If You Knew
"If you knew who it is that asks you . . ." he had said.
Stunned, she lost her confidence, her sense of control. Flirtation suddenly changed to agitation. In an effort to regain her composure she replied, "Are you a prophet, sir?" How else could he know about my life? Then she did something so many people do when faced with the simplicity of truth; she attempted to display a competitive religious knowledge. "Our fathers worshiped on mount Gerizim," her eyes glancing at the towering rise nearby, "but you Jews claim that we must worship in Jerusalem." She was now on the defensive, sparring, dodging to disguise the intimidation she felt. His knowledge of her personal life, his demeanor of authority, the quiet confidence with which he spoke, all combined to give her cause for apprehension.
Jesus did not raise his voice, nor speak with aggression. But the power and force of his arguments were like driving nails into the lid of a coffin.
"Believe me, my dear woman, the time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem." The first nail. His assertion completely outside the framework of her thinking. Not worship in Gerizim? Not worship in Jerusalem? Where else was there to worship? She was incapable of grasping such an idea.
"You Samaritans worship something about which you know nothing." The second nail. Insulting. How dare he? Who does he think he is? Yet the words, "If you knew who it is that asks," haunted her thoughts, pestering her with anxious questions, Who, exactly, is he?
"We worship what we have known for centuries, for salvation is from the Jews." The third nail. Jesus had just added injury to insult. She took this remark personally, as if it were devastating her beliefs, her understanding of God, of herself.
"Yet a time is coming and has now come when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." The fourth nail. He speaks as if he knows God, as if he were . . .
"He is not interested in places for worship." The fifth nail. Alathia was numb. She did not know how to respond. The whole of religious history contradicted him. She felt overwhelmed, above her meager ability to think clearly.
"God is Spirit, and his worshipers worship in Spirit and in Truth." The sixth and final nail. Her callousness, her coyness, her religious biases, her own disbelief, her questions, all ensconced securely within the coffin, awaiting burial. While she had been conquered, she did not feel threatened by this man. He was not making himself her enemy. He spoke the simple truth, objectively, dispassionately, yet--she was sure--with compassion.
Cowed and trembling she ventured, "I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us." Was it a premonition? Was she fishing for confirmation of what she suspected, what she already believed in her heart?
Jesus said softly, lovingly, "I who speak to you am he."
"Ah!" she cried loudly, and dropped her water jar. Water splashed soaking broken clay shards and the surrounding earth. Hot tears leapt to her eyes. The lump swelled in her throat so that she could not speak, could not breathe.
At such a juncture of timing and truth, we all returned from our trip to town. I remember it clearly. There is nothing like the intrusion of irrelevant things demanding attention to rob a moment--of moment. As expected, we were shocked to find him talking with a Samaritan woman. But instinctively, we knew that we had stumbled once again into something beyond our wit. Embarrassed, we tried to step back, but the intrusion had been done. The spell broken.
Alathia backed away from Jesus and the rest of us, holding the back of her hand over her opened mouth, for the first time in her life deeply aware of something much larger than herself, or anything she had ever known, and hurried back to town. Her excitement uncontained, unrestrained, she exclaimed to everyone she saw, "Come! Come see a man who told me everything I ever did! Come! Come now!" To anyone who would listen she said, "He says he is the Christ." People knew this infamous woman who had had five husbands. They also knew Alathia Shimon would not be easily fooled by unscrupulous men. Could this really be Messiah? Partly out of amused curiosity, partly because they thought her believable, they followed her from town to see.
"Teacher, eat something." It was John, having helped himself to the food we brought from Sychar. Jesus had hardly noticed our return.
Still staring pensively after Alathia, he said to John, "I have food to eat of which you are ignorant."
We were puzzled, "Who could have brought him food?"
"My food," said Jesus, his thoughts still following her, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work."
Sometimes it seemed, Jesus was just plain exasperating. We had traveled hard all day. It had been a hot day. Doubtless, a water jar of sweat had evaporated among us over the hot, dusty, miles. It was time now for rest, for the satiation of hunger, for wine or cool, clear water from this well, and upon finding a proper inn, of sleep. Sleeping under the stars had its benefits, but there were few things more pleasant after a long day of travel than good food, good wine and a gentle bed. Yet, Jesus would not give it up. He could not let an opportunity to "hold court" go by. What was it this time? Oh, yes, he preferred "to do the will of him who sent me," to a savory piece of lamb.
Ignoring the spiritual abyss between ourselves and him, Jesus reluctantly joined us on the grass and took food. He appeared preoccupied, as if basking in the pleasure of what had just occurred.
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Jesus because of what had happened with this woman they knew so well. So when they came to him, they urged him to stay with them, which he did. Apparently no one was affected by the chasm that existed between Jew and Samaritan. Somehow, that which we held in common was stronger than that which divided us. Because of his words many believed and became followers. They 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 Christ, the Savior of the world."
These were Samaritans, a community of people who claim to be the descendants of Joseph, through his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. They think of themselves as the true "Israelites," as distinct from usurping "Jews." They erected their own Temple on Mt. Gerizim where to this day they worship, while we Jews worship at Herod's Temple in Jerusalem. The two peoples, Jews and Samaritans, have rejected each other, each considering the other apostate. Now, Jesus has reached out, loved and accepted even the Samaritans, the Cuth'im.
Although he is a Jew, this man Jesus, is larger than his Jewishness. His purpose and mission is not only beyond Jewry, but beyond Israel itself. This man, this Jesus, is indeed, the Savior of all nations, of the entire world!
"We have much to learn," said Peter to John.
And so, apparently, did Athalia, whose name means, God is Exalted.