This meditation is broken into three sections. The first section was read as we sat at the opening of the labyrinth and prepared for our journey. This portion provides a theological and Biblical (Old Testament) foundation upon which the New Testament text builds. In the center we recount the story from Acts, understanding the passage in its context and applying it to ours. Then a word of blessing was spoken over each child as he or she left the center and walked out of the labyrinth individually.
Yesterday, we studied the Day of Pentecost, the birth of the church. We saw how, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jews from many different regions of the Roman Empire were able to hear the gospel message in their own language. This Divine moment represents to us a reversal of the babbling that took place at the Tower of Babel.
Today, we explore another story that reverses history. In Jesus’ time a deep hatred existed between the people of God, known as the Jews, and a group known as the Samaritans. The Samaritan people came into existence after the Northern Tribes of Israel were taken into captivity. The Israelites who remained in the land intermarried with pagans and this new race developed. They continued to worship like the Jews in many ways, but only followed the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. Though they shared much common ground with the mainline Jews, their differences were not acceptable. The Jews and Samaritans did not like each other.
Jesus shocked the Samaritan woman at the well when he spoke to her kindly. Also, he shocked the crowds when he told the parable of the man who was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road, only to be helped by a Samaritan, of all people. The idea of a Samaritan being “good” was nearly unbelievable to Jesus’ audience.
The Samaritans lived near the Jews. They shared a common history and heritage with the Jews, but they were slightly different in their appearance and their religious practices. As we take our journey into the labyrinth today, I want you to consider people who are in your life, but are different from you in some way. Maybe they look different, speak different or have different customs than you do. As we move toward the center of the Labyrinth, consider these people in your life, and think about the things you have in common with them.
People are not easily pushed out of their comfort zones, but God is often willing to do the pushing. As we follow the story of the early church in Acts we see some unfortunate events lead to the spreading of the Gospel. In Acts 6 & 7, we read about a man named Stephen who was chosen with six others to help serve the church in Jerusalem. Stephen was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and he performed many miracles and he was doing some important preaching.
Some of the Jews who had not followed Jesus did not like Stephen and began to tell lies about him. Despite Stephen’s innocence of wrongdoing, and his wonderful preaching, the non-believing Jewish mob lead by Saul of Tarsus stoned him to death. After the stoning of Stephen, a great persecution arose in Jerusalem against the followers of Jesus. To escape persecution many believers left the city and were scattered to the areas of Judea and even Samaria, the home of the despised Samaritans we spoke about earlier.
Wherever Jesus’ followers moved, they continued to teach their families and their new neighbors about Jesus the Messiah. One of the leaders of the early church was a man named Philip who had also been set apart with Stephen for a special ministry in Jerusalem. After moving to Samaria, he continued in his faith. Philip healed people who were paralyzed and crippled. He cast out demons, and he preached the good news about Jesus. Many Samaritans believed in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, and they were baptized.
News of the Samaritans following Jesus got back to Jerusalem, and the church there sent Peter and John up to Samaria. It is hard to know exactly what Peter and John had on their mind. Were they reluctant to accept the Samaritans? It is hard to say. But the fact that they welcomed them into the church is very important. For more than 700 years the Jews and Samaritans had hated one another. They were fierce rivals with different ideas about how to properly worship God. But the message of Jesus tore down the walls of division and brought these two groups together.
“Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” The physical touch of Peter and John communicated that the Samaritan followers of Jesus were welcomed into the family of Jewish Jesus followers. They were welcomed not as Samaritans, but as brothers in Christ. The Holy Spirit revealed God’s heart on the matter. “Samaritans welcomed!” All are welcomed to full citizenship in the church, regardless of their former way of life.
When you think of people who are different than you, who do you think of? Are you ready to tell those people about Jesus? Is there anyone you know through your school, or sports, or scouts, or neighborhood, that you would have a hard time accepting as family? If so, ask God to grow your heart so you can make room for them. In our moment of silent prayer, ask yourself “Who are my Samaritans?” Then ask God to make room in your heart for “those people”.
“The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you.
The Lord be gracious to you
And give you peace.”