June 2020

Avoiding Gentiles and Samaritans

2nd Sunday After Pentecost, June 14, 2020
Matthew 9:35-10:23

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

Why did Jesus tell his disciples not to minister among the Gentiles or Samaritans? Some biblical scholars like to think he was simply prioritizing the scope of his outreach, which would eventually include Gentiles and Samaritans, but would start among his own, with whom he was most familiar. However, evidence seems to favor the supposition that Jesus reflected the prejudice of his people toward outsiders that only changed through his encounters with those he tried to avoid.

It was probably encounters like the one with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:5-42) that inspired his Parable of the Good Samaritan as a lesson in neighborly love (Luke). It was probably his encounter with the Roman centurion, whose servant he healed, and the Canaanite woman, whose daughter he healed, that ultimately encouraged him to change his commissioning words to his disciples from “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town among the Samaritans” (Matthew 10:5) to “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8)

We also detect a sense of urgency in his ministry that favored the lost sheep of Israel. Jesus did not wish to start a new religion, but to reform an old one; to reawaken in the hearts of his people the priority of compassionate living that reflected the nearness of God’s reign, which he anticipated would fully arrive before his followers had completed their mission (10:23).

Did you know that slightly over half the nations of our world are tolerant of individuals regardless of their faith affiliation, or lack thereof? This means that the remainder prefer that their citizens adhere to a state religion, be it Protestant, Catholic or Islam; or espouse no religion at all outside the governing principles of the state, as is the case in China and Vietnam. Yet in all of these countries, including those like ours that, at least in theory, practice religious tolerance, there is nonetheless a tendency to ostracize and oppress those whose lifestyles are different from the majority because of their religious beliefs.

We Americans are well aware of our past that discriminated against Irish and Italian Catholics and Jews, and we are continually mindful of our present-day suspicions of Muslims, even as progressive-minded Christians wonder how might we convey the all-embracing compassion and justice of God through Christ while, at the same time, appreciating the differences that distinguish us from one another.

Like Jesus, whose heart was awakened by those he regarded as outsiders to their desperate desire to be one with the God he conveyed, and who only by being among outsiders could come to the conclusion that God shows no partiality; like Jesus, we are faced with the daunting mission to live amid the divisions of our world, torn by religious, racial, political and ethnic bigotry, to offer the healing salve of God’s love that knows no boundaries.

How we might accomplish this remains the exciting prospect of our faith in Christ. For “If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, and have not love,” said the Apostle Paul, “I am nothing.” (1st Corinthians 13:2) Amen.