How to Love a Samaritan

Why do we sometimes develop a particular animosity toward people who are similar to us? Siblings, educational institutions, political parties, religious groups, and nations all display this phenomenon, which we call rivalry. When we see another person or group as a rival, we become hyper-competitive. Losing to them hurts more than losing to a stranger. Proving we are better than them can become part of our identity.

At the time of Jesus, there was a rivalry between the Jews and the Samaritans. Who were the Samaritans?

  • From a Samaritan perspective, they were the descendants of the Israelites who inhabited the northern kingdom of Israel before the Assyrian captivity. They considered themselves to be the original followers of the five books of Moses. (See “Israelite Samaritan Religion” on the Israelite Samaritan Information Institute website.)
  • From a Jewish perspective at the time of Christ, the Samaritans were the descendants of people imported by the Assyrian Empire when the northern kingdom was conquered and scattered. These people blended their traditional religious practices with the teachings of Israelite prophets.

When the Jews returned from the Babylonian Captivity, some Samaritans wanted to help them rebuild the temple, saying, “We seek your God, as ye do.” But the Jewish leaders responded, “Ye have nothing to do with us” (Ezra 4:1-3). Four hundred years later, the sentiment remained. A Samaritan woman was shocked that Jesus would talk to her, “for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).

There is a similar dynamic in the Book of Mormon. Surely there were multiple groups of people in the region of the American continent described in the book. (See for example Jacob 7:1, Omni 1:14-19, 21, Alma 31:35.) But the conflicts that appear throughout the book are nearly all between the Nephites and the Lamanites, two groups of people descended from a single family. Here’s how Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf described the stories these two groups told about each other, as recorded in Mosiah 10:12:

  • “The Nephites’ ‘truth’ about the Lamanites was that they ‘were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people,’ never able to accept the gospel.”
  • “The Lamanites’ ‘truth’ about the Nephites was that Nephi had stolen his brother’s birthright and that Nephi’s descendants were liars who continued to rob the Lamanites of what was rightfully theirs.”

(“What Is Truth,” Brigham Young University Devotional Address, 13 January 2013; see also Mosiah 10:12)

Ammon, a Nephite who served as a missionary among the Lamanites for fourteen years, recalled the fierce opposition from his friends and neighbors when he was preparing to serve:

They said unto us: Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth? Do ye suppose that ye can convince the Lamanites of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers, as stiffnecked a people as they are; whose hearts delight in the shedding of blood; whose days have been spent in the grossest iniquity; whose ways have been the ways of a transgressor from the beginning?…

And moreover they did say: Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us.

Alma 26:24-25

How can we overcome that kind of animosity? Here are some suggestions:

  • Talk to the people on the other side. When Jesus’ disciples saw Him speaking with the Samaritan woman, they “marvelled… yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her?” (John 4:27). I think they were more surprised than scandalized. They had never seen this kind of thing before. Similarly, when Ammon and his brothers lived among the Lamanites, they grew to love them. (See Alma 27:4.)
  • Challenge stereotypes. The parable of the Good Samaritan not only teaches how we should teach strangers in need, it also raises the very real possibility that a member of the rival group might be more generous and kind than our own people. (See Luke 10:30-37.) Jacob similarly challenged Nephite assumptions when he pointed out that Lamanites had stronger families: “Their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children; and their unbelief and their hatred towards you is because of the iniquity of their fathers; wherefore, how much better are you than they, in the sight of your great Creator?” (Jacob 3:7).
  • Avoid labels. Labels divide us and create walls between us. After Jesus visited a group of Nephites and Lamanites (3 Nephi 10:18) following His death and resurrection, they stopped making those distinctions: “Neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God” (4 Nephi 1:17).

After the Savior’s resurrection, He instructed His apostles, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judæa, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). It’s relatively easy to think about teaching your own people, and it’s relatively easy to imagine teaching people in “the uttermost parts of the earth.” People whom we don’t know and with whom we may have little in common. But what about Samaria: our rivals, the people close by with whom we may disagree?

Bishop Claude Alexander, senior pastor of The Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, said the following about this verse of scripture:

We partner with the uttermost parts of the Earth and can’t partner with people across the street or on the other side of town. We don’t do Samaria well and yet our credibility with the uttermost parts of the Earth is compromised by our failure to address Samaria.

Racism Is a Sin Church Must Confront for Gospel to Move Forward, Bishop Claude Alexander Says,” The Christian Post, 25 October 2016

Today, I will look for opportunities to build bridges with people near me who think differently from me. I will look for opportunities to talk with them, listen to them, and serve with them. I will challenge stereotypes, in word and in thought. I will avoid labeling people and strive to treat each person as an individual, as a beloved son or daughter of God.

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