A “deep” subject – Jesus, ethnic groups, and lost people

Water bucket being raised from a well

One summer, years ago, I took my entire family to go on a “support trip” to Texas and several southern states on behalf of the ministry at the University Christian Student Center at the University of Wyoming.  It was a great work, and it was fun talking to churches that supported us and finding new churches that desired to support the good work happening there.  It was fun for us, but it was also a lot of work!

While meeting with churches and giving reports, we also got a chance to see more of the country and have a little family time.  We spent about half of every day in the car driving, so the other half of every day we needed something to do to help our 3 little boys exercise their minds and bodies.  While staying south of Houston, Tx, in the community of Pasadena, we decided to leave our hotel the next morning and head down to the beach for some fun.

The night before we realized, “We have no beach ‘stuff’.  Let’s find a Walmart and buy a couple of buckets and some shovels.”  Great idea.  By this time it was about 9 pm, and so we set out to find the Walmart and purchase a few necessary items.

After 9 pm at the Walmart in Pasadena, TX, we were a minority.  Let me be clear – I did not see another white family.  Everyone there was hispanic.  Everywhere we walked you could hear spanish, not english being spoken.  The store was not organized the way our store was at home, so we had a little trouble finding things.  The store was also very busy.  By the time we got to the checkout we found something that we were very familiar with… very few lanes were open!  People were frustrated.

We had only a few items, and so we found one of the “Quick check” lanes, for less than 20 items, and planted ourselves there.  People were complaining, in spanish, although even with the language barrier, it was clear they were not pleased with having to wait.  The cashier working our line came back to us and motioned with her hand indicating that after us, “I am closing!”  She kept saying, “No!  No!  Go to another line.”  I started to move, she said, “Stay put.  You are the last one.  Tell anyone else that comes to go away.”  Awkward!

So not only are we the only white family, and obviously tourists with our plastic buckets, beach shovels and sunscreen, we are now in charge of a potentially volatile situation, shooing local folks away from the shortest line in the store while taking advantage of our own good fortune!

As you can imagine, people started lining up almost immediately.  I would say, “This line is closed.  She said to go to another line.”  They looked at me like I was from another planet.  One guy looked at his friend and laughed and muttered something in spanish. Whatever it was, it was funny, and seemed directed at me.  As I was attempting, in vain, to discharge my duties in line at Walmart, the cashier looked back and saw people standing behind me.  She just started yelling, “Hey, I said no more customers in this line!!!”  And she came and sent away the people behind me.

It was a night we will never forget.  We soon ended up back at our hotel safe and sound, and the next day went to the beach and played and had a great time.

The thing I noticed that night, and have noticed several times since then, is that as human beings, we often really only “see” groups of people when they are different from us.  I mean, it was just a Walmart store, and the people were shopping, and the cashier was frustrated… nothing to see here!  Totally common.  But, because everyone there seemed to be from a different background from me, I totally stuck out and felt uneasy. Nobody threatened me, at least not that I could understand.  No harm came to us, and most folks there didn’t even seem to notice us.  I did however feel concerned that I had picked a store that no one else from my “group” picked to visit.

Like it or not, the first thing we see is how people look, and we assume we know more about them based on the group in which they “fit”.  Most of us do make some assumptions about groups based on what we think we know about them, either from ideas we have heard, or experiences of our own.

We are not unique in this respect, the early disciples were much the same way.  In John 4, Jesus meets a woman at a well (the “deep” subject) and has some dialogue with her.  It is quite noteworthy, both because Jesus talks to the woman who is alone (Jewish men did not do this), but perhaps especially because of this woman’s ethnicity – she is a Samaritan!

While Jesus hangs out at the well with her, the disciples go into town, to buy some food. Undoubtedly while they were in town, they saw many Samaritans.  They likely tried to avoid eye contact, and probably thought about “shaking the dust” from their sandals.  Jews and Samaritans were really not allowed to have any social contact.  The disciples made it into town, bought some food, and made it back out to the well with Jesus without making any significant impact on anyone in the town.  Nobody followed them back out to see Jesus.  I think they were trying to get in there and back out without being seen.  At least, it appears that way.

When the disciples get back to the well, their first thought is, “Why is Jesus talking to a woman?”  Of course, they have learned not to question Him, so they remain quiet, other than to say, “Rabbi, eat something.”  He explains to them that the thing that satisfies Him is to do the will of God.  They have so much yet to learn.

Meanwhile, the woman is running back to town, telling everyone that she encounters about Jesus.  She brings people back out to hear Him, and the people find His words convicting and exciting.  Many of the people believe on Him.

So, what does this have to do with the mess going on in our country?

Just this – Jesus teaches us not to think of people in groups, but to deal with them “one on one”.  It seems slow and often the least effective in a world where we can communicate with large numbers instantly, but it forces us to build relationship and care for each other.  Jesus best work was in one on one situations with His children.

Jesus accomplished more talking to one woman at a well than the disciples did in going to an entire town full of people.

Do we ever miss opportunities this same way?

We need to keep growing and learning as we are taught by the Master.  His lessons are always so timely and relevant.

Like the disciples, we still have much to learn.

God bless,

JOE

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