The Disciples Missed It!: 4 Insights for Cultural Engagement

The disciples didn’t see Samaria as a place that was ripe for the gospel, and they totally missed a moment with a woman who ended up leading her village to Christ.

Beau Crosetto

Last week, a few of my buddies and I went to play tennis. We needed a fourth player, and it dawned on me to invite a guy I play volleyball with. We had a great time playing that night. But when we were done, I wanted to see if God was up to more. So I asked this guy if he wanted to grab a drink and talk a bit in my man cave.

He stuck around, and we talked ’til about 11:30 that night. My friend is Indian, with a Hindu background. He is very spiritual but has a completely different view of God than I do. We had a great discussion about faith, and at the end of the night, I asked him if he would be willing to read a book with me and debate the ideas in the book instead of the ideas in our head.

We are now chewing through Mere Christianity and talking about the ideas of truth, morality and whether or not there is one God.

I am really excited to keep talking with this guy, but I almost missed the moment. I almost didn’t invite him. I almost went to bed when tennis was over, almost didn’t push into the spiritual conversation, and almost didn’t ask him to read a book with me.

This whole encounter has me thinking about the disciples in John 4 and how they totally missed the moment Jesus had with the woman at the well.

Wake Up and Look Around

As soon as the disciples got to Samaria with Jesus, they went out to lunch and missed the whole encounter with the woman at the well (John 4: 8).

Jesus gives His disciples a little talking to after they miss the missional moment with the woman. As they are talking about food, Jesus tells them he has “food they don’t know about.”

Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent Me, and from finishing His work. You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, “Wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe[e] for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike!” You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true. I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.”

Jesus’ words are clear that the harvest is now and that His nourishment, as well as ours, comes from working in the harvest. We need to wake up and look around. The fields are ripe for harvest, and we’re missing them, Jesus says. The disciples didn’t see Samaria as a place that was ripe for the gospel, and they totally missed a moment with a woman who ended up leading her village to Christ.

Why the Disciples Missed the Moment

After studying this passage, I think the disciples missed this missional moment because of two reasons:

  1. Gender and ethnicity
    • First, the disciples never expected Jesus to do anything significant in Samaria, let alone go there. Second, for Jesus to actually talk to a woman–a Samaritan woman–would have been beyond their wildest dreams. Forget about leading her to God. It just wasn’t on their radar to look for God moments with someone from a different gender and ethnicity.
  2. Sowing vs. reaping mentality
    • The disciples didn’t think it was harvest season. Jesus challenges them in the verses above. They weren’t looking up at the harvest, and they didn’t have eyes to see that God was ready to move in people’s lives in this unlikely area. To the disciples, Samaria was a forgotten place and not somewhere their God would move.

Let’s Not Miss the Moment

This passage that we preach about in church and love as one of our favorite stories–the disciples missed it! Holy cow!

I can’t help but think about the fact that Jesus is having encounters around us, but we are out to lunch and totally missing them. Honestly, it scares me somewhere deep in my soul that I would pass by these moments or check out when Jesus is about to move.

Think about it. Who in your neighborhoods, schools, apartment buildings, offices and teams are having spiritual encounters with Jesus, but you’re not even tuned in? Or worse, you’ve left the situation.

I hate even thinking about the fact that you or I would miss these kinds of moments because we’re busy:

  • watching TV
  • spending all our time with Christian buddies
  • working too much
  • studying too hard
  • too busy with family
  • connecting with people only of the same culture
  • we just don’t care that much
  • or even, in the disciples case, out to lunch

But like the disciples, we miss these missional moments all the time.

Jesus has incredible encounters planned for us to join Him in the harvest,  but we need to engage and stick with Him.

4 Insights for Engaging the Culture

Here are a few tips for learning to stay by Jesus’ side and being part of powerful encounters.

  • Ask God every day where He is at work around you? We have to ask the Holy Spirit where He intends for us to go and who He wants us to talk to. People in our spheres of influence are ready for an encounter with Jesus, but we have to be in tune with where He wants us to go.
  • Be open to the Spirit if He asks you to press into an unlikely area. The woman was just that–a woman. And also a Samaritan. The disciples never expected Jesus to talk to her. God crosses boundaries and cultures all the time, and He may want to use you in a very cross-cultural way. Are you open to that?
  • Understand that the harvest is now. The harvest is now, not next week or next month. Jesus gives us a strong challenge in John 4 to get to reaping. We have to be urgent people in our neighborhoods and at work. We can’t live as though the harvest is later or assume that people are just not open.
  • Press in a bit. Many people around us are spiritually open, but they need us to push in and engage. The woman at the well didn’t appear open until Jesus pressed into conversation. At first glance, many of the people around us may not seem interested at all. But we have to get them alone, ask some questions and find out what God is brewing below the surface.

There Is Grace 

My wife made a great suggestion to me to add a little paragraph on grace to this post. The disciples did screw up in John 4, and so do we sometimes. But Jesus teaches them, and they learn. In fact, they end up totally getting the point and then later in the New Testament engage Samaria with the gospel. Jesus says in Acts 1:8 that they are to witness even to Samaria. And then in Acts 8 after they are scattered, some of the apostles end up in Samaria, bringing many to faith in Christ. So yes, the disciples missed it in John 4, but they got it later in Acts 8. Even if you have messed up, God’s Kingdom is moving forward. It’s not too late to engage!