Have you ever been a part of an awkward conversation? The kind where you really wanted to connect with someone, but felt completely exposed, embarrassed, and vulnerable? Especially if the other person comes from a different background, it can be difficult to cross barriers and connect. As followers of Jesus, we’re called to extend His love to people who are different than us, no matter how awkward the situation. In his time on earth, Jesus experienced these moments as well and we can learn a lot from how he approached them.
Read John 4.3–9.
In John 4, we see the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Samaritans were Jews who had intermarried with Assyrians, the nation that conquered Israel long ago. From the Jew’s point of view, Samaritans were viewed as a mixed race and traitors against the God of Israel, while Samaritans believed their scriptures were the true religion. Needless to say, the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t have a very friendly relationship and it was considered very inappropriate for a Jewish man to talk to a Samaritan, especially a Samaritan woman.
Instead, we see Jesus at rest by the well, addressing the woman by asking her for a drink. Jesus chooses not to avoid her, talk down to her, judge her, or treat her with concept. He engages her in this interaction, breaking through an awkward barrier that could have divided them.
There are two things we can learn from this interaction.
1. Nothing will stop God from loving us.
If Jesus is willing to approach this woman, despite barriers and sins in her life, how much more is he willing to pursue us? Scripture tells us nothing can stand between us and God’s love. No matter what’s in our past or where we come from, God loves us and wants to be in a relationship with us.
Question: Frequently, we play “tapes” over and over in our mind that are the opposite of what God’s word says. Instead of believing we are loved relentlessly, we can believe we are unworthy. What do you do daily to remind yourself that nothing will ever stop God from loving you?
2. Heaven is going to be filled with people from every conceivable background.
Revelation 7.9 describes a wonderful vision of heaven where a great multitude—from every nation, tribe, people, and language—stand before God’s throne. Here, Jesus shows us that salvation is not just for a single culture, but for everyone in every corner of the earth.
In the same way Jesus left heaven and came to earth for us, he is calling us to go and build relationships with people that are different from us. The picture of heaven in Revelation 7.9 isn’t just a reality we wait for, but a reality we can experience in our churches today.
Question: What actions stop churches from being more diverse? What can we do to promote and support diversity in our church and lean into the vision of Revelation 7.9?
There are four examples of what it looks like to be a person who crosses cultural bridges.
1. Kingdom Diversity is Intentional
Being a person who crosses cultural bridges means making a choice not to be content with hanging out with people who are the same. It means moving into places where we can encounter people who are different, no matter how awkward and uncomfortable it may make us feel. Jesus could have chosen another route to Judea, but he chose to go to Samaria, just as he chose to engage with the Samaritan woman.
Question: Who do you typically spend time with during mingle time at church, at work, or at school? How can you be intentional in building kingdom relationships?
2. Kingdom Diversity is Friendship-based
When Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for a drink, he engages in a first century hospitality custom. To sit down and be willing to eat or share tea with someone was the equivalent of saying you accepted them and wanted to be in a relationship with them. That’s why she was so surprised Jesus asked her for water! Diverse relationships aren’t merely surface level or cosmetic, they’re about friendships, breaking down barriers and stereotypes, and learning to walking alongside others.
3. Kingdom Diversity Seeks Mutuality
Kingdom diversity recognizes that every person simultaneously has gifts to share and needs to be met. We should never go into a relationship thinking we have all of the answers and resources. Relationships are about sharing life and respecting one another. Mutuality never looks down on someone because of their social status, race, or gender, and it doesn’t call differences “wrong.” Instead, it elevates one another and sees all people as equal and worthy of love. Jesus, with all of his power, could have made water shoot forth from a rock, but instead, he engaged the Samaritan woman in a relational exchange of gifts and needs.
Question: Thinking of any relationships you have with someone who is from a different background than you, in what ways does their friendship bless and serve you?
Read John 4.15–17.
4. Kingdom Diversity Respects Differences Without Neglecting Biblical Convictions
Notice that Jesus is seeking a relationship with the Samaritan woman, but He doesn’t stop there. Jesus has made it clear that He wants to engage in a friendship with the woman, but the friendship doesn’t stop him from addressing areas in her life that are hindering her growth. Our culture today tells us that if we want to be in a relationship with someone, we have to accept and affirm every area of their life. God says that’s not His way. God sent His Son so we could be forgiven—He didn’t pass over our sins and let us continue living in darkness, but pursued us in love so we can grow and be made whole.
It’s interesting how this story ends. Jesus crosses barriers to engage with the Samaritan woman and she ends up going back to her town and telling everyone she met the Messiah. Jesus ended up being invited to stay several more days only to see many more believing in Him. When we’re willing to cross cultural boundaries and step out and take risks by being intentional and putting ourselves in places that stretch our comfort, God will show up.