Broken Rules

On February 2nd, 1960 four black men peaceably sat down for lunch. In so doing they broke the rules and changed an injustice that diminished their humanity and dignity. The place was a Woolworth’s in North Carolina, the seats they sat in were reserved for whites only. But this is not an article about prejudice, injustice, or social activism. We aren’t going to opine on current race relations or current conflicts concerning what is and is not discrimination. You see, Jesus broke the rules too. While Jesus didn’t break the laws of God He did challenge the rules of His day.

The story of the Samaritan Woman is loaded with broken rules. The text can be found in John 4:1-43. Jesus, traveling from Judea to Galilee, passed through the Samaritan village of Sychar around lunchtime. While Jesus rested by the well, His disciples went into town to buy lunch. About that time a woman came to the well to draw water. Jesus struck up a conversation with her that winds its way through a simple favor, living water, the woman’s marital history, where to worship God, and the identity of God’s Messiah. It’s easy to miss is how Jesus shattered some rules to bring healing to the woman’s broken condition.

Jesus broke the rules by speaking to a Samaritan. The Jews viewed Samaritans as a kind of black sheep cousin. Related but wrongheaded. This went beyond simple racial tensions, there was also a spiritual element as one saw themselves as pure and the others saw themselves as real. There was a cultural rule that Jews didn’t converse with Samaritans outside of a business context.

Jesus also broke a rule by talking with a woman. We are told as much in verse 27 with the disciples’ amazement over Jesus’ ongoing conversation. This same rule still exists in many middle-eastern countries.

In a way, Jesus even broke rules that exist in some circles today. Where are the four spiritual laws? Where is the call for confession and repentance? I mean five husbands and living with a sixth man that’s a… well, you get the picture. Betcha didn’t know Jesus was such a rebel? And that’s not even counting the times he healed on the Sabbath and ate with sinners.

Jesus broke the rules for a reason, to touch a broken heart. The woman was probably rejected by her community as evidenced by her mid-day trip to the well when no one else would be there. She was broken sexually and relationally. We aren’t told if her husbands died or that they were divorced. Either would have left deep scars on her heart. Perhaps that is why she has not married the sixth man in her life. She is also broken spiritually, justifying her own beliefs and judging those that look down on them. All of this left her defensive as evidenced by her deflections when Jesus touches her pain.

As I reread the story again I’m struck that while Jesus knew her sin He didn’t condemn her because of it. Neither did He ignore it, but He brought it to the light without a hint of rejection or condemnation. When the woman deflected the conversation to the proper place of worship He didn’t yank her back to the elephant in the room sitting in the spotlight. Jesus gave her one of the most point-blank statements of His Messiahship found in the Gospels. “The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”” (John 4:25–26, NASB95)  Jesus didn’t reveal this to a God-fearing law-keeping Jew but to a serial monogamous Samaritan woman. I think that may qualify as another broken rule.

Jesus touches folks where they are. He’ll touch you and heal your heart wherever you are.  It does require a bit of honesty. After all nothing is hidden from Him. Jesus doesn’t wag a finger in judgment but offers the open hand of grace. He will not force a confession but will lead you to it if you’ll let Him. Perhaps the best prayer we can offer is “Lord, take away my blindness, my excuses, my prejudices so I can see my sin. Thank you for Your grace, forgiveness, and love.” Jesus never rejects an honest sinner that turns towards Him, only the blindly righteous.

Now we do need to be careful. Jesus was very selective in His “rebellion”. It was never pointed at God, nor His parents, nor did He disrespect leaders even when flatly wrong. But He did challenge social norms that used the pretext of religion for justification. He challenged righteous pride. He challenged those that obeyed the law for the sake of tradition, societal standing, and greed. To borrow from Paul,    “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:9, NASB95)  Our choices should never be liberty for liberty’s sake or rebellion for rebellion’s sake, that’s not Christlike love.

Jesus knew the woman’s brokenness even before she walked up to the well. He knew her sin and her excuses but loved and cared for her anyway. He didn’t let her mountain of sin hide her value. She was one of the lost ones Jesus came to seek and save. In a way, Jesus gave us a wonderful example to follow. Let’s avoid being blinded by someone’s sin so we can see them as God does; a lost but loved lamb. Let’s meet folks where they are. Walk beside them as they wander in the wilderness. Speak and do love, grace, and truth as they encounter the struggles of life. And in so doing bring them to Jesus. Let’s trust the Holy Spirit to work in their lives and pray that they will accept His promptings. We can strong-arm someone and perhaps win a reluctant convert or we can sacrificially love someone and make an earnest disciple. Is that being a bit rebellious? I hope so.

Dale Heinold
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