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Jesus and the Samaritans


When Jesus sent out his apostles during his public ministry, he instructed his apostles, “Do not enter a Samaritan town” (Mt 10:5). The Jews hated Samaritans because of their historical hostility. The Samaritans were the occupants of the territory formerly assigned to the tribes of Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh. Samaria was its capital. When the Assyrians deported and scattered in captivity, the ten tribes of Northern Israel, “The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and settled them in the cities of Samaria in place of the Israelites. They took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities” (2 Kgs 17:24). They intermarried the remaining Israelites in the newly occupied area. The pagans who inhabited Samaria continued the worship of their idols. So, God sent lions among them that killed some people. King of Assyria sent them an Israelite priest from exile to teach them the worship of the God of the land. They learned the books of Moses and worshipped the God of Israel, but continued their idolatry as well. “They were both venerating the LORD and serving their own gods” (2 Kgs 17:33). Because of this mixed race and mixed worship, the Jews considered Samaritans as “half-breeds” and hated them.


The animosity increased because of other reasons: (1) When the Jews returned from Babylonian exile and started rebuilding the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem, the Samaritans opposed it and halted it for some time (Neh 6:1-14). (2) The Samaritans perpetuated their idolatrous worship by building a temple for them on Mount Gerizim. (3) Samaritans offered refuge for the outlaws of Judea (Josh 20:6-7; 21:21). (4) The Samaritans, while accepting the Torah, rejected other Jewish scriptures and Jewish traditions. Hence, the Jews hated Samaritans and avoided contact with them (Jn 4:9; 8:48).


Jesus drew a contrasting picture between the Jews and the Samaritans in the practice of faith in the story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37). The Samaritan, whom the Jews hated and considered worthless because of his non-Jewish beliefs and practices, became compassionate and helping neighbour for a helpless and suffering Jew. The healed leper who returned to thank Jesus (Lk 17:11-19) was another role model from the Samaritans. Jesus acknowledged his gratitude and exposed him as an example for others, including the Jews, who underestimated the Samaritans. Jesus favoured Samaritans in other instances like the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:1-42), and rebuking James and John from calling down fire from heaven to consume Samaritans when they refused to welcome Jesus because he was heading for Jerusalem (Lk 9:53-55).


However, Jesus prevented his apostles ministering the Samaritans to avoid any initial rejection from them because the apostles were Jews. Also, the Jews might resist the apostles if they return after their service to the Samaritans.


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