Crossing Fences with Jesus

Christians know the “quick take” summary of our calling is to “do what Jesus did.” The challenge is embracing Jesus’ many radical actions. It might be easy to say we want to be like Jesus, but His tendency to push boundaries and take risks in the name of God’s love taxes our comfort levels.

John 4:1-27 provides evidence of this. Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well is familiar to many, but a closer investigation reveals some comfort-shaking details. In the space of a few verses, Jesus smashes through a gauntlet of spoken and unspoken boundaries. He crosses cultural fences: men were not to talk to women in public settings like this. He crosses socio-political fences: Judea and Samaria were rival people groups. He crosses religious fences: Jews were not to fraternize with Samaritans due to their “compromised beliefs,” much less share drinking cups. He crosses relational fences: this “man of God” is not to be fraternizing with a confirmed sinful repeat offender. He even crosses “conversation” fences: he goes past polite discussion to push to uncomfortable places about this woman’s past marriages and present living arrangement.

He is so beyond the norm of religious, social, and personal convention that the disciples seem at a loss in verse 27 when they return from a shopping trip to discover Jesus and this woman together. That verse tells us that no one dared ask Jesus anything, but to paraphrase what they might have been thinking, perhaps it was “Jesus, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!!”

Indeed, what is Jesus doing? We get a hint from verse 4: “Now he had to go through Samaria.” That is a thought-provoking phrase, given that it was a common Jewish practice to respect the aforementioned barriers by choosing a longer route which went around Samaria, so they didn’t have to come in contact with that place or those people. Apparently, the “had to” of verse 4 refers to something other than geographic necessity.

Instead, missional necessity compelled Jesus to go through Samaria. He told us in Luke 19:10 that his mission was to engage broken, sin-separated human beings with the good news that God was making a way of reconciliation: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” He echoes that in multiple places in the Gospels, such as Luke 5:32: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” He even models it in the Christmas event: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). We could never find our way to Him, so Jesus came to us.

Jesus had to go through Samaria because that Samaritan woman was unable to come to him, so He had to go to her. It’s a principle we who claim to be Christ followers must embrace. If sinners are going to meet Jesus, we will have to go to them, not ask them to somehow find their way to us and our churches. If that makes us uncomfortable, so be it. If that means other people might not understand or might judge us or shun us because of those we are engaging and the barriers we are crossing, so be it. It is not our prerogative to set the terms; Jesus set them for us when he said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).

In our broken, angry, lonely, confused, divided, self-absorbed world, the need for hope has never been more acute. We cannot wait for people to seek out Jesus—we must be ambassadors who take the good news of Jesus to them. As Jesus put it, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:37-38).

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