This Advent season, I’m inviting all comers into a wider perspective of what Advent means. Last week I showed that Advent (which means arrival) is a celebration of that which is here, now. This means that the nostalgia of baby Jesus, while an important historical event, is often misplaced upon that isolated part of the story. Baby Jesus grew up and lived a life and died and hasn’t been with us for thousands of years. Behind the implications of this arrival is what actually transforms us today. To prove this, I showed how the woman of Samaria, when interacting with Jesus, came to her personal advent in the midst of her unspectacular life, never once considering him as an infant. Today we’ll consider the rest of the city.
“And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:41-41)
The advent of the nativity, the Samaritan woman, now her city and all of us is essentially the same…we must know for ourselves. The modern mind struggles here because we simply don’t have good frameworks in which to put this. So today’s post will offer a bit of Bible history in order that everyone can understand this “Lógon” (word/message) which caused such a shift in this city’s perspective.
Samaria is like a portal through which our modern mind can see beyond everything. First though, we must first understand King Omri and Ahab, and before that we must understand Ephraim and how all of this fits into the Jewish understanding of what it means to be the “people of God.”
“And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn).” (Genesis 48:13-14)
In the bible, fathers pass on the blessing of God through their oldest or firstborn son. Jacob (now called Israel) with the help of his mother, tricked his father (Isaac) into giving him the blessing (he was the youngest). Now as the patriarch on his death bed he wants to bless his grandson’s through Joseph (who was his favorite son, and also his youngest of 12). Joseph’s sons were born to him from an Egyptian wife while he ruled in Egypt and it was an amazing turn of events that this lineage of God’s blessing would continue. So at the last second, Israel switch hands and blesses the younger, Ephraim. This has been the case with the whole line, Abraham blessed Isaac, not Ishmael. Isaac blessed Jacob not Esau. Jacob blessed Joseph above his other 11 sons. And now Jacob blesses Ephraim and not Manasseh. These ultimately establish the 12 tribes of Israel.
In the book of Numbers, the tribe of Ephraim is a lesser tribe but still numbered as part of Israel. They have their own camp while in the wilderness and ultimately receive an inheritance of land after they arrive four decades letter in Canaan. The land of Ephraim becomes the land of Samaria after King Omri bought the “hills” (mountain) from Shemer (1 Kings 16:23-24). King Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, which is another way of saying, that he didn’t worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or Joseph.
If you think Omri went of the rails, his son Ahab was worse.
“And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.” (1 Kings 16:30-33)
Since Samaria had this history of being the clan that broke tradition with Israel, and worshiped other god’s in an alternative temple, the Jews would persecute these people and label them as defectors, traitors, half-breeds, and impure, unworthy to worship the True God in the True Temple in Jerusalem. This paints the backstory for John 4 when Jesus interacts with the Samaritan woman. She had no context for worship beyond the Samaritan framework and the temple on her mountain (Mt. Gerizim).
“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” (John 4:20)
Tribal identities are extremely hard to shake even if you want to (most people don’t). The Samaritans were racially and religiously persecuted and discriminated against. The Samaritans of Jesus’ day would not view the Jews as good people, but cruel, arrogant, and stuck up people. Much like the modern religious mind today, they would not see their religious heritage as idolatry, nor would they see their moral or religious practices as abominations. So when Jesus tells the woman; “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22), we can now see something vast emerging between the lines.
Jesus isn’t a universalist. He doesn’t wash over the fact that Samaria has a history of worshiping the wrong things, but he also doesn’t go along with the hard line of Judaism as if their fundamentalism and mistreatment of others was reflecting a pure worship either. The samaritans got the worship wrong but got the practice right by accepting all the outcasts. The Jews got the worship right but the practice wrong. Love is inclusive and he shows both the Jews (his disciples) and the Samaritans how both come together when they find themselves in Christ. Mt. Gerizim means (Mountain cut in two). In a sense, both the Jew and the Samaritan must both give up some aspect of their religion (belief) in order to live from a new place of faith in Christ. Said another way, the advent of Christ resides in the midst of tribal and racial tension.
Jesus himself was the message (Lógos). He embodied it, he lived it, he explained it, and both sides could see it, understand it, and both sides would have to die to some aspects of their life in order to truly live their potential. This wasn’t a new religion. This wasn’t the abandonment of the old systems. This is not a “conversion” story…it’s a “completion” story. This was restoring the old systems into a new way of living. Now if they do this, it is really easy to see how this would create peace in a world where peace hasn’t existed for centuries. It would literally rescue (sotėr) their futures, or as the Samaritans said it: “we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.“
The modern Church could learn a lot from this. For many, it has become the pious, judgmental, critical, exacting, cruel, and arrogant religion that looks down on the rest of the world as immoral, God forsaken, and full of sinners and corruption. This is not unique to Judaism or now modern Christianity. This exists within every world religion. Countless Muslims are leaving Islam because of it’s rigidity and the fundamentalist’s mistreatment of the world. The same is true for Hinduism and Buddhism. What Jesus reveals in Samaria is a message for our world today. There is a path, which doesn’t require the complete abandonment of our religions, which restores each one to a place of love, acceptance, inclusion and peace. The “mountain divided in two” is an “anointed” way, or the way of Christ.
In fact, early followers of Christ were called “The Way” (Acts 23:14) This way can be called many things, but in the end, Christ following means that we get both the worship and the practice correct. When we do this, we can save the entire world…because opposing sides converge as they both humble themselves to wider perspectives of the truth. This is not by conversion to a religion, but by completion (telios) through it all. Imagine opposite sides of our world arguing about whether it is day or night. It seems silly in light of our transcendent or wider perspective. Truth does this to all things.
The Advent in Samaria is the advent I am seeing in our modern world. I see it in our young people. I see glimpses of it in between our ridiculous tribal beliefs that exist everywhere. The Advent is here…today…and it can be for each of us if we will follow Christ’s invitation to walk out of the captivity of our beloved institutions and into a liberated assembly of those who will trade everything for this “way” of living. This may seem unspectacular, or too practical, or not very spiritual, but it is precisely how Christ remains the Savior of the world.