I had an interesting conversation after church yesterday.
The pastor had quoted the verse we commonly refer to as “The Great Commission;” the verse which reads,
Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The person who spoke to me has a huge compassion for Israel and is willing to share this passion with any who want to know more about the various facets of how modern Israel fits into Old Testament history, New Testament studies, evangelism and missions, eschatology, etc. We’ve had some great interactions, and I’ve learned much about The Holy Land from our conversations and various items she’s given me to read.
She suggested to me that perhaps the passage in Acts 1:8 might actually be taken most literally. That we should be evangelists in Jerusalem.
I told her that neither those we call the “church fathers” nor modern commentators have interpreted this passage that way. I mean, it’s an interesting take on the passage, and certainly in first century context it is correct; but we tend to read their commission into our commission and when we do so, we tend to think of Jerusalem as the place where we’re standing or sitting right now. The place we call home. My Jerusalem is the close family, co-workers, immediate neighbors, etc. who in a sense, only I can reach.
But people do read scripture differently, and many passages that seem straight-forward are subject to different understandings; just as I thought my wife was getting take-out today, and she thought I was going to meet her at the fast food place. (We ended up eating at home.)
So in Acts and Paul’s epistles, my friend at church sees Paul’s consuming drive to bring the Gospel to the Jews; whereas I read Acts and am struck by how Paul was compelled to go to Rome against all odds. (To be fair, both elements are present; “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”)
Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends. (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.” Good translation and very missional.)
I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however. He chose Toronto, a city about an hour west of where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world. Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.
But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission. In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to. Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea. Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.
Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to. Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do. Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you rent DVDs who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence. Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically. Your Samaritan might just be someone who was sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.
And perhaps, with its heat, humidity and propensity toward violence, perhaps your Samaria is modern-day Jerusalem.