Jesus and Samaritans – Part 1

By Elysia McColley

What would Jesus do? That is the question, isn’t it? Especially when we’re thinking about engaging with people from another religion! Does Jesus provide any reference for us to understand how we should interact with our Muslim neighbors?

Take a look at the following pictures. What do these pictures seem to be of?

Jesus and Samaritans
Jesus and Samaritans
Jesus and Samaritans

Do these pictures look like images of Muslims? If that’s what you think, you are not alone. But these are actually pictures of Samaritans. Today, there is a community of about 800 Samaritans, mostly on Mount Gerizim in the West Bank and the village of Holon, outside of Tel Aviv.

Believe it or not, Samaritanism is actually a religion that is entirely distinct from Judaism. Its holy book, known as the Memar Marqah, is only very loosely based on the Torah (the five books of Moses). In fact, there are 6000 disagreements between the Memar Marqah and the Torah and fewer than 2000 points of agreement. The Samaritan version of Moses seems to be elevated to the status of a demigod, and Samaritanism has an entirely distinct set of laws, including a different version of the 10 Commandments. So to answer the question, what would Jesus do? in terms of how we should interact with our Muslim neighbors, we might want to take a closer look at how He interacted with Samaritans.

The Woman at the Well

You may be familiar with the story in John 4, in which Jesus interacted with a Samaritan woman who had come to the well at the hottest part of the day. Jesus sat down and asked her for a drink, and she was shocked that a Jew would ask a Samaritan for a drink of water.

Let me stop right here and ask, when was the last time your Muslim neighbor asked you for a drink of water? Better yet, when was the last time you showed the humility of Jesus and asked your Muslim neighbor for a drink of water? Jesus had no problem asking someone of a different religion to give Him assistance when He needed it, and we should reflect that humility in our interactions with others.

The Samaritan woman was immediately puzzled that a Jew would ask her for a drink, so she did what any of us would probably do in her situation. She tried to get into a theological argument. She said, “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (John 4:20). But Jesus didn’t take the bait. He wasn’t interested in winning theological arguments. He wanted to point people to the Father.

What makes Jesus’ interaction with this woman particularly illuminating for how we can approach our Muslim neighbors is how it answers the question of whether or not we should use the Qur’an. Keep in mind that the Samaritan scriptures, the Memar Marqah, were very different from the Jewish Torah. Here is a passage from 2.1 of the Memar Marqah:

In the depths of an abundant spring is the life of the world.
Let us rise with understanding to drink from its waters!
We thirst for the waters of life.

And here is a passage from 6.3:

There is a Well of living water
dug by a Prophet whose like has not arisen since Adam
and the water which is in it is from the mouth of God…
It was given to us and we believed in it.
It was with them; it was within the Light.
And the glory was around, for it was the word of God.
His hand wrote and the Prophet received it with signs from on high.
And YHWH came down and dwelt with him.

Do those passages look familiar? They should. In John 4:10, Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” He used the Samaritan scriptures, which emphasize the coming of living water, to show the woman that He was the Messiah.

What is truly fascinating is what happened next. After meeting Jesus, the woman went back to her village to tell the people that she had met the Christ. In John 4:39-42, we see that many Samaritans put their faith in Jesus.

Jesus did not engage in a theological argument, even when the woman tried. Instead, He used her scriptures to point her to Himself and ultimately to the Father. I want to leave you with the question, how can I imitate the example that Jesus set when I interact with people of a different faith? What would Jesus do, and I can I follow in His steps.

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