The Samaritans of Our Day
There is still a small Samaritan community living in Israel today. They number less than a thousand members and are mostly located on Mt. Gerizim, near modern-day Nablus. However, their numbers are too small for them to play a significant role in current affairs. Instead, the community that more closely mirrors the dynamic between Jews and Samaritans at the time of Jesus is that of the Palestinians.
When the Jews were exiled by the Romans under Titus in 70 A.D. and later under Hadrian in 120 A.D., other people groups moved in. Each successive conqueror seizing control of this major crossroads of the world brought their own ethnic mix, whether they were the Romans, Byzantines, Arab-Muslim invaders, the Crusaders, the Mameluks or the Ottoman Turks. The result is an indigenous people with a broad amalgam of ethnic backgrounds. Some Palestinian Christians today may claim to be descendants of the first Messianic Jewish community in Israel, but this would be difficult to prove after all the turbulent history in the region.
Scholars have also documented that when Jews started to return and cultivate the land of Israel in the 1800s, many Arabs from neighbouring countries also came to find work created by the Zionist movement.
Most of these people today would call themselves Palestinians. The vast majority of these Palestinians are Muslims. They not only reject the teachings of the Bible but also maintain that Jews have no right or historic connection to the land. Supported by the global ummah (body of Muslim believers), they resist by all means the restoration of Israel on the land much like the Samaritans in the times of Nehemiah and Ezra.
On the other hand, the small Palestinian Christian community shares in many ways a common faith in Christ and the Bible that we do, yet they have developed their own unique twist to history and theology. Many of the Palestinians Christians contest the restoration of a Jewish state, both politically and theologically. In their own nationalized version of replacement theology, they not only see the Jewish people as being replaced by the church but Jesus as a Palestinian—one of the true custodians of the Holy Land. They see the promises of God to Israel to have elapsed either by being fulfilled in Jesus or by now falling to the Palestinian people.
Like in biblical times, both sides rarely mingle, and the tense relationship has drawn even more blood than in the times of Nehemiah, Ezra and Jesus.
A Call for Today
The unique approach of Jesus to the Samaritans can help us face the challenges of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today. Jesus demonstrated a heart of compassion toward the Samaritans, who were not accepted by most of His fellow Jews. Under His ministry, the Samaritans were privileged as the only people besides the Jews who experienced the personal touch of the Messiah. After His resurrection, Jesus instructed His disciples to consider the Samaritans as the very first non-Jews to receive the gospel. Philip, Peter and John did just that and brought a powerful revival to them.
Likewise, the church today is called to show similar compassion in reaching out to the Palestinian people, and in particular the believers among them. They often feel forgotten by many evangelicals around the world who show support to Israel but ignore their Arab brothers living in the land.
But we also learn from Jesus that despite the fact that Samaritans had lived in the land of Israel for hundreds of years, Jesus still considered them “foreigners,” even though such a notion surely offended them. Jesus did not deny their right to live in the land, but He also affirmed the unique covenant promises enjoyed by Israel, including the land promise.
Paul notes that Jesus “has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers” (Rom. 15:8). He was sent by God to “remember his holy covenant, the oath which he swore to Abraham” (Luke 1:72-73), not to forget or forfeit that covenant.
So Christ, in His time of earthly ministry, set a remarkable example for us on how to reach out to the Palestinians—and the Christians especially—without compromising the divine calling of His own people.
This might be a challenging balancing act for today, as the harsh realities on the ground are often more complex than they appear. For Palestinian Christians to look into the eyes of young Israeli soldiers and call them “beloved for the sake of the fathers” (Rom. 11:28) is far more difficult than for Christians from abroad to do. For many Jewish believers, it is equally difficult to accept as their brothers and sisters those Palestinian Christians who question their biblical right to the land and even voice support for Israel’s worst enemies.
In the end, the church in the nations is called to pray and care for both sides. We are called to uphold God’s promises to Israel and support a nation that after 2,000 years has returned to the land of its fathers and remains surrounded by implacable foes bent on its destruction. We are also called to recognize the needs of our Arab brothers and sisters in the land, who are often caught in between their longtime Muslim neighbors and the new Jewish reality.
That means we are called to be peacemakers without compromising truth. May the Lord help us in pursuing these worthy aims.
Jürgen Bühler is the executive director for International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
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