“RACIAL TENSION”

That is what Billy Graham answered when asked years ago, “What is the number one problem in the world?” Good response. We know it firsthand in America. Think Dallas. St. Paul. And weep. Torched cities and demonstrations prove that freeing the slaves did not settle the issue. First Nation people, then Blacks in the South, then Japanese Americans in World War II. Gangs in big cities are divided along racial lines, and national feuds persist on American soil.

Our statue of liberty declares with silent lips, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

They have come by the millions, perhaps 30 million. Thank God for America. No country on earth has approached this record. We have done a remarkable job of inviting the nations. And yet racial tension continues to rip us apart.

Europeans are discovering the joys and struggles of opening their doors to the masses, mainly now Muslems. Refugees are fleeing for their lives in many places of the world because of racial hatred. Millions have been slaughtered for one reason: wrong race. Think ethnic cleansing.

Jews and Samaritans were distant cousins who hated each other. When the Northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians, they brought in Gentiles who intermarried and produced a half-breed Jew, disqualifying them from the religious life of chosen people in the eyes of the purebreds. The animosity went both ways (Luke 9:52f).

Jesus didn’t accept their assessment. Rather than bypassing their region and taking the much longer Jordan River Valley route, He went right through Samaria on His way to Galilee, much to the discomfort of the disciples. John added this personal postscript, “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9). He even spoke with a Samaritan woman (two strikes against Him) and introduced Himself as her Messiah. They would not have considered her worthy of salvation. One of the big issues was the Jerusalem temple vs. the temple at Mount Gerizim, which Samaritans still sacrifice on to this day. It is possibly the smallest people group in the world—about 250.

Jesus pressed the issue by evangelizing there, and “many of the citizens of Samaria believed in him” (39). Jewish leaders called Jesus “a Samaritan and demon-possessed,” the worst they could come up with (John 8:48). When a scribe asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” He told a story about “The Good Samaritan,” an oxymoron to Jews. Jesus highlighted the lone leper out of ten who returned to give thanks—a Samaritan. When Jesus commissioned the disciples before take-off, He included Samaria among target places (Acts 1:8). Some grimaced.

It was Philip the deacon, ordained as a table server like Stephen, who brought the good news to these rejects. “So there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:7). Some must have remembered the visit Jesus paid a few years before. “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them” (14). “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (17). On the way home Peter and John preached “the gospel in many Samaritan villages” (25). John had only a year or two before wanted to cast down fire and torch the place. The answer to racial tension is not found in politics but in the Gospel of God and the power of the Spirit. Peter and John let Samaritans know, “You belong in the family!” So much for racial tension!

“The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it” (Revelation 21:24). Sounds like the best of culture in the new earth. And Samaritan culture will be represented, thanks to Philip, Peter, John—and Jesus!

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