PASSAGE THROUGH SAMARIA
ILL. REV. A. LORNE MACKAY, 33°
Past Active and Past Gr. Prior, Supreme Council, 33°
Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Canada
THE GREAT BOOK TELLS us in John 4: 3-4 that Jesus "left Judea, and departed again into Galilee. And he must needs go through Samaria." He had to pass through Samaria. So far as the Jews were concerned Samaria was an unpleasant place.
It wasn't the countryside that was so disagreeable. Situated in central Palestine, its landscape was by no means unattractive. The valleys were lovely, and there were refreshing wells along the road.
The place was dreaded by the Jews because of the people who lived there. It was a commonly accepted fact the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. In fact, they despised them heartily — and this feeling was returned in full measure by the Samaritans. Any Jew passing through Samaria could expect a rough time.
There were reasons for this traditional hostility. The Samaritans were of mixed Jewish and heathen blood. To the purist Jew, this made them like relatives you want to forget or wish you didn't have.
Moreover, the two groups had been separated in a religious sense since the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, some 400 years earlier, when the Samaritans removed themselves from the Jews and established an independent religious community. Following the exile, the Samaritans wanted the restored temple on Mt. Gerizim rather than in Jerusalem. This led, as one might imagine, to considerable religious tension and animosity.
The Jews regarded the Samaritans at best as one degree nearer than the Gentiles, but not full-fledged members of the House of Israel. The Samaritans responded in kind and lost no opportunity to make things unpleasant for their Jewish relatives. One could say the feelings between the Jews and the Samaritans were somewhat similar to the feelings which exist today between the Jews and the Arabs.
Unfortunately for the Jews, Samaria lay between Judea and Galilee, and if anyone wanted to get from one place to the other, he had to pass through Samaria — unpleasant though it was.
That's the basic meaning of John's words when he writes Jesus "left Judea, and departed again into Galilee," through Samaria. The early readers of John's gospel would know exactly what he meant and all it implied.
The journey through Samaria was necessary, routine, and inevitable. But as is so often the case with the words of Scripture, there are deeper and more suggestive meanings for life in this text. "He must needs go through Samaria" speaks directly to life as it is today.
SAMARIA IS ALWAYS THERE
For one thing, it can be said Samaria always lies between Galilee and Judea; that is, between where we are and where we want to go. There isn't an easy route from where we stand today to where we'd like to be tomorrow. Inevitably, some kind of Samaria of difficulty lies along the itinerary.
There may be some goal we seek to achieve, some dream we want to make come true, some hope we want to realize. This is good. Life should possess these things. A life without a goal, a dream, a hope — is a life without value. But we mustn't be surprised, distressed, or discouraged to realize as we aim for our goal, envision our dream, or nurse our hope that we have to pass through Samaria. We may even have to stay in Samaria quite a time!
Samaria may be many things. It may be unplanned circumstances, surly people, or some misfortune thwarting our progress. Mostly, however, I think Samaria represents routine, drudgery, and responsibility. We cannot avoid routine, no matter where we are headed. We have to accept the fact that every step forward along life's road is nine-tenths drudgery and plain hard work.
But, you don't accomplish anything worthwhile without it. Samaria is inevitable. You can't reach Galilee or Jerusalem without passing through Samaria. Some people resent this. They become bitter and discouraged. Sometimes the endless sameness of things erodes the soul, and they give up the dream, the hope, the goal.
But that sort of thing only makes life empty of meaning. We forget the passage through Samaria may well be fashioning our souls to enable us to reach the goal, make the dream come true, and achieve the hope.
WE ALWAYS COME BACK TO SAMARIA
Also remember this: even if we get through Samaria, we have to come back to it again. It's a curious thing that even though we get to Galilee or Jerusalem, we can't stay there.
Look at it this way. We may get through some Samaria and move up the road to Galilee or Jerusalem, to some triumph we've aimed at, dreamed about, hoped for. Many do!
A young man or woman comes to the time of graduation, receives the diploma which signifies success in the discipline he or she has embraced. The long years of hard study in Samaria are over — Galilee or Jerusalem has been attained.
A person gains the prestige he or she has hoped for by being promoted to a high and worthy position in a company or association. The hard, slogging routines of Samaria are behind. Galilee or Jerusalem has been reached.
A person reaching the top of his life or profession is given the respect and recognition dreamed about. For example, he attains the Thirty-third Degree. The long years of unnoted responsibility in Samaria are over. Galilee or Jerusalem is arrived at.
We may have justifiable pride in having reached some goal we cherished. We may think we have left Samaria behind. But the fact is, we'll be back in Samaria again! That's how life is, on any level. We can't stop at Galilee or Jerusalem, we can't rest on our oars, we have to enlarge our goals, lift our sights, and go through Samaria again, and again, and again.
GREAT THINGS CAN TAKE PLACE IN SAMARIA
Despite the tyranny of routine, the plodding drudgery, the problems other people make for us — despite anything — Samaria is not all bad. It has great possibilities and its own triumphs. It can produce many good Samaritans, and Samaria provides opportunities for greatness.
Rossini, the great Italian composer, said, "Give me a laundry list, and I will set it to music."
Some of the finest people I know are passing through Samaria. Not defeated by dullness, they are setting the routine passage to music. Their spirits are not ruined, but honed by routine and challenge.
Samaria is a major portion of life, but it's a good thing to remember when we are travelling through Samaria, when we are trying to get to some Galilee or Jerusalem beyond, that even the Master of Nazareth "had to pass through Samaria," and he made of it a glory!
May we also — despite hardships, struggles and disappointments — make life what it can be, a constant pageant of triumph!
Ill. Rev. A. Lorne Mackay, 33°, is a retired minister of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and Minister Emeritus of the Central Presbyterian Church, Hamilton, Ontario, of which he was minister for the final 28 years of his ministry. Prior to retirement, Ill. Bro. Mackay was moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, 1976-77, and is a life member of Barton Lodge No. 6, Hamilton, Ontario, and a member of the Scottish Rite Bodies of Hamilton, Ontario. He is also Past Grand Prior of The Supreme Council, 33°, of Canada.
[Note: The above article, edited from a sermon, was presented at a vesper service for the 116th annual Session of the Supreme Council, 33°, A.&A.S.R. of Freemasons of Canada. The service took place in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, St. John's, Newfoundland, on September 13, 1990.]