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Joe Gatlin urges us to follow where God leads us and respond obediently when He compels us to act for Him.

“May your trip be uneventful.” It’s just a simple wish that a trip will unfold as planned. We prefer to get from here to there with a minimum of fuss, a lack of surprise and none of the unexpected. Just a trip, not a journey.

The disciples likely murmured these words as they stuffed their few possessions into their knapsacks. Jesus had announced it was time to leave Judea and return to Galilee. Going home to Galilee was good. But why go through Samaria?

Jews did not travel through Samaria even though it was smack dab in between Judea and Galilee. Instead they traveled around Samaria. They had a long history of disdain for the Samaritans, that branch of the family that dishonored itself by disregarding the traditions.

Traveling through Samaria would be the equivalent of our walking through, rather than around, the patch of yard where the dog defecates.

“He had to go through Samaria,” we read in John 4:3-4, NRSV. Why? There were no external circumstances — no laws, no inclement weather, no bad road conditions — that forced Jesus to take that route. And apparently, since He ended up lingering there for a few days, He was not driven by a sense of urgency to take the shortest road possible back to Galilee.

The “had to” for Jesus must have been internal. He felt compelled to cross into Samaria. It behooved him to cross into Samaria. No matter how uncomfortable it would make others or how many taboos he would break, Jesus had to go through Samaria. It was necessary. And strategic. After all, Jesus came to save the world (John 4:42; 3:17), not just Judea and Galilee.

Jesus’ sensitivity to the Spirit resulted in an extraordinary encounter with a woman at the well and the eventual understanding of His disciples that the good news is universal and reconciling. A journey that made no sense was an essential part of the Gospel story. Tomorrow begins Holy Week, when we remember another journey that Jesus had to make: to Jerusalem, and ultimately to the cross. It is a week punctuated by triumph and tragedy but wrapped in God’s deep and abiding love for us. As we begin this journey together, may we be willing to follow where God leads us, and may we respond obediently when God compels us to act for Him.

Holy Spirit, help us listen so we may humbly know what borders we should cross, what uncomfortable situations we should move into, what taboos we should break, what relationships we should build and what languages we should learn. Amen.

1. Is there a person in your Habitat for Humanity organization you have avoided and whom you should “travel” out of your way to see?
2. How can we leave room in our strategic planning for the strategy of the Spirit?

By Joe Gatlin, director of field operations for the U.S. Office of Habitat for Humanity International.

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