Back to Top

Becoming a Better Racial Justice Ally

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John—  although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.  Now he had to go through Samaria.  So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.  When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”  (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:1-10, NIV) 

Jesus knew he was walking into racial minefields

I notice people better when I walk the streets of my neighborhood. When I drive on the streets, I do not pay attention to faces, subtle changes in topography, nor the gritty beauty of the neighborhood. I lose the sense of connectivity with real life and flesh and bone persons. There’s a wonderful quote attributed to Saint Augustine that treats walking as spiritual discipline; Solvitur ambulando which means “it is solved by walking.” In a sense, Augustine challenged me that walking reframed my mind to notice with greater intentionality. Jesus knew he was walking into racial minefields of Israel and Samaria. How would he become an ally to the Samaritan woman in John 4?      

John wrote, “now Jesus had to go through Samaria” (v.4)  Did he really have to go through Samaria? No, he could have taken the route every Jews had taken for decades. Every Jew went out of their way to never touch the boundaries of Samaria. They were told stories that the only good Samaritan was a dead one.  Every Jew saw Samaritans as their worst enemy due to the stories told from family and religious leaders. Jesus sought to change the racial history between his people and Samaritans. Racial justice can only be approached by challenging the narratives that shaped our own identities for a new understanding and become a better racial justice ally. 

Every Jew saw Samaritans as their worst enemy

Jesus chose to violate geographical wisdom by challenging the Jewish narrative through radical proximity. Proximity made Jesus get up close and personal in Samaritan territory. He must have rubbed shoulders with people who were supposed to contaminate him. But “he had to go through Samaria” as the first step by challenging his own narrative. Jesus challenged his story by walking through Samaria Indeed, ‘it’s solved by walking.’

Secondly, Jesus knew the cultural traps. After a long journey through Samaria, he came to Jacob’s well. The place was well-known by all Jews and Samaritans alike. As time passed, the area changed hands from Jewish to Samaritan population. Noon is the hottest time of the day and after walking for miles, it’s no wonder that Jesus took a load off for a cool drink. The disciples were busy shopping for dinner. Nothing interesting was supposed to happen, right?  

John described a clash of stories.  As the woman checked out Jesus, the usual dialogue was supposed to happen. The woman knew exactly what to do when she encountered Jews. Defend herself. Speak little. Avoid conflict at all costs. Notice Jesus does not make a statement about his story to her. He does something radical. He decided to be vulnerable by asking for her help. He willingly engaged by asking for a drink from Jacob’s well.  Racial justice happens with a posture of vulnerability. It means opening one’s self to be disadvantaged with another. Jesus is not in charge, the woman was given the upper hand. Vulnerability creates a safe place to build a new story that can’t happen by force. Whites become better racial justice allies when vulnerability is practiced. 

Mr. Jeffries refused. We did not know why.

Let me introduce Mr. Jeffries. He came on a trip with forty-seven people into a land he knew best. It was a Sankofa trip where non-African Americans were partnered with African Americans on a bus for four days. The purpose was to view Civil Rights sites along with way for further conversation and learning. Mr. Jeffries was a quiet man and said very little on the trip until we got to southern Missouri. We saw cotton fields just outside the rest area. Passengers drifted over to touch the cotton and take pictures. Mr. Jeffries refused. We did not know why. When we returned the bus, we were curious why Mr. Jeffries was not fond of cotton. His family were sharecroppers. It was a hard life of never earning enough money to get out of debt for black sharecroppers in the South. It was one of the reasons he and his wife left Memphis.  Curiosity opened up Mr. Jefferies to share his story with us. 

The woman was not curious about Jesus. The woman knew her story and she knew Jesus’ story. It was clear they were not playing on the same team. However, Jesus was curious about her and was not  offended by her comment establishing their ethnic groups. He was curious enough to offer the gift of himself to her. He was curious enough to calibrate the story between their peoples. He was vulnerable without fragility in her space. What if my white brothers and sisters become curious enough to listen to the stories of pain from people of color? What if my Caucasian friends get proximate with people of color? What if challenging white narratives birth new understanding of other stories of grace? Only by walking with each other can such a miracle happen. In the end, we just might get in on the living water we all need for the journey. These three key practices increase racial justice intelligence. 

Photo by Maria Krasnova on Unsplash

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.