Here's a story for you:
Back in Jesus' day, the Pharisees, Sadducee and religious leaders walked to Jerusalem because, you know, they didn't have cars. The shortest route to Jerusalem from a lot of places the leaders lived or met was straight through Samaria.
Samaritans were ostracized by church leaders and Jews back then kind of like certain groups are ostracized by church goers today (nothing new under the sun, people).
So, these church leaders would walk AROUND Samaria to get to Jerusalem. The first time I read that in a concordance and did the research I almost laughed. Ya'll, it added almost a week to their travel.
If something is gonna add 15 minutes to my travel time I get antsy. I would ride through pitch black forests with signs declaring Deliverance type antics with banjos playing in the background before adding A WEEK to my travel time.
But, these religiously pious leaders would walk around this city to avoid the Samaritans. What?!
Now listen, these two groups have a long history that we aren't going to cover here. A lot of it was that it's sometimes toughest to love your neighbor who is just next door, especially if their political, economic, social, religious rituals and customs don't match yours. With today's social media culture, fear is more common than love and hype is more common than grass growing outside. We're not good neighbors anymore, ya'll. We aren't. It's a little like the Samaritans and Jews out there.
So they avoided the people they didn't like and claimed God didn't like them, either.
Not Jesus. He walked right up in the middle of it. Smack dab through Samaria.
You may remember the woman at the well Jesus met and changed her life so much that she ran back into the town to tell everyone about this guy she'd met. He met her in Samaria.
This lady had been married 5 times and was currently living with number 6. She was at the well alone because she had to come at a time when the other women weren't getting water because she was such a "bad sinner" that she wasn't allowed to go with the other ladies. I guess they thought her promiscuity would rub off or something. I don't know.
Not Jesus. He cozied up and had a nice long conversation with her right there in public.
And you know what? He didn't use her sinful life as a starting point in the conversation, nor did he point out how awesome He was for coming around and talking to her. He didn't act better than her or more enlightened than her or fearful of her. AND HE IS GOD. He just talked to her and swapped thoughts and conversed with her like she mattered. Know why? Because we all matter to God. Every single one of us.
In fact, it was her who said, "Hey. You're a Jew. In case you forgot, you guys don't talk to us"
Jesus just says, "Yeah, that's how they do it here, but if you knew who I was you'd ask me for a drink and I'd give you some Living Water." Basically, he's telling her he couldn't care less where she comes from or what the "rules" were, He'd still bless her if she'd let Him. Jesus is awesome like that.
She ends up telling Him all about herself and he said, "Yeah. That's true, you've done those things." He talks to her about a time that is coming when no one will have to come through Samaria to get to Jerusalem. He tells her that a time is coming when we can worship in our Spirit and in Truth. She's the first person he confirms fully that HE IS THE CHRIST.
His disciples show up with some food about this time and they're like, "Ummm, Jesus? What in the world are you doing talking to this woman?" They actually don't say that out loud; the Bible tells us they were just thinking it. Same thing, ya'll. Same thing.
After the woman leaves Jesus to go back into town and tell everyone she meets about this guy she met down at the well, the disciples try to get Jesus to eat. He says, I've got what I need. I'm eating bread from my Father. He tells them that his food, the thing that is sustaining Him, is to do the will of His father.
He tells them to open their eyes because the people needing Him, the Bread of Life and the Living Water, are all around them!! He tells them that God is showing them the harvest of souls! They are right in front of your face, He tells his closest pals.
Boiling it down, Jesus tells them you are missing it because your eyes are closed with your preconceived notions and you need to get over yourselves. Samaritans NEED me, too, and you are letting your fear and your racism and your feelings and your ideas of what's right and wrong determine who YOU think is worthy!
Jesus pretty much made up the saying, "GET WOKE", ya'll.
Look at all these people who need me so desperately and you are WALKING AROUND THEIR CITY TO AVOID HAVING TO SEE THEM.
About that time, lots of people from the town showed up at the well. Lots of Samaritans.They were coming because of all the woman had told them. You know people love to rubberneck.
And you know what? He stayed in Samaria for TWO MORE DAYS because they asked Him to stay. He visited and hung out. He ate with them and loved on them. He taught them about God because He IS God so He kind of couldn't do anything else but be who He was and is and IS TO COME. (Jesus doesn't change. He'd still be hanging with the people others avoid.)
This Jew hung out in Samaria with people reviled by his people for two more days. And many were saved.
And MANY were saved.
Because Jesus showed up where religious people pretending to have it all figured out wouldn't go. Because Jesus just loved them. Because Jesus listened to them and loved them and ate with them and changed them.
They weren't saved because all those religious leaders of that day avoided them so they'd learn their lesson! Or because a Jew explained how wrong they were and the Samaritans suddenly understood how far off the track they were from being right.
They weren't saved because they started being something other than a Samaritan. They weren't saved by anything other than the love Jesus poured on them and their willingness to accept it.
So, I've been thinking. If Jesus showed up today - just came back for a visit to hang out for two days - where would he show up?
California, maybe? (laugh...that was funny)
Maybe a gay bar? This will smack with Evangelicals because homosexuality has become the mantra for sin and that mantra is becoming more important than the PEOPLE who are gay. This has nothing to do with Christ and he would NOT walk around a gay bar. He'd walk up in it and love those people made in HIS image. Period. And you know what? MANY WOULD BE SAVED.
And then the restoration would start and it wouldn't look a thing like what we pretend it looks like today.
Maybe he'd show up in a Muslim mosque or smack dab in the middle of Mecca? Maybe close to that middle school with that kid who gets bullied, but they're weird and don't fit in so no one really pays it much attention?
Maybe he'd show up in the middle of the ocean on a raft filled with Syrians refugees desperately trying to find safe harbor?
Maybe he'd show up with the young woman who just had an abortion? Maybe he'd show up at a riot in the middle of someone busting up someone's livelihood?
AND MANY WOULD BE SAVED.
Here's what I know about Jesus, based on Scripture:
He wouldn't spend much time at the places where people who claim to have Him all figured out were showing up, because the last time He showed up He didn't hang out with them much, either.
He wouldn't show up anywhere that claimed to be sin free but Jesus filled because they'd stone Him...or hang Him. Those people loathe the real Jesus. He's radical and fearless and loving and doesn't much care what your rules are because HE makes the rules and He said to LOVE THY NEIGHBOR, even if your neighbor has opposing political beliefs and comes from a different country and is gay and drinks too much and smokes a lot or wears immodest clothes or marches in rallies that you don't agree with or busts out windows in a riot.
He said love them if they were snotty and judgemental and racist and self-righteous and self-absorbed and rude, too.
We don't get to make the rules. (Thank God!)
He wouldn't show up anywhere the lost didn't hang out. He wouldn't show up at a place that tried to keep the hurting and lost away with rules and regulations and judgements.
He wouldn't show up at a place where money was more important than people without saying, "Give up your possessions (that thing you love more then ME) and then we'll talk".
He wouldn't show up where pious, religiousness forced people outside.
He'd show up in the very places that most people, especially religion loving people, wouldn't expect Him to go.
His ways are not our ways. His ways rarely align with ways that make us comfortable in our flesh.
The narrow gate is shaped just like Jesus. It is a Jesus shaped gate. The only way through it is to accept that He's the ONLY way to it. You have to.
But, Jesus didn't shove that down people's throat or yell at them standing on the street corner.
He came where they were. He walked THROUGH Samaria. Not around it. He didn't avoid the lost and the hurting or the vile and oppressed or those with sin filled lives (that's all of us, in case you're confused on that point) or people different from Him . HE LOVED THEM AND WENT WHERE THEY LIVED.
I'm so thankful for that truth. I can't live up to all those other rules. I can't even get the head covering part in Corinthians right!
I can try the best I can with all the strength that I have and God will graciously give me the grace and love for what I can't handle, but I can't reach the bar of perfection. (pisses me off, too)
And then, Grace shows up and says, "You don't have to be perfect right now. You are perfect in Me but only because I am perfect. I'm here and I'm working on you and you're going to be OK. I'm not going anywhere. I love you. Now go and Love others. I'll do the rest."
And I can breath again. Grace says the same thing to everyone. This is what He says because He SO LOVES THE WORLD.
I'm called to submit MYSELF fully to God and to love OTHERS. That's my job.
Because that's what Jesus did. When his sandals met the dusty road on this planet, Jesus hung out with sinners. He hung out with those "Most Likely To NOT Get In Synagogue". Shoot, He loved a guy He knew would betray Him so well the other 11 disciples didn't even know which one it would be! Jesus didn't play around with loving others exactly as they were, right where they happened to be.
Either we're going to be like Jesus, or we're going to make a ton of excuses about why we're right and we just can't do that. There is no gray area.
Love is the narrow gate and we miss it every single day. It's so much harder than the wide gate. Hating and judging and conforming are what the world already does. Being fearful and refusing to bend, that's what the world does every day, all day. Doing those things confirms in our flesh that we are right and we humans LOVE to be right. We tend to lean unto our own understanding so often God has to warn us against it in the book of Psalms.
Pretending like our way is the law and we have it figured out is a worldly trait. That is the wide gate.
Your flesh will always tend toward doing what feels good, what makes you feel (falsely) safe and what makes life easier for you. That's probably not going to be the road through Samaria.
But, you're also going to miss Jesus because He mostly shows up in the least likely places with the people no one else wants to sit with at lunch. He is found in the Samarias of the world, sitting by a well, talking to a woman most people called a whore and a loser and avoided because it was against the "rules" to just love her.
Think long and hard about where Jesus went in the Bible. Those are the places He's still going. He doesn't change; He's the same now as He was then.
As for me and my house, we're going to try our best to walk straight through and I think we'll find Jesus sitting right there, still at that well, offering Living Water that He then expects me to pour back out, still filled with the love it had when I received that endless supply, free of charge.
He expects me to love them and when they ask why I'm loving them when others avoid them I'm supposed to say, "I met this guy at a well once when I was thirsty, lonely and alone. Wanna here about Him?"