When I entered junior high I quickly set two goals for my seventh grade year: First, to get Kacey Gire to kiss me; and Second, to keep my friend Eric Green and myself out of the hospital. Every morning as Eric and I walked to the Rosemore Junior High School we were forced to walk past a group of guys that we called “Hoods. ” They were big, they were scary, they did drugs, and unfortunately they outnumbered us most mornings 20 to 2. I had the unfortunate problem of being an athlete that lived in a nice house. Eric had the unfortunate problem of being an athlete and black. Some days we ran. Some days we fought. Most days we came home petrified. But not a day went by in all of seventh grade when my friend Eric wasn’t called a “nigger. ” At the end of the school year Eric and his mom moved to Cincinnati. I lost my best friend that summer.
In John chapter four Jesus encountered someone like Eric that had not one, but two strikes against her. When Jesus asked her for a cup of water, she replied in verse 9, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” In her culture, that was a pretty simple question. Jews didn’t hang out with Samaritans and Jewish men didn’t talk to women in public. But Jesus willingly did both. That’s why I like the title that New Testament scholar James Dunn gives Jesus-“The Boundary Breaker. ”
When others saw skin pigmentation and chromosomal differences, Jesus saw the person’s soul. Jesus saw her for what she could become. And as a result, this kicked out, put-down, beaten-up woman encountered the creator of all life. In an instant she was changed. She ran back to the people in her village and said in verse 29, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. ” And as a result John’s gospel tells us in verse 39, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony. ”
Not only did Jesus break boundaries himself, but he calls us to do the same. One of the earliest memories I have as a pre-school child is sitting at a table, coloring and cutting paper, and listening in on a conversation three women were having. “I think they have different jaws, ” one of the women said. “Yeah, I think they should date their own kind, ” chimed in another. “If God wanted the races to be mixed he would have said so, ” the last one remarked. What strikes me about that conversation is not what they said. Unfortunately I’ve heard such comments many different times. What marked me that day was that the conversation took place in a Sunday School class I was visiting. Isn’t it amazing the things kids remember from growing up in church?
What will our children remember?
Brian Jones is the author of Second Guessing God: Hanging on When You Can’t See Plan (March 2006) and the founding Senior Pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in Collegeville, PA. More information about his writing and speaking can be found at http://www.brianjones.com