81- BESIDE JACOB’S WELL

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When the Feast of the Tents was over, Jerusalem bade farewell with great sadness to the pilgrims who had filled up the streets during that week-long celebration. It was time for us Galileans to return to the North…

After two journeys on the road, we caught sight of Mount Gerizim…. The dark plains of Samaria opened before our eyes…

James: Watch out! This area is full of thieves hiding even beneath the rocks…

John: But all the caravans have already passed…. What will they rob from us?

Jesus: Maybe the lice we got from Jerusalem! That’s all we got…

James: Say whatever you want, but I think this place is damned…

John: It’s a barren place…. like the devil’s belly…

James: Besides, it’s empty and arid.

Philip: Damn it, James. Stop that silly talk. Can’t you see I’m scared?…

For about a hundred years, the Galileans of the north and the Jews of the south feared and hated the Samaritans, our countrymen who lived in the central part of the country… Stories spread all over Israel have magnified those fears. For us, a Samaritan was a rebel to the traditions of our country, and therefore did not deserve our respect, to the extent that we would not even greet them. Obviously, the Samaritans hated us too….

John: What are these monsters saying, Jesus?

Jesus: They want to stop and rest for a while, John, pff….

Philip: I would trade my cane and my sandals for a glass of water…. I’m dying of thirst!

James: The sun in Samaria is as treacherous as her people, Philip…

John: Cool it, fellas. We shall be in Sychar any moment now. There we can have something to eat and drink…

James: In the meantime, you’ve got no choice but to swallow your own saliva, Philip…

When the sun reached its summit , a signal that it was noontime, we arrived at Sychar, a small village nestled between two mountains, Ebal and Gerizim, the latter being the sacred mountain of the Samaritans.

John: Hurry! Let’s see who gets to the well first!

The well was located at the village entrance. It was this well that our father Jacob bought from the Canaanites two thousand years ago, as a gift to his son Joseph before his (Jacob’s) death… It is a huge, deep well. The water that flows in abundance beneath the parched land nurtures the growth of date palm trees beside the well…

James: Come, let’s go buy some olives and pieces of bread first! I’m already starved to death!

John: Let’s go, Peter! And we’d better run!…. Are you coming, Judas?…. And you, too, Philip?

Philip: Yeah, let’s all go!….. And you, Jesus…?

Jesus: No, I’m staying here by the well. I’m so tired… I think I’m running a fever…. I’ll just wait for you here.

Philip: Okay. Maybe you should take a nap, Moreno. By the time you wake up, you’ll have before you a good jug of wine!….. Let’s go!

We started heading for Sychar. Then, Jesus leaned back on a piece of stone among the bamboo trees, and closed his eyes… After a while…

Abigail: Hello… anyone there?

Jesus: Hmm…. I fell asleep…

Abigail: To hell with you, bearded man! You scared me, did you know that?… I thought it was a rat.

Jesus: Well, as you can see, I’ve got no tail… I’m Galilean… That’s worse than a rat, isn’t it?

Beside Jacob’s well was a Samaritan woman whose beautiful, sunburned face was looking intently at Jesus. Her equally tanned arm that extended toward him was full of bracelets….

Abigail: I didn’t say that…. Look, I don’t talk to anyone. I came here to fetch some water and I’m going right away. I don’t want any trouble…. and I’ve got nothing to do with you, do you hear?

Jesus: Well, but I want something from you….

Abigail: Oh, yeah?… A Galilean dealing with a Samaritan woman… Now, now! That’s quite amusing… I’m sorry, but you’ve got the wrong well, my friend… The water from “this fountain” belongs to someone else already….

Jesus: No, you’re the one who’s mistaken, woman…

Abigail: Mmmm…mmm…mmm…!

Jesus: What’s that?

Abigail: Mmmm… I mean I don’t speak to Galileans, damn it! No way will I ever deal with them!

Jesus: Oh, but I talk to Samaritan women. I told you there’s something I’d like from you…

Abigail: Mmmm…mmm…mmm…

Jesus: Hey, will you stop purring like a kitten and give me some water… I’m dead thirsty!… You don’t have to talk to me if you don’t want to, just give me something to drink, please…

Abigail: Oh… so that was it? Look, I don’t want to sound malicious, but…. is it only water that you wanted from me?

Jesus: Why, isn’t that enough? It’s less expensive, besides, it doesn’t make you drunk.

Abigail: You’re right… but I’d rather drink wine…

Jesus: So you’re like a mosquito…

Abigail: I’m like a what?

Jesus: A mosquito. Didn’t you know what the mosquito said to the frog when he fell into the barrel of wine?… “I’d rather perish in wine than live in water!”… and splash! He plunged into the barrel and happily drowned himself in the wine!

Abigail: Ha, ha, ha…! Mmmm…mmm…mmm…

Jesus: What’s the matter with you?… Did you twist your tongue again?

Abigail: Look, countryhick, once and for all, why don’t you make yourself clear… What do you want, huh?… You don’t convince me at all, you know…. Who are you, anyway?

Jesus: Who do you think I am?

Abigail: I bet all my bracelets you’re one of those bandits roaming the mountains, robbing the men and raping the women.

Jesus: Do I really look like one of them?

Abigail: No, you look more like a storyteller to me… and a troublemaker. I’m a decent woman and right now, I’m messing up my life by talking to you…. a Galilean, no less!

Jesus: There go your biases once more. Tell me, woman, what have the Galileans done to you?

Abigail: To me, nothing, but to my people, a lot. You Galileans think of yourselves as masters of the world; you despise us and you speak ill of us.

Jesus: You Samaritans think of yourselves as masters of the world; you despise us and you speak ill of us. So, why don’t we stop this and just give me water to drink. My throat is parched dry.

Abigail: Well, here’s your water… and stop messing up my life…

Jesus: Ahhh…. This is nice…!

Abigail: You’re a Galilean… alright… All you can do is beg… Did you hear what I said? All you can do is beg, and not even a word of thanks you utter.

Jesus: You didn’t have to shout, woman. I heard you… Guess what, I’ll give you something in return….

Abigail: What?

Jesus: Water.

Abigail: What water are you talking about?

Jesus: The same thing I asked from you. Do you want some water?

Abigail: The sun must have drained your brain. Tell me, how can you fetch water when I’ve got the bucket and the rope with me?

Jesus: I know of another well whose water is more refreshing.

Abigail: Another well? As far as I know, this is the only well we have here. That’s why our great grandfather, Jacob, bought it, so that he and his children and their flocks could drink from it…

Jesus: But I know of a well that gives better water… You drink water from your well, and after a couple of hours, you become thirsty again… But once you drank the water from this well that I’m telling you about, your thirst would be gone forever.

Abigail: Hey, where’s this marvellous well, huh?

Jesus: Ah, it’s a secret…

Abigail: C’mon, tell me, so I wouldn’t have to be coming here every now and then to fetch water…

Jesus: No, no, it’s a secret…

Abigail: A secret?… So it’s a cock-and-bull-story, huh? Now I know who you are, a rumor-monger and a liar!…. A marvellous well, hah!

Jesus: Okay, okay, I’ll tell you where it is… but first, you’ve got to call your husband…

Abigail: My husband? What’s he got to do with all this?

Jesus: So he’ll know about it too…

Abigail: Well, I’m sorry, countryhick, but I must tell you I haven’t got a husband… here, you see me as I am, single with no commitments…

Jesus: C’mon, woman, you know that’s not true… Didn’t you tell me a while ago that the “fountain” was already taken…?

Abigail: Well, of course, I had to defend myself…

Jesus: Tell me, how many?

Abigail: How many what?

Jesus: How many husbands have you had?

Abigail: Hey, that’s none of your business, meddler! How dare you ask me how many husbands I got. I never asked you if you went to jail or what not!

Jesus: Alright, alright, don’t get furious… C’mon, let me see your hand…

Abigail: Can you read the lines in my hand?

Jesus: One moment…. let me see it…. Oh yes,… I see five.

Abigail: How did you know? Yeah, you’re right, I’ve had five husbands!

Jesus: No, I was saying I saw five fingers in your hand…

Abigail: Now I know who you are! You’re a fortune teller. A prophet!… You’re a prophet, aren’t you?

Jesus: Well, I’m a Galilean, like you said before…

Abigail: No, you’re a prophet! I’ve never seen a prophet before! But now, you can’t get away from me!… Lemme ask you a question…. Yeah, you’ve got to solve this one question for me: look, you Galileans and Jews claim that God has his throne in the mountain of Jerusalem. We Samaritans say that is not true, because it is here in Mount Gerizim where the Lord lives… What do you think of this, huh?

Jesus: Well, I think God rose from his throne and descended from the mountain, to put up his tent down here, among the people, among the poor…

Abigail: You’re a prophet, I’m sure of it!… And before I realize it, you might even be the Messiah, himself….

As the Samaritan woman said this, Jesus bent over, took a white pebble from the ground and began to play with it in his hands…

Jesus: And… what if I were he?

Abigail: How’s that…?

Jesus: What would you do if I were the Messiah?

Abigail: That’s what I’m asking you. What would you do?

Jesus: Look, the first thing I would do would be to buy a brush this big to wipe out the barriers between Samaria and Galilee, between Galilee and Judea, between Israel and the rest of the countries in the world… Then, I would get a master key that would unlock all granaries so that there would be enough wheat for everyone… And with a big hammer, I would break the chains and shackles to set the slaves and the prisoners free. I would summon all the bricklayers of the land and tell them: Hey, friends, I want you to dismantle the temple of Jerusalem and that of Gerizim, and all other temples, because God lives there no longer, but in the streets and plazas. Those who are really seeking the Lord will find him here, among the people… I would likewise buy the best bleaching agent to wash away all those laws and norms, which for many years have been a burden on our shoulders… and I would have only one law engraved in the heart: the law of freedom… Yeah, I would do all these…

Abigail: Now I’m certain! You are the Messiah we’ve been waiting for! Come, come to my house and my people, so that they will hear you! C’mon!….

Jesus: Alright, but let’s wait for my friends who have gone to buy some food. They’ll be back any moment now…

In a short while, we got back. We were surprised to see Jesus talking to that Samaritan woman. It was not customary for men to be talking to women alone. Neither was it acceptable behavior nor expected to see a Jew conversing with a Samaritan on equal footing. But Jesus was never concerned about what people said about him. He was a free man, more free than the water gushing forth from the springs of Shechem. We who were getting to know him more and more, didn’t say anything; then we started to eat. It was noontime.

*Comments*
Samaria was the central region of Palestine. To go back from Jerusalem to Galilee, it was common to pass through the mountain road, crossing Samaria. About seven hundred years before Christ, the Assyrians had invaded this area of the country. They drove away the Jewish people residing in the place, where they settled as colonists. In the passage of time, the Assyrian colonists intermarried with native inhabitants who had stayed in Samaria. The result were the Samaritans: a race of mestizos, people with a hodgepadge of religious beliefs. The disdain the Israelites, the Galileans of the north, as well as the Jews of the south felt toward the Samaritans was a mixture of nationalism and racism. To be called a “Samaritan” was regarded as one of the worst insults; it was synonymous to being called a bastard.

About four hundred years before Christ, the Samaritan community definitely broke away from the Jewish community and the Samaritans put up their own temple atop Mount Gerizim, a temple that rivalled that of Jerusalem. This formalized the religious schism between the two communities. Since then, tension grew high and in Jesus’ time, the enmity between them deepened. Intermarriage between the Jews and the Samaritans was explicitly prohibited, since the latter was regarded as impure to an extreme degree, and a cause for ritual impurities. They were even banned from entering the Temple or offering sacrifices. They were referred to as “the stupid people residing in Shechem.”

The Samaritans prided themselves as being descendents of the ancient patriarchs of Israel. In reality, they had Hebrew blood in them, but the rest of the Israelites considered them pagans and foreigners. The Samaritans likewise observed the Mosaic Law with so many scruples, but this made them appear idolatrous because they worshipped God in the Mountain of Gerizim. Gerizim, the sacred mountain of the Samaritans, was certainly significant in the history of the Israelites, because it was here where the blessings were given to the people before Joshua, as they entered the promised land (Jos 8:30-35). The temple of the Samaritans erected there was destroyed in Jesus’ time, but its summit continued to be a place of worship, where the Samaritans went up to pray and make some sacrifices.

The city of Shechem during Jesus’ time corresponds to the present-day Nablus, one of the most genuine Arab cities in the Jewish territory. At present there is one barrio of the Samaritans in Nablus where the descendants of this rebellious race live. Actually, there are hardly about 400 of them; they marry only among themselves, preserve their own dialect, their schools and their literature. The leaders of the Samaritan community are always garbed with red turbans, signifying their rank of hierarchy. Today’s Samaritans still keep their traditions zealously. They still ascend Mount Gerizim during Passover to offer a lamb as sacrifice, in accordance with their rite – which is different from that of the Jews. They keep a scroll of the Law in the barrio’s synagogue, which, according to them, was written by a grandson of Aaron, Moses’ brother, although this has no historical basis. It is a closed community, doomed to perish, due to the continuous intermarriage of cousins or relatives. Proofs of this biological deterioration are already evident in the large number of blind and abnormal people among them.

Sychar was a small village, between Ebal and Gerizim, the twin sentinels of Samaria. Here was the land that Jacob had bought (Gen 33:l8-20) which he later gave as present to his son (Gen 48:21-22). There was a well in this land which, after almost two thousand years, the people persisted in calling – in Jesus’ time – “Jacob’s well.” Wells are very significant in Palestine, as water is scarce in the country. These underground springs which are less abundant are easily located, even after centuries have lapsed. These were vital for the shepherds and the nomads since the life of their flocks, their only source of wealth, was dependent on them. These wells had a depth of as much as 20 meters. At present, after four thousand years, it is still possible to drink fresh water from Jacob’s well – for the Christians, the well of the Samaritan woman. Very near the well is a burial mound which in the Arab tradition is venerated as the tomb of Joseph, the son of the patriarch Jacob, and heir of the lands of Shechem.

The narration in John’s gospel about the conversation of Jesus with the Samaritan woman is a grand theological elaboration replete with symbols, similar to that of John 3 with Nicodemus. The basic element of this dialogue can be summed up in the word “freedom.” Jesus, by talking to the Samaritan woman alone, is breaking once and for all two very deep forms of prejudice during his time: the sexual, which prevented a man from talking to any woman alone; and the national-racist form of prejudice, continuing the mortal enmity between the Israelites and the Samaritans. These are the yardsticks of Jesus’ enormous sense of freedom and his great capacity for human relations. From the theological point of view, this episode likewise speaks of freedom. The freedom of God who does not want to be enclosed in temples – neither in Jerusalem nor in Gerizim – but prefers to relate with us as Father, in spirit and in truth. The new community that Jesus wants to inspire in us will not be known for the kind of worship it offers the Lord, but for the community through which it wants to bring God into our life.

(Jn 4:1-27)

81- BESIDE JACOB’S WELL

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