Abigail, the Samaritan woman who had spoken with Jesus on the day we arrived in Sychar, insisted that we go to her village. She was walking ahead of us, telling all her neighbors that she had met a prophet beside Jacob’s well…
Abigail: …Hey, comadre Nora!!… And you, Simeon!… Come and see this man who read my palm and guessed everything I did!… And what if he’s indeed the Messiah, huh?…. Hey, neighbors, c’mon, hurry and don’t you ever miss this!…
Abigail knocked at every door inviting everyone to her house. We were following her, but not with enthusiasm. As usual, my brother James and I protested a lot…
James: But Jesus, how dare you do this…. Are you sick or are you out of your mind?
John: I’d rather be tied to a post and be cooked alive than set foot in the house of these Samaritans!
James: They say whoever enters and sits in the house of a Samaritan loses his eyesight before the year ends!
Jesus: Well then, stay outside and look the other way…
James: If you do that, you’ll turn into salt, like Lot’s wife.
Jesus: It’s okay, James and John. You don’t have to go, if you don’t want to. But I’m going into Abigail’s house and greet her husband.
James: Abigail! What a sweet, little girl’s name, huh?
John: For a jug of water, you were taken in by the Samaritans, Jesus…
Jesus: No! It’s you and your old ideas and biases against the Samaritans and our relationship with them that put us all in a fix….. I’ll drink from any well and visit any house. Do whatever you please.
So we went inside Sychar, Abigail’s village. There was a small square along the road where a group of Samaritans wearing red turbans and gray tunics looked at us with hatred in their faces.
One Samaritan: Hey, hey, look who we have here, huh?
Another Samaritan: Oh, the stinking Galileans! Why don’t you just go to Lake Tiberias and wash your armpits clean! Ha, ha, ha…!
Jesus: Don’t mind them, John. Can’t you see they’re trying to provoke us?
Samaritan: Galilee! Hail to you! Grrr….! Ha, ha, ha…!
Another Samaritan: Hey, hey, what a scraggy-looking group of Galileans I see! I guess your mothers don’t feed you very well!… What’s the matter with you, red head?… Come, come over here, don’t get scared. I simply want to beat your ass red! Ha, ha, ha!
Jesus: Cool it, James. They just want to get us into a fight…
James: Well, they’ll get what they want, damn it! I won’t allow any more insults from them! Listen well, you evil Samaritans, nephews of Lucifer! How I wish lightning would strike right now and split all of you into two!
Samaritan: And how I wish you’d lose all your teeth except one, that you may still suffer from pain!
John: May you swallow a handful of ticks that will suck the blood out of you!
Samaritan: Would that all your relatives be like onions whose heads are buried under the earth!
James: …that fire and sulfur descend right now from heaven, as in Elijah’s time, that all of you may burn, you sons of bitches!
Jesus: Stop it, James….. You too, John…. Damn those tongues of yours! They have more venom than a viper!
James: Do you hear that, Jesus?… There’s thunder coming!
John: God has answered our prayers! He’ll send fire from heaven to kill the devil’s Samaritans!
Jesus: Okay, okay. You stay here and wait for lightning and thunder to come. As for me, I won’t allow myself to catch another cold!
Jesus ran toward Abigail’s house. We followed him, too, but grudgingly…
The rain had dampened all our enthusiasm…. We had forgotten the curses previously uttered as we hastily crossed the small town plaza… In a short while, drenched by the rain, we arrived in the shabby little house of bamboo and adobe stones where Abigail and her husband, Jeroboam, lived…
Abigail: Come in, come in…! This is my house, Jesus. Too small for such a big family, but… These are all my children… and this is my husband.
Jeroboam: Welcome, Galileans! My house is like Noah’s ark, it opens its doors to all kinds of animals!
Abigail: Don’t be rude, Jeroboam…
James: So you and your wife were the first pair that slipped into it, weren’t you?
Jesus: Shut up, James.
Jeroboam: Abigail has told me that one of you is a witch who can read one’s palm…. where is he?
John: The only witch here is your wife, who went to fetch water from the well at the wrong time!
Jesus: For God’s sake, will you stop all those insults and let’s start greeting one another first?…..
Abigail: Exactly! Say, Jesus, will you tell this stupid husband of mine what you have told me by the well, that this conflict between the Samaritans and the Galileans and the Jews is all over…. C’mon, tell him…
We sat down and talked… After a while, the rain calmed down and the Samaritan neighbors started to arrive… Soon, Abigail’s little house became full. Those who could, sat down on the wet ground, while the older ones remained standing, resting their chins on their canes…
A Samaritan: Who said that this thing between the Samaritans and the Galileans is all over. Who said such nonsense, huh?
Jesus: This stupid guy here.
Samaritan: So?… and who are you?
Jesus: A brother of yours. You’re my brother, too. We are all brothers and sisters, kneaded from the same dough, and we breathe the same God’s breath through the nose. Don’t you think so?
A bent-over old man with a long beard, nodded his head…
Old Man: Yes. Baruch, the just man, says the same thing too….
A Woman: My aunt Loida says that the sheep must go with their own kind, in pairs!… Well, stranger, our skin is not the same, you must remember that…
Jesus: But the blood that flows in you is as red as mine, cousin. Can’t you see that? It’s not the bark of a tree that matters, but the wood, and its fruit. Isn’t that correct?
Old Man: Right. This is what Baruch, the just man, is saying too….
Samaritan: Hold it! Now this is getting tough! You Galileans have taken so much advantage of us, you have ruined our trade relations with Damascus!
John: Oh, yeah? Weren’t you the ones who ruined the sale of wheat in the capital? Weren’t you, Samaritans?…
Another Samaritan: You set on fire our forest in Ebal!
A Woman: It was a Galilean who stole the scroll of the Law of Aaron’s grandson!
James: And who did the filthy thing of hurling those damned bones of the dead into the temple of Jerusalem?
Jesus: Dammit, will you stop it? Look, the rain has stopped. After the deluge, comes peace. What do we get by opening the wounds of our fathers?… We are all one family with only one Father, who is in heaven. This is what matters more than anything else.
Old Man: Yes, yes, this is exactly what Baruch the just man is saying…
Woman: How can we be brothers when we don’t speak the same language. When a Galilean says black, the Samaritan thinks white. When a Samaritan talks of Mount Gerizim, you think of Mount Zion….
Jesus: But when a Galilean says: “I’m hungry,” and feels it, the Samaritan similarly feels the same thing. When a Samaritan cries for justice, the Galilean utters the same cry for justice!… My friends from Samaria: we have been divided for many years now, ever since the Tower of Babel, I believe, when those ambitious men wanted to scale the heavens to rob the Lord of his place… Now, we have to put up another tower, not by the use of bricks this time but by joining our hands, crossing our arms, and those of the Galileans and the Samaritans, as well. Everyone is needed to be able to build this community of all one family, all brothers and sisters to each other!
Old Man: Baruch, the just man, said exactly the same thing!
James lost his cool when that old man mentioned for the fourth time the name of Baruch, the just man.
James: Wait a minute. Who the devil is this Baruch, that his name is constantly mentioned here?… It’s Jesus talking and not any one else, not even Baruch!…
Abigail: Baruch is a great prophet of ours!… We owe him a lot! He has enlightened the minds of the people and defended our rights, the rights of the poor…
Old Man: Baruch, the just man, always says that….
James: What the hell do I care what Baruch says, dammit! It’s Jesus who’s carrying the staff of command here, the strong man of Israel!
Old Man: And what about Baruch?
James: I’ve got nothing to do with him!
Samaritan: Take back what you said, you red head from hell, or else…!
My brother James and a Samaritan exchanged blows. Simon and Judas likewise engaged themselves in a fight with the other neighbors while the women were shouting menacingly…. Abigail’s little house shook and I thought it would have collapsed had it not been for Peter and Jesus who, after having yelled considerably, were able to get some little quiet…
Jesus: How many times should I tell you that we’re all brothers and sisters and we must unite, instead of beating one another?!!… If this Baruch is for justice, then he is with us, and we with him… What matters is that we are able to change things, and not the person who changes them!… Tell the just man, Baruch, that we would like to meet him and talk with him!
Night was already hovering over the village of Sychar when a tall and sturdy man entered the packed house of Abigail… He was dressed in a gray tunic with the red turban around his head, symbol of the Samaritan leadership…
Baruch: I’m Baruch… You were asking for me?
Jesus: We are just a handful of Galileans here. We’re promoting the Kingdom of God in the north. I understand you and your group are doing the same in this part of Samaria…. Can we be of any assistance to you?
Baruch: Of course. Look at the fields: the crops are already ripe for harvest. We need people… Can we be of any help to you, too?
Jesus: Certainly, Baruch. As they say, one sows and the other harvests…. What is important is that things get done; who does the work is not an issue. In the end, both the sowers and the reapers are happy together, don’t you think so?
Baruch: Let’s be clear about this, Galilean. On whose side are you?… the zealots’?… the rebels’ of the desert?….. or the Sycharians’ of Judea?
Jesus: We’re on justice’s side, Baruch. We’re for the poor who, day in and day out, are clamoring for freedom… for the rest…. will that still matter?
Baruch: I’m pleased with your words. You can count on me. We are fighting for justice for our people.
Jesus: If you’re not against us, then you’re with us!
Baruch: Then this calls for a fraternal embrace, Galilean!
Jesus moved toward Baruch, the Samaritan leader. The two shook hands and hugged each other with much respect and excitement, like the two brothers, Esau and Jacob, when they met after so many years, beside the Yabbok River, near Penuel.
We stayed in the village for two more days, proclaiming the Reign of God among the Samaritans….
The enmity among the Samaritans, the Galileans and the Jews was nurtured by a series of circumstances. One hundred twenty-nine years before Christ, the Jewish king, John Hyrcanus, destroyed the sacred temple of the Samaritans in Mount Gerizim. This sparked hatred in relationships between the two peoples. When Jesus was about ten years old, an incident happened that was horrifying to the Jews: During the feast of the Passover, the Samaritans, who had gone to Jerusalem, hurled bones of the dead into the Temple. Such desecration of a holy place was an act of vengeance that the Jews could never forget. Since then, tension mounted every now and then.
The Israelites – presently of the Arab race – took pride in their hospitality as a national virtue. But this was never manifested to the Samaritans nor to the Jews. They refused to extend their greetings to them, and they shut their doors as proof of their total rejection. Every time the Jews passed through Samaritan turf, it was not surprising to hear of serious incidents that would occasionally end up in real killings. Jesus’ disciples, specially James and John, mirror this hostility in an exchange of verbal invectives with the village people of Sychar. Jesus does not share in this narrow nationalistic spirit of his companions. He stays for two days with the Samaritans, a detail that puts into focus John’s gospel, to dramatize Jesus’ breaking away from all sorts of racial nationalism and discrimination.
Baruch is not a historical character. In this episode, he appears as a leader of the Samaritans, loved and respected by his countrymen. As a just man in the service of the poor among his people, he easily relates to Jesus. The gospel is good news for the poor, transcending all barriers, notwithstanding one’s being a Jew, a Samaritan, a Negro, a White, good or bad.
Ecumenism is one of the successes of the evolution of Christian thought in our days. Catholics, evangelists, the fundamentalists and – far beyond – the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and so forth, were called to unite, not exactly because we share the same ideas about God, immortality or the creation of the world, but rather, because we are all called to construct a world of justice and peace.
If Jesus said on one occasion: “He who is not with me, is against me” (Lk 11:23), and this phrase has been interpreted by some as a sign of intolerance or exclusivism, the possible conflict arising from this is resolved with another phrase in the same evangelical text: “He who is not against you is for you” (Lk 9:50). Unfortunately, in the course of history, there has been an abundance of “religious wars,” where thousands of persons have been tortured in the name of faith. Bloody crusades were organized, and were formed tribunals to excommunicate those who had a different way of thinking. None of this does comes from the gospel. The gospel is not a call to intolerance, indiscrimination, and to a rejection of those who think otherwise. In the face of such unhappy historical legacy, the Catholics must grow in humility, in repentance and – as Jesus used to say – before they remove the mote in their neighbors’ eyes, they must first remove the plank in their own.
(Lk 9:5l-56; Jn 4:28-43)