This is the second meditation in a series on the experience of Jesus with the woman at the well recorded in John 4.
- He left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria (John 4:3-4).
A professional with an international reputation speaks to me of his betrayal by colleagues. Despite his publications, his stellar reputation for scholarship and skill, and decades of hard work, he is being subjected to the leadership of an insufferably arrogant colleague of lesser skill and reputation after a long battle.
He pours out his disappointment and distress to me as I pray silently for the words to comfort and guide him as he goes through his “Samaria.” When he winds down, I say, “You have a work to do and people who need your help. There is nothing I have to tell you except you need to grieve your loss and move on.”
“It does feel to me like someone has died,” he says.
“That is your dream fading away,” I say. “It is OK to mourn it and let it go. Otherwise it will drag you down and destroy you with bitterness. If you permit yourself to give your loss a funeral, you can put this behind you.
There is a new life for you beyond this. God loves you and has plans for you beyond the hurt and beyond what you’ve asked and thought up to now. But I don’t think you can get there without acknowledging and grieving what has happened and committing it back to God.”
“Alright, I’ll try,” he says.
Who has not endured great disappointment and crushed hopes, only to have to get up and keep going? You have been misunderstood, criticized, and driven out of the place where you began with such promise and potential. You need to move on but that means crossing Samaria.
Samaria is the place where you do not want to go. Samaria represents pain, suffering, challenge and struggle. It echoes with memories of treachery, conflict, violation, atrocity, impurity, sacrilege, resentment and unrepentant sin. The beauty of its mountains masks the harsh, unforgiving valleys below where ambushes wait in the shadows and spirits are impoverished.
Even sixty years after the journey, the echo of the old prejudice is heard in John’s description, “He had to go through Samaria.” It was a necessity, but the disciples, all of them Jews, by race and religion, did not like this passage through the land of their old enemy.
To get where you need to go, you are called to go, you may have to cross your “Samaria.” How does one do this–the unthinkable, the undesirable, the unspeakable?
You look to Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2, NIV). “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. In his gracious presence “we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in the time of need” (Heb 4:15-16). Certainly a time of a need is when we are crossing our Samaria.
Your soul may cry out for nuclear vengeance and your prayer be for the fire of heaven to consume those who have rejected you (Lk 9:52-56). The old rejections may be repeated and wounds reopened during the passage through Samaria.
There are two things that you have to remember. Jesus has gone before you and knows the path across Samaria. He promises to get you across safely. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isa 43:2-3).
You also have to remember where you are going and “set your face like flint” for the goal beyond Samaria, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward for what lies ahead” because you belong to Christ Jesus. You are not the slave of the dream or the nightmare (Lk 9:51, Phil 3:12-16).
I do not doubt that your Samaria is a difficult place. It would cheapen and demean your experience to say otherwise. “The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy” (Pr 14:10).
Traveler, you have to know this–God is proud of you when you keep going and cross your Samaria. Many have taken the path before you. They, like you, had the faith to believe that God has a much better place for them to live. They could have turned back, but did not. “Therefore, God is not ashamed to be their God” (Heb 11:13-16).
You may not have a grip on Christ right now, but Christ has a hold of you (Phil 3:12). He promises to be with you every step of the crossing. “Our steps are made firm by the Lord, when he delights in our way; though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the Lord holds us by the hand” (Ps 37:23-24).
The crossing may be long, hostile and dark, but go.The way through is trust in your Savior. His promise is real and unconditional. “I will lead the blind by a road they do not know, by paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do and I will not forsake them” (Isa 42:16).
Next time we will discuss the healing grace of memory. Until then, “O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him (Ps 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,