God couldn’t have been happy with the split between the Southern Kingdom of Judah – ruled by Solomon’s heir and the Northern Kingdom of Israel – the rebellious majority who broke away and established their own kingdom. The North . . . Israel . . . was indeed rebellious. It would not consent to be ruled by Solomon’s heir, would not acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital, would not even worship the True God but degenerated into idolatry. No. God-the-Father could not have been happy with them at all. And yet . . .
I think that God-the-Son had a soft spot in his heart for the remnant of the Northern Kingdom – those left behind as the greater number was led into Assyrian exile. There’s always a ‘remnant’, right? Well, this remnant was not the ‘faithful few’ who often become the seed of a resurgence of worship and loyalty to God. No; this remnant became the scorned Samaritans. The Assyrian exile had come and gone. The staunch Southern Kingdom ended up molding generations Jews would rather walk m-i-l-e-s out of their way to avoid stepping foot in what was no longer the Northern Kingdom, but what had become the disparaged Samaria. And yet . . .
Jesus and the disciples were travelling, as they often did. They came to the border town of Sychar. Heading for Galilee, it was time to walk the wearying detour around Samaria. However, despite the disciples’ sound advice to the contrary, Jesus not only stepped foot in Samaria, but actually rested on the lip of Jacob’s Well which was just on the edge of town.
While Jesus’ followers had been sent on into town to scare up something for them all to eat, Jesus had a nice little chat with not just any Samaritan, but with a Samaritan woman. A woman who even her fellow Samaritans agreed was ‘fallen’. . .
The woman approaches the Well with an empty water jug on her right shoulder. It’s not the usual time for getting one’s daily water – already it’s mid-day. It’s staggeringly hot. The sun pries at the woman’s eyes; she idly squints at her sandaled feet as they scuff up little puffs of dust with each tired step. She’s not in a hurry. Why should she be? She’s wondering if it is worth the effort to cook an evening meal – her husband has not deigned to grace his home in two days. Maybe he won’t come home tonight either . . . maybe he won’t ever come home.
The woman rests her water jug on the Well’s rim. There’s something not quite right, she thinks. She narrows her eyes a bit more, trying the figure out what is different. The sun is beating down on her head making a sharp, little pain over her left eye. It’s hard to think . . . but . . . there’s a shadowy silhouette upon the Well’s sun baked stones . . . Someone must be . . . there’s never anyone here at this time of day! That’s why she comes at this hour! She knows right enough what she is . . . she doesn’t need to hear it shouted out by sundry and all. Haltingly, she raises her sun-narrowed eyes. Which of the village women is casting that shadow? The one with the strident shriek that pierces her ears? Or the one who says nothing but is dismayingly accurate with her spit?
It is neither. It’s a man. He’s looking at her in no particular way . . . just looking. Most unusual. By his dress, he’s a Jew, one of those hated and hating people. It’s a puzzle. The man says to her, “Give me a drink.” It’s not unusual for a man – for any man to make this demand . . . though his words are soft, gentle.
“How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” She’d more expect a flung stone than a soft spoken request from any Jew. It was a mystery. . . a curiosity which – as considerable as it seems now – becomes all the larger as the kindly man continues to speak with her. By the conversation’s end, there is a catch in her chest. She can hardly draw breathe!
Then she’s running, running in the stifling heat, the blinding light of the noonday sun. She’ll tell someone . . . anyone! There. There is her husband-who-is-not-her-husband. Somehow, she’s no longer angry with him. She grabs his sleeve with urgent fingers. “Come see a man who told me everything I have done!” He starts to shake her off but is captured by the elation in her face. “Could he possibly be the Messiah?” she asks.
You know the story. Sure you do. Jesus and the boys stayed in Sychar of Samaria for a couple of days. Jesus boarded at the woman’s house with her sometime husband hanging on his every word. Of course, there wasn’t enough room for all of them there, so the rest were parceled out to the neighborhood; neighbors were amazed at the riveting conversation and cheerful comradery of these Jews. The people became thoughtful – these rowdy men, these hard-faced women, these rough day-laborers and poor traders, these idolatrous, sinful people – as the man who told the woman at the Well all she had ever done, spoke to them . . . to them . . . of the things of God and of the things soon to come. Jesus was no respecter of persons – which is a funny way of saying that he respected everyone – equally.
The Northern Kingdom had been most thoroughly punished. Those who were hauled off to Assyria made poor decisions. They intermarried with the locals and disappeared as a people. Those who had escaped being exiled became the hated and scorned dregs of Jewish society. But God-the-Son (with his Father’s nod and the Spirit’s go-ahead) loved them anyway. . . loved them as his own – which, of course, they were.
by Ms. Catherine Lambert, O.P.