered a one-room Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania? The killer shot 10 girls, killing five and leaving the others critically wounded. He then shot himself as police tried in vain to stop the rampage.

Even while the horrors of that sad day were still being pieced together, members of the Amish community, many of whom had lost loved ones, left their grief behind and went to the family of the gunman to deliver their gift of forgiveness. They even established a fund for the gunman’s children to ensure they would be taken care of in the absence of their father.

More recently we watched another horrific killing spree unfold followed by unimaginable acts of forgiveness when the members of Mother Emanuel in Charleston went to the family of the killer and offered their forgiveness. How did they do it? Could you? In both cases, their response was: “It was our only choice.” They would not or could not let hate destroy what life they had left.

Call to Action: Today, think about who the Samaritans are in your life and what you can do to build bridges, open conversation, and create fellowship. Are there olive branches that you need to share?

Prayer: Father God, help me to see when my own pride stands in the way of forgiveness. Teach me to understand that forgiveness does not mean that I excuse the behavior of the perpetrator, but rather I forgive so I can let go and live. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

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