Leading More Like Jesus

In this 25th anniversary article, Sami DiPasquale draws on his experience in cross-cultural relationships and sees how Jesus has modeled the way in loving our neighbors well.

How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? John 4:9 (NRSV)

When Jesus interacted with the Samaritan woman at the well, he was choosing to enter into a social situation fraught with tension. Jews and Samaritans shared a long history of hostility and distrust. They harbored religious disagreements and contempt, political differences, distinctive cultures and social norms, and divided ethnic heritage. Jews despised Samaritans. It was a polarized world. What’s more, according to Jewish custom men were expected to avoid speaking with women in public. Not only did Jesus speak to a woman, he spoke with a woman of loose sexual ethics. His disciples were scandalized.

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I am drawn to cross-cultural interactions such as the one described in this story. Born in the country of Jordan to American parents, I spent most of my childhood in the Middle East, and have lived and worked for the last 15 years in refugee and immigrant communities in the United States. Over the years I’ve come across very diverse individuals and groups. Some of the mindsets I’ve encountered are reminiscent of the attitude that the Jews held toward the Samaritans. And like in Jesus’ time, it is easiest to fall prey to the privilege of condemning from afar without actually entering into the reality of those on the margins of our own circle of comfort and familiarity. It’s not necessarily the individual from the radically different culture on the other side of the world that is hardest to love, but it may be the neighbor closer by who has a language, skin color, value, ancestry, history, or custom that is different from our own.

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How can we learn to live and lead more in the likeness of Jesus from the scenario portrayed in John 4? Certainly Jesus was sharing the love of God for humanity, but he was also modeling love for his neighbor. He purposefully walked with his disciples through Samaria, viewed as a hostile territory of unclean gentiles, even though most Jews would take a more circuitous route to avoid the region.

He engaged even when it was uncomfortable, he asked questions, he listened, he didn’t embody the bitterness of his nation or the prejudice of his culture, he treated with kindness and respect, he offered forgiveness rather than condemnation. In a single interaction he dismantled countless walls separating one human being from another. His actions also challenged the systems that upheld these walls. He was loving his neighbor. And his neighbor was so different than what was expected.

Jews avoided dealing with Samaritans at all costs. Jesus shows us a different way. Lord, help us to walk and lead in your way and serve as the agents of wholeness and reconciliation that you have modeled for us.

Reflection Questions:

  • Who in your life do you avoid dealing with?
  • Against whom do you build up walls of bitterness?
  • How would Jesus encourage you to live in these situations?
  • How can you learn to love, to be reconciled with your neighbor in the manner of Jesus?

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Sami DiPasquale (Arrow Class 26) lives with his wife and children in an immigrant community on the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas. He has served for the last eleven years as the executive director of Ciudad Nueva, a ministry seeking to cultivate hope and empower youth and families in inner city El Paso. Sami holds a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies (International Development) from Wheaton College, and an MBA from the University of Texas at El Paso. Sami’s driving motivation is to join others in bridging divides and moving toward reconciliation with God, his neighbors and the rest of creation.