SAMARIA

“Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink!’” (Amos 4:1).  Amos didn't like the women of Samaria!  Nor the men: “An enemy will overrun your land,” he told them.  Not that he knew many of them.  For purity of racial hatred it is better not to know the people you hate.

This particular racial hatred went back a long way, to about the seventh century B.C.  At that time the Assyrians had invaded Samaria and succeeded with a ‘plantation’ of the population.  To take the place of the people who had been thrown out of their land, foreigners from five neighbouring regions were brought in.  These brought their pagan religions with them and mixed them with the religion of Israel, as they themselves mixed and intermarried with the Jews who had managed to stay on.  Samaria became a melting-pot of different cults and customs, and Jews despised it as a blot on their country. 

It was a very inconveniently situated blot: right in the middle.  So when Jews wanted to travel between Galilee in the north and Judea in the south, they had either to pass through Samaria or to skirt it.  Things could be unpleasant for them if they passed through, but the journey was twice as long if they went around. 

Doesn't everyone have a Samaria right in the middle of his or her life?  It is the part of your life that is a mess: where you are at your very weakest and worst, where your thoughts and motives are all mixed up and unclear, where you have never had peace and hardly dare to hope for it.  It is the part of you that you don't accept (Jews referred to Samaritans as “foreigners”).  You don't want anyone crossing into your Samaria, and people learn this quickly enough; they learn how to go around it, how to avoid touching those dangerous triggers in your personality.  Your Samaria is the dead part of you.  It is your Samaria that makes you feel an outsider in many human situations: there is a moment when real sharing with a friend is possible, but you feel disreputable in some way, you shut yourself up tight, your face becomes a mask, and the moment that might have given you life is past.

Many of the heroes and heroines of Jesus' stories were Samaritans!  The one leper who came back to give thanks was a Samaritan; the man who stopped to help the one who fell among robbers was a Samaritan; and in John’s Gospel there is the incomparable story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman.  So much did he seem to like Samaritans that the Jews once threw him the worst insult they could think of: “You are a Samaritan!” (John 8).  What is wonderful to remember is that Jesus went right into the heart of Samaria (John 4).  It tells us that he is ready to go into ours too. 

For very many people Samaria is their sexuality.  That is where the real confusion reigns; externally they are married to one woman, but internally they may out-Don Don Juan.  “You are right when you say you have no husband,” he said to the Samaritan woman, “the fact is you have five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”  It was the truth, but it must have been spoken with love, because she did not walk away.  On the contrary she left the water jar there at the well (country women don't usually do such impractical things!) and went back to the town to tell people, with enthusiasm, “Come and meet someone who told me everything I ever did!”  Usually when people tell you everything you ever did, you want the ground to open and swallow you. 

If we meet Jesus in our Samaria he will not walk past us; he will speak to us with such love, such absence of condemnation and with such belief in us, that we can never deeply feel like outsiders again. 

Donagh O'Shea

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.