I drank from a 4000 year old well, and it tasted good!
There was only one stop left for the day on our way to Jerusalem. It had been a full day of traveling. The last stop was a town called Nablus. In Hebrew, it is known as Sheckem. This is the place that Jacob (with the coat of many colors) bought land in Genesis 33 and was subsequently buried.
It is also the place where the Samaritans lived in the time of Jesus. We know this because there is a deep well there known as Jacob’s Well. People have been drawing buckets from nearly 40 meters to drink water from this well for more than 4000 years. This site is known as the most authentic site in all of the Holy Land because you cannot move an ancient well that is more than 40 meters deep.
The well is now underground in the crypt of an ancient Greek Orthodox church named The Church of St. Photina (the name of the woman at the well in John 4 according to Greek Orthodox tradition). It is protected and cared for by an incredible Greek Orthodox priest (called an Abu) with rough hands, a grizzly beard, and kind eyes. He has given his life to the care of the well and the building of the church, single-handedly rebuilding the church and PAINTING every mural and icon in the building.
As we went down the steps to the belly of that church and placed our hands on the stones surrounding the mouth of a 4,000 year old well, the Abu came over and drew a bucket of water for us and poured some out back into the well. I assumed it was for the homies, but he was demonstrating how deep the well was as it took several seconds before we heard it splash back down to the pool below. We filled a cup and as we passed it around for all to drink, I read aloud the story of John 4 and the woman at the well. It was spell bounding to imagine Jesus standing there at that spot having Photina draw water for him that day as he breathed life into her soul.
Equally spell-binding were the words themselves. The story begins, “Now Jesus had to go through Samaria.” It’s fascinating. He was on his way the opposite direction that we were traveling that day, from Judea to Galilee. And Jews did not converse with Samaritans. In fact, they were enemies. That is the real point of the Good Samaritan story. The enemy in this story was the example of the good way to live. It was scandalous.
You didn’t converse with a Samaritan. And you certainly didn’t travel through Samaria. The Jews would nearly always have gone around it. The Samaritans were half-breed Jews who inter-married neighboring nations when left behind during the great exile. Their theology and worship had changed from the orthodox majority. They only believed in some of the Jewish scriptures, thought that Moses was the only true prophet, and worshiped in a different place. As a result, they were despised and considered the enemy.
To give you an idea of this relationship, I’ll give you a brief example. In Luke 9 there is a story of a Samaritan village that refused to allow Jesus to enter because he was on his way to Jerusalem and two of his disciples asked Jesus if they could “call down fireballs from heaven upon them” in response.
And yet, Jesus had “to go through” Samaria, where we now stood. But why? It wasn’t geographical. It wasn’t expediency. It was something else. He encountered a woman there- at that well. An enemy woman who was broken, alone, and lost. And he breathed life into her, offered her living water, and ended up spending several days with her and her village. She was even the first person that he revealed his true identity to- his Messiahship. The enemy.
With great love, compassion, empathy, and intentionality Jesus bridged the gap, breathed life, and drew them in to his community. Jesus had to go there because for Jesus, making someone an enemy simply isn’t an option.
After reading these words and drinking that cup, we ascended the stairs from the crypt and emerged into the daylight of the church. After exiting the main doors and navigating the beautiful courtyard and up the stairs to our bus parked on the main street, a baffling site stopped me in my tracks. It was the main entrance to the Balata Refugee camp located directly across the street from the church. It’s the most densely populated refugee camp in the West Bank with more than 21,903 people squashed into less than .25 square kilometers. These are the refugees from the Jaffa area who lost their homes during the establishment of the state of Israel. Between the Balata camp and the Askar camp (with a population of 31,639 people) also located in Nablus, more than one-third of the city’s residents are refugees.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s the Balata camp residents played a leading role in the uprisings known as the First Intifada and the Second Intifada- militant uprisings against the Israeli government. Balata was the source of many terrorists.
Which, on the one hand should make you ask some questions in regard to what the common causes are that would lead a person to become radicalized into terrorist activity: If this is where a significant number of terrorists arose who played a leading role in these uprisings, could it have something to do with being forced into inhumane living conditions and left in a desperate state of poverty without any hope for your future? Clearly I was simply a tourist and speculating, but shouldn’t we ask?
On the other hand, it made me consider something else, I stood there looking at this entrance and the words of John 4 rang out in my head- “Now Jesus had to go through Samaria.” If Jesus had to go there because making someone an enemy simply isn’t an option, what does that say about me and where I now stood- simultaneously on the door step to Balata and the Church of St. Photina? The line between enemy and neighbor seemed much more blurred at this point.
Whoa. Mind BLOWN. Still.
Who are your enemies? Why? What led you there? Think about it across the spectrum of your life- from your literal neighbor, to your rival, to your ideological global enemies. If for Jesus enemy is not an option, what does that mean for us?