Updated: Jan 12, 2020
Traveling from the arid, lifeless, barren lands of Masada and the Dead Sea through the lush, lively, fruitfulness of Ein Gedi and the Jordan River was the first observation that began my reflection on living water. This living water was evident throughout. In addition to seeing the water and where it had been, one saw the ways water has impacted people’s lives, in addition to changing the landscapes.
Although the Dead Sea may have healing properties due to its high levels of salt, it is also a place where there is no life; no living creatures can survive in the waters of the Dead Sea. Then the water of Jordan, where Jesus had been baptized, brought about a range of emotions from remembering my baptism to the messiness of the world that we live in now. Finally, the Sea of Galilee is filled with water that is alive with living creatures. It is the source of fresh water and fish, both historically and currently, that is used in the Holy Lands for drinking, for food, for irrigation. Clearly this water brought and continues to bring livelihood to people. In the Bible, the Sea of Galilee is referred to as a lake and it is said that this lake is where Jesus walked on water (Mark 6:45-52 and other gospels) and calmed the storm (Luke 8:22 and other gospels). When we arrived at Qaser El Yahud, a possible location of Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17), the Jordan river was not at all what I had expected. The dirtiness of the water brought about so much meaning to the pilgrimage we had just begun and what was to come. As Dr. Works shared with us: “We have seen a sea of death, and here in this spot, this river of life is literally mixing before it goes into the Sea of Galilee and it is a messy space, and in this river…is a bunch of…promised land. We have encountered this week that the reality that this very land that we are enjoying as pilgrims, is contested space… this promised land…has been a political mess for many years.”
On our journey from Samaria to Jerusalem, we came to a place where we discussed how the water became living water for so many. Inside the Church of St. Photina lies what is known as Jacob’s Well. This is believed to be where Jesus interacted with the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42). This encounter holds many meanings and interpretations. Not only does Jesus step outside the norm to interact with the Samaritan woman. This was unusual because Jews did not hold high regard for women nor did they interact with Samaritans. The Samaritan woman shows that she is interested when she asked, as Dr. Holmes shared, “why are you sitting at a well if what you offer is running water” and there is also evidence that she is a theologian. Dr. Holmes also shared these thoughts: “Jesus switches the subject…in order to show he is a prophet, he knows what she has not told him…She shows that she is a theologian because the conversation moves toward questions of how the Samaritans and Jews are related to each other. The questions are around two main things, one is the place of worship…related to Jesus through the Spirit and truth…and then messianic expectation…the differences among Jews and Samaritans…The Samaritans are the first step beyond Judaism between the Jews and Gentiles.” With this interaction, Jesus breaks down barriers of division in the culture of that time. In today’s world, this site has been a place of contention because the traditions of Jewish, Christian, Samaritan, and Muslim people all have an association with Jacob’s Well. What can we learn from Jesus’ time at the well, in order to come together to find ways to bring peace to this land?
Throughout our pilgrimage, we saw how people were dependent on water for both their healing and survival. Many places we went to had healing pools. Two that stood out were the Pool of Bethesda and the Pool of Siloam. In biblical times, the Pool of Bethesda was a place where Jesus went against tradition and healed on the sabbath. In this pool, Jesus healed a man who had been sick for 38 years (John 5) and was a witness to words that Moses prophesied through God.
Later, we continued our pilgrimage by visiting the City of David and explored the tunnels of the city and passed by the Pool of Siloam. These tunnels were the means of supplying the city with water. They allowed the people to have access to water without traveling outside the walls of the city and consequently when the city was besieged, they still had water. The Pool of Siloam was where Jesus applied spit and mud to a blind man’s eyes and sent him to wash them in the pool of Siloam (John). In this pool, through the healing power of Jesus, the man washed out his eyes and could see again. The man shared with others what Jesus had done for him and he was scrutinized. Through this man’s faith, Jesus was able to teach about spiritual blindness.