- Denise Kohlmeyer
Saved at Samaria
He watched her trudge up the path, empty jug in hand. He noticed the slumped shoulders, the bent head, the kalumma pulled tightly across her face so that only her eyes showed. Not that he needed to see her face. He already knew what she looked like. She was a half-breed: part Jew, part Shamerim (Samaritan). Which meant her skin was a pretty, light olive color, her eyes a muted brown, her facial features soft, less angular.
He knew other things about her, as well. Things not discerned by the naked eye.
He knew that she desperately wanted to be loved, to be accepted. By anyone. In fact, that was the reason for the string of five failed marriages, the reason why she was now cohabitating with yet another.
He also knew that because of her illicit lifestyle, she was shunned by the townspeople. Especially by the women.
He knew that that was why at this hour, noon, the hottest part of the day, when she should be resting in the cool confines of her house, she was coming to this well. Alone. Dejected. Resigned. She came at this hour to avoid the women’s whispers, their stares, their finger-pointing.
It was bad enough that his people hated by her people.
Shame upon shame.
But that was why he had come this way, to show her that it was not so with him. He shared not the prejudices of his own countrymen, nor the rejection of her own people. He could not wait to tell her.
He just hoped she would not turn around and leave before he could do so.
She saw him sitting on the lip of the well. She recognized him as Jewish by his sharp Judean facial features, his prominent nose, his dark eyes, his deep olive skin tone.
She sighed wearily and adjusted her kalumma, wondering why he was here. His people considered her people unclean. Polluted. They usually took the long way around her region rather than risk contamination.
As she drew closer, she noticed the tzitszits dangling at the end of his mantle. A rabbi. His orthodoxy would make him especially judgmental, hateful.
If he knew about her living arrangements, he would surely pick up a stone and hurl it at her. She had heard about such instances.
She wished he would leave.
They roamed the nearly-empty market square, frustrated. They had been sent to find food. But at this hour, there was not much to be had; most of the sellers had gone home to escape the punishing Mediterranean heat.
Those who were left, though, were eyeing them suspiciously, likely wondering what they were doing there. One seller hastily swept the last of his cumquats into a reed basket and hurried away.
Despite their number, twelve, they felt uncomfortable, awkward, even angry.
They did not understand why they were in this godforsaken area. But their teacher had insisted on taking the more direct route north—through Samaria—instead of taking the road beyond the Jordan.
On top of that, he had sent them into town to purchase their supper, even though he knew they were not supposed to buy food handled by Samaritans, much less eat it. It was akin to eating swine’s flesh. Unclean.
They wished they could leave.
She finally reached the well and hoisted her heavy jug up onto the wall, panting from the long, hot walk. She kept her kalumma pulled down, avoiding making eye contact with him. She did not want to talk to him. Not that she could anyway, being a Samaritan and a woman. Jews did not speak to Samaritans. It was an unwritten rule.
And Jewish men did not speak to women, even Jewish women, other than their own wives. And they most certainly would not speak to Samaritan women.
So, she breathed a sigh of relief. She was safe.
“Will you give me a drink?”
He saw her start at the unexpected sound of his voice. He had not meant to frighten her.
She was surprised that he addressed her. Before she could stop herself, she said, “You are a Jew, I am a Samaritan. How can you ask me for a drink?”
Her question did not surprise him. Rather, it saddened him. Centuries of animosity between the two groups had brought them to this point: when a simple request was met with suspicion.
He hoped to change that.
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
He watched for her reaction. He often spoke cryptically, to see if people understood him.
Most did not.
He saw that she was like most by the furrowing of her brows.
His statement confused her. She glanced around but did not see a water jar or an animal skin to hold water. And the well was over one hundred feet deep. It had taken their beloved forefather Jacob weeks to dig it. How could this man give her a drink?
“Sir,” she said respectfully. “You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
Ah, Ya’aqov, the proud patriarch and father of the Twelve Tribes. Though thrice a deceiver, he was revered. The land he had purchased here was sacred ground. The altar he had constructed, a testimony. The well—the one upon which he now sat—a shrine. It had been the life water of Jacob, his sons, and their vast herds.
And of many others after them.
But they had had to return. Again, and again.
“Everyone who drinks this water,” he said, pointing into the dark mouth of the well, “will be thirsty again, but—” He paused to see if she was truly listening, for the words he was about to say next would be life-changing. “—whoever dinks the water I give them will never thirst. The water I give them will become in them a spring of water, welling up to eternal life.”
He smiled as amazement bloomed across her face.
Did he say that the water he had would quench her thirst for forever?
For generations, her people had been coming to this well to draw water for themselves and their everlastingly large flocks. It was exhausting. Time-consuming. Burdensome. Jug after jug of water had to hauled up. Every. Single. Day.
If what this man said was true, then she could avoid the daily drudgery of collecting water. More importantly, she could avoid the prattling women and protect her wounded heart.
And, she recalled, he had said it was a gift. Free. Even better. Because she was destitute, living off the largess of her lover.
“Sir, she said excitedly. “give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
They were thirsty. Hours of walking from Jerusalem to Samaria had coated their throats with the dust of the desert. Now that they had gotten some food—a handful of figs, a loaf of day-old bread, a small jar of honey—they just wanted to get back to the well and drink deep droughts of cool spring water.
As one, they moved toward the path that would take them out of town and back to the well where they had left their teacher.
They walked silently, but hurriedly, thinking their teacher must be wondering what had become of them.
He did not want to hurry this moment. First things first.
“Go, call your husband and come back,” he said. As was the proper order of holy matrimony, the husband was the head of the household and must first be consulted. It was the way of the ancients.
But there was another reason, although it pained him to call her out on it. She had to see her true need for this ‘living water,’ other than just to satisfy her selfishness.
‘Your husband.’ The words felt like a millstone around her neck.
She had had five husbands, and each one had divorced her. Tossed her away like a used rag. For no other reason than because she was barren. An eilonit. Instant grounds for divorce.
And the man with whom she was now living…
She hung her head, fingered the edge of her kalumma. “I have no husband.”
He felt the weight of her shame, the sting of her guilt, and his heart went out to her. He understood.
“You are correct when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.”
Her head jerked up. Her kalumma slipped back from her face. Only a holy man—one who had direct discourse with Yahweh—could know this about her.
“Sir,” she said incredulously. “I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
She recalled how her father—oh, how she missed his comforting arms—had told her about the magnificent temple, even more holy than the one in Jerusalem, which had once stood on the plateau of Mount Gerizim off in the distance. It had been built—supposedly—on the spot where the wandering Israelites, after crossing the Jordan to claim the Promised Land, had built an altar and where Joshua had written down the words of the Torah for that ancient people.
But the temple had long since been destroyed.
The townspeople, however, still climbed its 881-foot summit to worship and celebrate their feasts, sitting close to the sacred ruins.
They had no need, therefore, to go to Jerusalem. Not that they could anyway. The temple there was for Jews only. Any “foreigner” caught going past the plaza would be killed. So said the stone plaque out front.
Ah, Jerusalem. The holiest of cities. The most hypocritical of cities.
It broke his heart.
“Woman,” he said softly, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. A time is coming, and has now come, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”
He hoped she grasped his meaning: that it mattered not where people worshipped, only who they worshipped and how they worshipped.
The woman’s eyes lit up. “I know that Mashiach—Messiah—is coming.” She had heard about him from her father, as well. And what she had been told gave her comfort, and great hope. Mashiach would rout the Romans and restore the line of David to the throne. He would bring love, joy, and above all, peace. Peace to their fractured nation, torn apart by hostilities of all kinds: political, racial, gender, religious.
And peace—perhaps?—to her own fractured life, her own fractured heart. How she longed for that.
“When he comes,” she said reverently. “He will explain everything to us.”
He leaned toward her, smiled warmly. In a lowered voice, as if he had a secret to tell, he said, “I, the one speaking to you, I am he.”
Her eyes widened, her jaw dropped. Her mind exploded with a myriad of questions, but she did not have the chance to ask any of them. For just then a dozen disheveled-looking men chose that moment to appear.
Twelve pairs of widened eyes as they looked from their teacher to the woman, and back again. What was going on here?
But they dared not demand of the woman, “What do you want?” or of their teacher, “Why are you talking with her?”
His smile widened as he glanced at his students, glad that they had finally arrived. He knew they had not wanted to come this way. He knew their prejudices. But they had to learn and understand that he loved everyone, in every country. Even the “contaminated” ones.
Suddenly, the woman bolted, leaving her water jug on the wall. Still empty. She ran back to town as fast as her long tunic would let her. Her kalumma fell from her head and blew about her shoulders. Her heart beat wildly, her mind reeled with what she had just heard: I am he.
All this time she had been talking with Mashiach, of whom the prophet Jeremiah called “the fountain of living waters.”
Of course. How had she not seen it?
And he had invited her—a wanton woman, no less—to partake of his living water. For eternity!
Oh, this was too good to keep to herself. She must tell someone. Anyone. Even the women.
She ran through the narrow streets, calling out loudly, unashamedly, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”
Breathing a collective sigh of relief, the twelve approached their teacher now that the woman was gone. “Rabbi,” they urged. “eat.”
Food. What was physical food when he had so many people to “feed” spiritually?
“I tell you,” he said. “open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.”
So many were thirsting for acceptance, for love. For redemption. This precious woman finally saw it. Had wanted it. And now she had it.
Yet there were others who did not. But they would be here soon.
The townspeople came pouring down the path, like a great rushing wave—men, women, and children. They gathered around the well, pressing in close, staring at the man who had told the woman all about her immoral life. Her testimony was too unbelievable.
They had come to hear for themselves, and they would not let him leave.
He remained two days. Talking with them. Eating with them. Loving them.
They became convinced themselves, first, by the woman’s testimony—and her drastically-changed life, for she had left her lover—then because of the words he spoke to them, quenching words that welled up and spilled over into their own sinful hearts. Saving them. Changing them.
The townspeople finally said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
They embraced him—and his twelve friends—when he left. He had become their Friend. Their Savior. They were sad to see him leave.
But as they waved him off, the townspeople rejoiced that this Jesus of Nazareth—himself despised among men—had come into their region.
It had meant the world to them.
It had meant Life for them.