This lesson first uses the New Testament story of the Samaritan woman at the well as a basis for exploring how our identity differences (ethnicity, gender, geography, etc.) inform our interactions and how we judge others. It then places this alongside the idea of humans as made in God’s image and asks students to reflect on the implications for living amid differences.
- Students will analyze the role played by identity differences in a New Testament narrative.
- Students will list factors affecting their own identities and interaction with others.
- Students will assess the relevance of the idea of humans being in God’s image for interactions across identity differences.
Teachers know that every class has a distinctive personality—a unique makeup of different students from diverse backgrounds and life experiences. Such diversity is a microcosm of our broader communities. We want to leverage this diversity to help our students think about the concept of the image of God and how that biblical teaching is foundational to a Christian civic engagement. Starting from a commitment to seeing others as made in God’s image, regardless of their viewpoints or characteristics, offers a foundation for honoring the dignity of all people individually and collectively, whether or not we find ourselves liking or agreeing with them. Viewing others as made in God’s image sets a high standard for how we treat them.
Key to the success of this lesson is helping students to hold both parts in tension. The idea of emphasizing the things that make us different is not to undermine our shared humanity. The point of reflecting on the image of God is not to pretend that the real differences between people are thereby erased or made unimportant. As the lesson develops, look for ways to help students focus on how a commitment to treating others as made in God’s image can help us live amid differences.
Preparing the Activities
For this lesson you will need:
- Copies of “Thinking about the Image of God with Desmond Tutu” (PDF provided)
- Copies of “Thinking about the Image of God with Martin Luther King, Jr” (PDF provided)
- Presentation slides
- Copies of “What Makes You YOU?” handout (PDF provided)
- Paper or digital environment for group activities and sharing.
Teaching the Activities
Introduction (4 minutes)
Begin by displaying slide 1 and asking students if they remember the story in John 4 where Jesus meets a woman at a well. See how many details of the story students can remember (or think they can remember) and elicit an outline of the story.
Phase 1: Differences (25 minutes)
Next tell students that we need to check their version against the text. Read John 4:1-30 together as a class (use Bibles or see slide 2-3). Discuss what we learn or can infer about this particular woman’s identity and about Jesus’s identity. You can display slides 4-5 as a focus and use a sequence of questions such as:
- Where are she and Jesus from?
- What else do we know about each from this passage?
- How do the differences between them (gender, ethnicity, geography, religion) shape their conversation?
(Note not only the woman’s objection to being addressed as a lone, female Samaritan by a lone, male Jew, but also her reaction to Jesus’ apparent suggestion that his water is better than that from her community’s well, her claim of Jacob as her community’s ancestor, and the disciples’ surprise when they see who Jesus is talking to.)
- What do you think of her moral character?
- Do you think women in first century Samaria could choose who to marry?
- How does it change your interpretation of her moral character if she may not have chosen to be married five times?
(It is commonly assumed that the woman here is presented as being of low moral character. But how much freedom might she have had to determine her marriage status in that time and place? Might Jesus be addressing her shame here rather than her guilt?)
- Why might the question of which temple to go to be an important one for her?
(Consider how religious belonging was a fundamental part of communal belonging, unlike today’s secular democracies where religious affiliation is not the mechanism for being a member of society.)
Summarize the discussion: Jesus and the Samaritan woman brought to the conversation geographic, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds and gender differences tied to expected roles and places in society. Each of us are similarly shaped by numerous factors that help position us in relation to other people and affect how we interact.
Using the chart, “What makes you YOU?” have students reflect on the various factors that influence who they are. Ask them to list as many as possible. Some possible ideas include age, gender, race or ethnicity, religious or denominational affiliation, family makeup, language, etc. This could also be done digitally with students including images that represent each area of their life. Encourage students to be specific and honest in their reflections—everyone comes from somewhere.
Conclude the activity by dividing students in groups of 3-4 and asking them to share their “What makes you YOU?” chart.
Part Two: The Image of God (20 minutes)
After students have had time to share with their groups, have students remain in groups and list all that comes to mind when they think of the phrase “image of God.” Ask them to be prepared to share what they record with the class. You could provide large sheets of paper for students to display their lists or use a digital environment for sharing. Students could include images and symbols as well as words. When students have had a few minutes to collect ideas, review the groups’ ideas as a class (e.g. by walking around and viewing the different groups’ sheets or by displaying each group’s findings if contributed digitally).
Divide the class into two sections (it will be easier later if these are clearly in two halves of the room). Half the class will read “Thinking about the Image of God with Desmond Tutu” and the other half will read “Thinking about the Image of God with Martin Luther King, Jr.” Make these articles available to students as handouts or digitally (provided as PDFs). Have students read their assigned article individually (5-8 min) and answer the questions.
When students have had time to complete this, pair each student with a student who read the opposite article. (One efficient way to handle this is to have each half of the class number off, 1-2-1-2-1-2… and have all the number 2 students trade places.) Ask students to each summarize for their partner what they read and the most important points to take from it.
Phase 3: Connecting
At this point, ask students to step back and reflect on the two parts of the lesson: the reflection on the different things that make up our identity and the reflection on the image of God. What do these two parts have to do with one another? Encourage students to make their own connections rather than jumping in too soon with an answer. Discussion might include:
- Does the idea of humans being in God’s image make all the other differences disappear?
- How might viewing humans as in God’s image affect how we approach people with identities different from ours?
- Do you think Jesus’ familiarity with the idea of humans being made in God’s image might have affected how he approached the Samaritan woman? (If so, why might his disciples, who knew the same Scriptures, have been more hesitant?)
(This could also be used as a way to finish the class period if there is time.)
Have students journal on the following prompt:
Think of a person or a people group who comes from a very different background or holds a very different political perspective from your own.
- What difference might it make if you focus on seeing them as made in God’s image?
- What challenges would still remain?
- How could you respect the dignity of this person as an image bearer even if you continue to disagree with them?
Try to be as specific as possible.
Language and the Image of God
This lesson introduces the connection between dehumanizing language and violence and reviews instances in media sources, comparing them with the biblical themes of the image of God and hospitality.