According to John: Act 2, Scene 1 (Heretics, Whores, and Roman Soldiers)

Joel Michael Herbert
12 min readApr 24, 2024

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Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

Now, eventually Salvation’s popularity completely eclipsed that of God-Is-Gracious, and the ranks of his devotees and pilgrims coming to be immersed in the River swelled. The Torah teachers heard about this reversal of fortunes between the two young rabbis — though ironically, it was not Salvation doing the actual ritual cleansing of the pilgrims, but his devotees — so Salvation decided to leave the province of Judea, nearer to City of Peace, and go back to his old stomping grounds of Galilee, to the north.

Between Judea and Galilee was the region of Samaria, the old kingdom of Israel that over the centuries since the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests had evolved into its own distinct brand of Judaism, considered heretical and anathema by the Jewish community in the rest of the country. Salvation’s route home lay directly across Samaria, the road leading through a town called Sychar. The ancient Hebrew patriarch Jacob, for whom the nation Wrestles-With-God was named, had once dug a well here and willed it to his favored son Joseph. Salvation and his devotees got to the well right around high noon, after a long morning of walking, and Salvation sent them into the village to get food while he rested and meditated at the well.

By and by a Samaritan woman arrived to draw water from the well. As she lowered her pot into the well, Salvation spoke to her, “Pardon me, would you give me something to drink?”

The woman was startled, having never in her life been addressed by a Jewish man before, much less asked to drink from a utensil of hers, given that that would constitute a ritual impurity according to Jewish law. She eyed him suspiciously. She responded, not unkindly, but with a bit of an edge, “Why are you talking to me? You’re a Jew, aren’t you? Doesn’t your reading of the Torah forbid you from talking to me, a heretic, and a female heretic, no less?”

Salvation laughed softly, the laugh breaking into a cough from his parched throat in the desert heat. “Well,” he said, catching his breath, “if you were aware of the Divine Spirit present with us in this very moment, perhaps you would be the one asking me for a drink. And perhaps you would find that water to be particularly life-giving.” He smiled and blinked... wait — did he wink at her?

Now it was the woman’s turn to laugh, genuinely surprised. Was this banter? With a Jewish man? A rabbi, no less, by the looks of it. Well, this wasn’t on her bingo card for today.

She turned to face him and set her pot down on the well with a thunk. “Well, you, sir, have no bucket.” She glanced down into the well, dramatically flicking a pebble in as she did. It rattled against the sides as it bounced down, finally ending in a soft plunk as it hit the water dozens of feet down. “And… the well is quite deep, maybe even a lower water level than usual. How are you going to draw out this… ‘particularly life-giving water?’ Are you greater than the patriarch Jacob that built this well? He lived here and drank from this very well himself, you know, and all his children, the patriarchs and matriarchs of your people — our people.” She let this last point hang in the air with an air of defiance, knowing how strongly Jews felt about her people, whom they deemed apostate mongrels.

Salvation ignored the jab. “You come back here every day, don’t you? You drink from this well, you get thirsty again, you come back, the process continues ad nauseum. But you drink from the water I’m talking about, you will find that deep thirst for the Age to Come is satisfied, and the Life Water will become a veritable fountain within your own Spirit, sustaining you and pulling you into that infinite, powerful life that you thought only existed in the Age to Come.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Well then, sir, by all means — give me some of your water, because it’s hot out here, I’m always thirsty, and I’m a little tired of coming out here every day in the hot sun to get my water for the day.”

Salvation nodded. “Where is your husband? Can you fetch him and come back here?”

A split second of panic flashed over her face, but she recovered quickly. “I’m actually not married, believe it or not.” The deflection was weak and she knew it. He knew it. She knew he knew it. She was well into her adult years — the rabbi would probably assume she was a widow, or worse, a whore.

But Salvation only smiled disarmingly. “That’s true, you’re not. You’ve been married five times, correct? And your current man is not your husband. This is all quite true what you have said.” He said all of this matter-of-factly, without a hint of judgment.

She stared at him like she had been slapped in the face. What was happening? Was this one of the preachers from the Judean desert she had been hearing about? He was certainly dirty and disheveled enough, though the tefillin and phylacteries he wore gave him away as a highly observant Jew, if not a Pharisee or scribe himself. At a loss for words for the first time in a long time, she deflected with sarcasm again. “Well, sir, I can see you are a prophet.” Salvation just sat there, grinning at her inscrutably, eyes locked with hers in his characteristic, unnerving way. She continued, diverting the conversation, playing to his ego as a Torah teacher, frantically trying to think her way out of this awkward conversation, “let me ask you a question I’ve been pondering lately. The patriarchs worshipped here, at the mountain behind me, Mt. Gerizim, where our temple is. Jacob and his sons are your fathers as much as our fathers, and yet you Jews say that the proper place of worship is at the Temple in City of Peace.”

Salvation raised an eyebrow inquisitively, and she realized that she hadn’t actually asked a question. “Believe me, friend,” he said, suddenly serious, “authentic worship — true connection and intimate knowledge of the Divine Oneness — isn’t defined by this mountain or the Temple Mount in City of Peace, or by any other physical shrine. That’s all superstitious debate and a meaningless waste of time, if you want the truth. You folks here in Samaria worship a Presence you remain unfamiliar with, unconnected to — where is the joy in worship? We Jews, yes, we worship a Presence we are better acquainted with, because healing always comes through Judah. But mark my words, the day is quickly approaching — it’s here already, actually — when all those who want to worship the Father will simply worship, without regard to time and space. Anywhere there is spirit and truth — an, open, vulnerable, thirsty human presence and a hunger for truth — that’s where worship is. That’s what worship is. That’s what the Divine Oneness is after — ordinary people just like you and I who hunger for justice and truth. Not all this other legal and ritualistic wrangling. The Divine Spirit is a Spirit, after all, outside of space and time. If we want to be connected to that Divine Spirit in worship, we too must enter into the realm of Spirit and Truth.”

The woman’s mind raced as she broke eye contact. Everything about this conversation was unexpected, even unnerving, throwing her off. She decided to abandon her characteristic sarcastic approach and respond genuinely, as this rabbi seemed to be doing with her. Was this a snapshot moment straight out of the Torah schools in Galilee, the spiritual training she had always been wildly curious about, but had always been hopelessly removed from by multiple degrees, being not only a woman, but a Samaritan as well as a divorcée?

“I know that the Anointed One is coming,” she began slowly, finding her balance again in a conversation she had no context for navigating, aware of her pulse pounding hotly in her ears. “When he arrives, everything will make sense, and the world will be put to rights.” Oddly, she felt for the first time, perhaps in her whole life, an overwhelming sense of clarity forming in the back of her mind, spreading through her whole body, a warmth of peace, of… hope? The whole conversation had lasted less than a few minutes, but she was captivated, rooted to the spot, unsure how to proceed.

Salvation smiled softly as his eyes caught hers once again. “I Am speaking to You right now, am I not?”

At that moment, the group of devotees arrived with lunch. Their talk abruptly halted when they saw Salvation sitting and talking with a woman. Evidently, they were as surprised as she was by the interaction. A few of them cast inquisitive glances at one another, but nobody said anything to her or him about it. The tension hung in the air for a moment as the eyes of Salvation and the woman remained fastened onto each other. She felt a sudden surge of emotion creeping up behind her eyes, a sensation she hadn’t felt in years. Suddenly, she regained her composure, breathing in sharply through her nose. “I’d… better get going.” She pulled the jar off of the well and retreated toward the city, Salvation’s devotees parting in characteristic manner, their eyes downcast to let her pass and avoid touching her or making eye contact. Once she passed a bend in the trail, she broke into a run, her heart pounding with an anticipation she had never felt before. She felt giddy, lightheaded, almost drunk. She burst into the village and ran past the first few houses on the main road. At the central square were several dozen men lounging in the shade of a tree, eating lunch together, taking a break from the harvest. At least two of them were men she had had flings with in years past, and one of them was her current partner. They all glanced up, startled at her sudden presence. Breathless, she dropped the pot on the ground, and her eyes began to rapidly wet as she blinked back the tears, unsure if they were from the exertion or from the feeling rising in her chest. “You have to come,” she rasped. Clearing her throat, she said it again, loud enough for everyone to hear. “You all have to come and… meet this man. He just told me everything I’ve ever done, and… he’s a Jew — I’ve never seen him before in my life.” One of the older men, a village elder and their only Torah sage, rose to his feet. He had never seen her like this before. She locked eyes with him, and he saw a light there he had never witnessed before. “I think… I think he might be the One.”

The men all looked at the elder, given pause by such an unexpected and uncharacteristic declaration. He paused, taking in the entire scene, thinking, considering— the abject poverty all around him, the desperation in the eyes of the men, the children wearily playing across the way, the woman they all knew as a broken soul standing before them with a fierce light in her eyes, and found himself suddenly impetuous. He nodded vigorously. “Well? You heard the woman! She found the Messiah! What are you waiting for?”

Meanwhile, back at the Well, the devotees pulled out some fruit, nuts, and dried meat they had purchased in Sychar and urged Salvation, “Rabbi, eat something — you must be famished!” But Salvation replied, “I already ate.” Now the devotees were quite confused, murmuring to one another, “who brought him something to eat?” Salvation smiled again at their apparent confusion. “I get nourishment just by doing what I was born to do, accomplishing the will of the One that sent me on this mission.”

The devotees started at him blankly, and this time Salvation laughed out loud. “Fellas — none of you that aren’t complete city slickers would look around at the fields and say, ‘there are four more months before harvest and the Feast of Tabernacles,’ would you? The devotees chuckled nervously, throwing knowing glances at the two or three men among them who had never done an honest day’s work in the field in their lives. They all knew well that it was harvest time right now, even the ones who grew up in the city slums. Visible behind Salvation at this moment, in fact, there were men working in the fields on the harvest. Salvation turned around and gestured toward the workers, as if introducing a distinguished guest. “Look! I’m telling you right now, just open your eyes and look. See. The fields are so ripe that they are literally white! The laborers are already clocking in and collecting their wages, gathering together themselves as firstfruits of the Age to Come. Then there will be joy all around, an abundant harvest that everyone can take part in and enjoy the fruits of their labor — farmer and laborer alike.”

“It’s true, isn’t it? The one that sows the seed is not the one who reaps the harvest. In the same way, you are my messengers, my envoys, sent to harvest a crop that you did not do the work of preparation for. Others that came long before us have been doing the hard work of sowing for a long time, but we here, at the end of the Age of Darkness and Oppression, are reaping the plentiful harvest.”

The whole village of Sychar came out to meet him, led by the woman, and he stayed with them for two days, because they entreated him to. The whole town was taken in by his deep wisdom and insightful teaching, and many of the Samaritans living there believed in his message of the arrival of the Divine Reign and trusted in him as their de factor Rabbi and Leader. After spending time with Salvation themselves, many of the folks from the village found the woman and said, “we were all intrigued by this man because of what you said, but now we’ve seen it with our own eyes, and you were absolutely right. This man and his message will be the Healing of the World.”

After two days of rest, Salvation left Sychar and finally returned to Galilee, avoiding for the time being his hometown (where Salvation had experienced first hand the old maxim of “the prophet finds no honor in his own country”). When he arrived, the people of Galilee welcomed him as something of a hero and a legend, since many of them had been in City of Peace during Passover and seen the signs he had performed there at the Temple Mount recently.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Salvation passed through Reed Village, where he had performed the sign of turning water into wine, and soon arrived in Village of Comfort. There was a Roman officer stationed there whose son had become very ill. When the officer heard of Salvation’s return to the area from Judea, he tracked him down, rode to the village where he was, and begged Salvation to come and heal his son. Everyone present looked at Salvation expectantly, wondering what he would do, especially since this man was a despised Roman occupier. Salvation sighed, exasperated. “Is that all you people want? Signs and wonders? You won’t believe in the Good Reign of God unless I do a bunch of magic tricks and healings for you?” The Roman officer, still bowing before Salvation, raised his head and caught Salvation’s eyes, his own eyes brimming with tears. “Sir,” he whispered quietly, the desperation catching as a choke in his throat, “please. Help me. My little boy is going to die.” He hung his head, ashamed of his own weakness, barely suppressing a sob as his shoulders quaked uncontrollably.

You could hear a pin drop. Salvation crouched next to him and looked him in the eye, placing his hand on the Gentile’s shoulder. “Go,” he whispered kindly, “your boy will live.” The officer rose to his feet, a distinct sense of peace washing over him. He was dozens of miles from home, and yet he knew — he simply knew — that Salvation was telling the truth. He dipped his head in thanks and walked out, the devotees parting to let him through. He rode all night, and the next morning, his assistants met him on the road and informed him that his son had made a full recovery. “What time did this happen?” he inquired. “Yesterday — early afternoon,” they repled. Something came alive in the father at that moment, as he realized it was at that exact moment when Salvation said to him, “your son lives.” The officer decided in that moment that he and his whole household — wife, children, servants — would believe in this man, and in the Divine Reign of God he was preaching.

This unexpected moment with the Roman officer was now the second sign Salvation had performed after returning from Judea to Galilee.

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Joel Michael Herbert

Husband. Father. Artist. Storyteller. Armchair Theologian. Advocate, activist and politician. Gryffindor. [neuro]Divergent.