By Dr. James Bradford
As a kid I was short, skinny and quite shy. That made me an easy target for name calling and bullying. Then, during high school, my family moved from Canada to the United States. Most of my new American ‘friends’ had no trouble reminding me that I was, indeed, an ‘alien’ – and probably the only one around.
It was obviously no fun being labeled and written off. But when it comes to valuing people, God’s perspective changes everything. He looks at us through the lens of created dignity. It is as if God has hung a sign around the neck of every human being: “Made in the image of God – handle with care!” This creation-centered dignity trumps preference, prejudice, politics, passion, position and power.
For example, “When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’”(John 4:7) Here Jesus broke through at least four seemingly insurmountable barriers.
First was the RACIAL barrier. This is the issue that the Samaritan woman initially reacted to – “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:8) Racial prejudice ran poisonous between Jews and Samaritans.
Jesus also broke through the GENDER barrier. This is what first shocked the disciples when they got back from their shopping trip. They were “surprised to find him talking with a woman.” (John 4:27) Jewish Rabbis would pray, “I am thankful that I am neither a Gentile nor a woman.” They considered Samaritan women, in particular, to be unclean from birth.
Then Jesus broke through the RELIGIOUS barrier. Because the Samaritan religion was a contorted mix of Judaism and paganism, the Jews considered Samaritans little more than religious road kill. Differences in dearly held ceremonial traditions and doctrines, laced with religious hostility and unforgotten history, created barriers that most in Jesus’ time could not overcome.
Finally, Jesus broke through the MORAL barrier. “You have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” (John 4:18) She was a woman with a past, shamed by lust and relational failure. Yet here was Jesus, not even letting her lifestyle create a barrier to his living water.
What did he do? He entered her world and he reached her heart. Entering her world was the unnatural thing to do. The racial, gender, religious and moral barriers were immense. It would have been easier to label and accuse than to listen and engage. Entering her world took time and courage, but Jesus did it.
Having entered her world, Jesus then reached her heart. Beneath this lady’s promiscuous exterior was a heart that had been used and discarded by many different men. Now this man, Jesus, would change the rules of engagement and reach her soul. No barrier was too strong for that important work. He exposed her secrets prophetically but handled her heart tenderly. Jesus loved someone incredibly different from himself and in doing so left her reformed, not demeaned.
Followers of Jesus cannot take this lightly. As Creator God, Jesus imbedded immense value in every human being and as Incarnate God he pushed beyond reaction to redemption. Jesus came to bring life, not apply labels. This is the Jesus way into the lives of people.
Dr. James Bradford is the General Secretary of the General Council of the Assemblies of God. He holds a Ph.D. is Aerospace Engineering from the University of Minnesota and has served as a lead pastor for over 30 years.