November 2015 Final Issue
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Breaking Down Cultural Prejudice

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Israel and Palestine. Today most Westerners avoid adding many of the historical sites located in Palestine to their Holy Land Itinerary because they fear the violence there. But the group I traveled with was studying the conflict between these two different people groups, so we visited both Israel and Palestine. Fortunately, by venturing into Palestine, our team had the opportunity to meet some of the most loving people on earth. The scenery was breathtaking, and the historical sites were inspirational. Not to mention, the figs in Jericho were ‘melt in your mouth scrumptious.’ Located in Palestine is the famous St. Photina Orthodox Church and Monastery. Although the church is beautiful, most visitors are more interested in the water well underneath the church. We know it as Jacob’s Well, but in the Bible, the well is better known as the Well of Sychar. It is amazing to stand at the actual location where Jesus created a major cultural faux pas by engaging in conversation with a Samaritan woman. The full account is recorded in the Bible (John 4:4-42), but let me give you the Betty Ringeisen Cliff Note Version of what happened. Jesus and His disciples were traveling from Judah to Galilee. On this particular trip, John's gospel tells us, Jesus “had to go through Samaria” (John 4:4, NIV, emphasis added). This is a startling statement because Jews normally avoided any interaction with the people of Samaria. Jews considered the Samaritans “half-breeds.” The feud between the Jews and the Samaritans went back centuries before Jesus arrived on the scene. The Assyrian Empire conquered Israel and took most of the Israelites into captivity. However, the Assyrians let a few people remain in Israel and then brought in other people “from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim” (2 Kings 17:24) to settle in the land. Eventually, the Israelites and the foreigners began to intermarry (Ezra 9:1-10:44 and Neh. 13:23-28). Their offspring became known as ‘Samaritans.’ Years later, when the Israelites came out of captivity and began to reoccupy the land, they rejected the Samaritans. The Jews hated the Samaritans for three reasons: they had blended marriages, they had created their own version of the Law, and they worshiped at Mount Gerizim instead of at the Temple in Jerusalem. Changing God's Word and worshiping pagan gods lead the Samaritans into idolatry. The Jews were right to reject the false worship of Yahweh. After all, they had just come out of captivity because of their ongoing problem with idols (I’ll save the cliff notes on that for another article). However, in the process of rejecting the Samaritan’s wrongful belief system, they rejected the people also. Sadly, their rejection turned into a deep root of prejudice against a people who shared their history and ancestry. Their mutual prejudice and hatred grew to the point of refusing to talk to each other. When human beings are unwilling to communicate with each other, it’s impossible to heal the brokenness that stands between them. The only hope of healing is for someone to enter the situation and bring honor, compassion, and peace to the conflict. That person would most likely have to come from another world where the agenda is different from this world. I believe that is exactly why Jesus had to go to Samaria that day. He had to show human beings how to overcome hatred and prejudice towards each other. He had to set an example that we should follow. Jesus’ actions in Samaria broke through human prejudice that had been part of the culture for years. It was unacceptable to speak to a woman, unacceptable to speak to a Samaritan, and unacceptable to drink water from the cup of a Samaritan. Jesus’ actions shocked the woman, shocked His disciples, and shocked the entire town of Sychar. In fact, as soon as the townspeople heard about what happened at the well, they ran out to meet the Jew who was willing to overlook cultural norms. As Christians, our tendency is to judge others because of cultural stereotypes and prejudice. However, throughout His ministry, Jesus treated every person He encountered with compassion, dignity, and love. He never dismissed anyone due to their sex, occupation, or race. A few years ago, I was serving on the ministry team of The Journey to Wholeness in Christ. One of the conference speakers had just completed her talk. She invited anyone who wanted to ask God to heal them to come forward. Almost everyone in the sanctuary moved toward the ministry team for prayer. I noticed a young woman standing in my line watching me. Finally, it was her turn to come forward. She walked hesitantly toward me. When she stood before me, she tearfully announced, “I have Hepatitis B. You don’t have to hold me like you’ve held the others if you’re afraid you’ll catch it. I just wanted to ask you to pray over me. I never had a mother who loved and cared for me.” In her eyes I could see the sadness of years of being rejected and wounded by people who were supposed to show her love. Other people who didn’t understand her illness had kept their distance for fear she would make them sick. My heart was overwhelmed with love and compassion for this young girl. I smiled and beckoned her with my outstretched arms, “Come here baby girl and let me hold you.” She stumbled into my arms and cried for 20 minutes. I prayed God would heal her and she would be able to overcome the prejudice she had grown accustomed to. I never saw her again. However, I heard a story months later about a young woman who had gone to her doctor after the conference. He was unable to find any sign of Hepatitis B in her body. Jesus came not only to heal our diseases but also to heal our wrongful thought patterns about others. It’s impossible to bring the Kingdom of God to others if we have attitudes, judgments, or prejudice against them. In his book, Spiritual Formation, Henri Nouwen writes, “We need not make comparisons and judgments about others: I am not like him or her or them, I am more, I am better, I am different from the others; on a deeper level, we can realize our common humanity. In the light of God’s unconditional love and our own belovedness, we may experience our hearts expanding as if there are no limits. In the community of the heart, no one is excluded. We belong to the same spiritual family, where “nothing human is alien to me” (emphasis added).   As followers of Jesus, we learn from His example. Jesus had to go out of His way to break down cultural prejudice. As people created to represent Him on earth, we have to go out of our way to do the same.
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About Betty Ringeisen

Betty Ringeisen
Betty is the Editor in Chief of The Kingdom Life Now. Believing that every woman has a destiny carved out for them, she loves to encourage and equip others to meet their highest potential. Betty's passion is to see people healed and set free to become all that they were created to be. She is married to Donny and is mother to four children.

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