27 Mar 2011
“Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon.” (John 4:6) In the name …
This past Tuesday I was down at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield because Kristin was picked to play on the Western Mass All-Star Team. I’m on the sidelines waiting for the previous game to finish when I see my old high school civics teacher getting ready to ref her game. I wave to him from across the basketball court. He sees someone, but can’t make out who it is. He puts his glasses on, and still can’t make out who it is. He gets up from his seat and starts walking over towards me. Once he cut the distance in half, he recognized me and gave me a big hug. I see him periodically because he runs a driving school out of our church in Westfield and every year he’s at Westfield’s Harvest Festival. I joke with him about the fact that he can’t see and yet he’s going to be reffing my daughter’s basketball game. And sure enough, the first foul he calls, is against my little girl. He doesn’t even have his glasses on! The court and the stands in Springfield are pretty small. At one point during a time-out, my old teacher yells up to me in the stands, “Your wife must have been one heck of an athlete because you sure weren’t!” That’s when I told him to go put on his glasses.
A few years later when I was in the Seminary, I was also taking classes at a local college down in Scranton. Another old teacher of mine traveled frequently to the Holy Land so that people could see the places they read about in the Bible. He led study tours, which were different than some of the more popularly advertised visits to Israel that purported to take tourists to the actual site where Jesus was born, the house He grew-up in in Nazareth, the room where the Last Supper was held, and so on. These sites are simply lost to history. Instead, my old teacher from Scranton would point out the place where the monumental staircase would have once led into the courtyard of the Jerusalem Temple, and he would mention that it is very possible that Jesus walked up that staircase on His way into the Temple precincts. My teacher could describe for the others to see the different layers of stone work in the old city walls of Jerusalem and tell those with him which part of the wall would have been standing at the time of Jesus and which would have come later. He tied the archaeology of the city into what we actually know about the life of Jesus of Nazareth so that people could see what Jesus would have seen, not like the make-believe fouls my old high school teacher thought he saw or the make believe history that the popular excursions to Israel try to show tourists.
He mentioned in class that he led these tours so that people could better identify with the real life story of Jesus. My old college teacher wanted to let the ones with him come into contact with the places Jesus would have actually come into contact with. And one of the places he mentioned was Jacob’s Well in the Samaritan town of Sychar. It’s been a lot of years so I hope I’m remembering this correctly, but he told us that wells don’t move all that much. These result from natural formations in the bedrock that allow underground aquifers to reach the surface. To go and sit upon the rocks of that old well is to possibly sit where Jesus sat. I don’t know if that means a lot to everyone, but someday I would like to visit the Holy Land and sit at Jacob’s Well because on one hot day around noon Jesus may well have actually sat there and asked for a drink of water.
The realness of the site mimics the realness of the story. Maybe it didn’t happen exactly like John tells the story, but it’s easy to imagine something like this encounter actually happening. Ten days ago, Rev. Chris Fontaine offered the Lenten Discussion, and she spoke about this very story. She asked why in the world would this Samaritan woman be coming out to the well at the hottest part of the day. All of the other women in town would have gone out in the early coolness of the morning. They would have all gathered there and talked among themselves. In the ancient world where too often women were kept isolated, this was their chance to socialize, maybe one of their only chances. When the woman comes to the well at noon, it implies that she does so to avoid these other women, to avoid contact with them. And it’s not hard to figure out why. In Jesus’ remarks we learn that she has been married five times and is now living with a sixth man. For whatever the reason, probably because she is unable to have children, she is mocked and ostracized by the other women of that village. To avoid their ridicule she comes to the well at noon, by herself.
Here we have a Samaritan woman. The Jews, and Jesus is Jewish, and the Samaritans do not get along. Not to mention she’s a woman. Jesus is a man, and men and woman are not supposed to be alone in this ancient society either. Then you throw in her personal circumstance as an outcast, and we have a story about Jesus’ radical message of inclusion as He sat upon the stones of Jacob’s Well. There are three strikes against Jesus reaching out to this woman, but He does. And not only that, she is the first to hear Jesus admit to being the Messiah of God. And furthermore, she is the first evangelist. She is the first one to bring others to Christ, her whole village comes to believe because of her testimony to them. She went back, this woman who was afraid to talk to anyone, and she talked to them all about Jesus. There’s a reality associated with the place, and there’s a reality associated with this teaching. This is the kind of person Jesus is. Exclusion is just not a part of His gospel. He speaks to her like He speaks to any of His disciples. It doesn’t matter to Jesus that she’s a Samaritan, a woman or an outcast. Jesus sees the person and because He does her life changed. In a world where too many people suffer from being pushed aside, from being ignored, made fun of it, isolated, embarrassed, bullied, picked-on, the church should be the exact opposite, and we fail Jesus when we aren’t. The reality of Jacob’s Well reinforces the reality of that teaching of inclusion, and the reality of that teaching should reinforce the reality of the church as a place where everyone is welcomed because Jesus expects nothing less from us. And for this we pray in His most holy of names. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo