The men stopped talking and stared at the distance; a few of them looked at the ground. She was alone, and her hair was long and untied. She walked fast, her face flushed in the midday heat and her eyes ablaze.
A moment later, she had passed, and they were beyond earshot.
“Reminds me of Pete’s wife,” said Matthew. They laughed while Matthew paused: “… the Thursday one.”
Pete smiled. “You’re right, Matthew,” he said. “She did look like your mother.”
Matthew was still learning his place. They arrived back at the well where their other friends were waiting, and Matthew handed out the food.
“They must’ve baked this over camel dung,” said Phil.
“These figs are like a wad of sandal leather,” said Andy.
“Jesus, this is terrible,” said Tom.
Jesus took the bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples. “Take, eat,” he said, “and quit complaining.”
Bart noticed a bucket beside the well and drew some water. He drank and dipped his bread and poured the rest of the water over his back. “Good thing some ditz forgot this here,” he said.
“She was no ditz,” said Jesus. His voice was stern, but his face softened at the sight of her in the distance.
Pete stopped chewing and looked from Jesus’ face to Bart’s. “Lord,” – he swallowed and turned back to Jesus – “you know her?”
Then Jim and John arrived, sweating and with their mouths already full. “These Samaritans are as interested in the coming judgment as we are in Mount Gerizim,” said Jim. “And their heads are as hard as their bread,” said John.
The two brothers followed Jesus’ eyes over their shoulders to the woman on the road. Smiles slid from their faces. “She seemed…nice,” said Jim.
“She was,” said Jesus.
They were surprised to find that Jesus had been talking with the woman but no one asked, “Why were you talking to her?” Instead, they asked each other about the price of fish in town, the cost of getting it so far inland, and how much tax they guessed went unreported in this part of Samaria.
They finished their food, and Judas realized Jesus hadn’t eaten. “We just spent more than two hours getting this lunch,” he said, “not to mention the obscene prices.”
John gathered the remaining scraps onto a burlap rag and brought them to Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “eat something.”
“I have food to eat that you know nothing about,” said Jesus.
“What!” Judas hadn’t wanted to stop here in the first place. He lowered his voice, “Why in Hades did we stop at this God-forsaken town,” he muttered, “if he’s been getting food delivered on the side?”
Jesus stood and set his face toward town. A cloud of dust, white and billowing, began to rise in the distance, and it spilled across the nearby fields.
“Open your eyes,” he said. “The world is full of people, and the reaper is eager at work.”
Pete rolled his eyes and sighed. He got to his feet and levelled his hand across his brow. He squinted at the dusty fields and finally saw the mob. His voice was urgent: “Judas, did you stiff that baker?”
Judas leapt up. “I paid that dog twice what his bread was worth!” He looked ready to defend himself against a coming charge.
Now all the disciples stood. “Maybe it’s just a bunch of farmers?” Tom was trying to remain calm, “…and their neighbours and their extended families…all simultaneously keen to start the harvest?”
The horizon was full. The people went out from the town and were coming to him.
“That’s a lot more than a bunch of farmers,” said Pete, “and it’s still four months until harvest.” He touched the hilt of the sword beneath his cloak. “Who knows what these Samaritans could be worked up about,” he slung his bag over his shoulder, “but let’s not wait around to find out.”
The disciples stuffed their mouths with bits of lunch and their bags with whatever was left.
Jesus finally put some bread in his mouth. He sat on the rim of the well, and his smile set his teeth bright against the wad of bread in his cheek. “I sent you to reap what you did not work for,” he said, “but where you 12 haggled for stale groceries, this woman has preached a revival. Now sit down. And get ready to reap the benefits of her labour.”
—Paul Cumin is pastor at Pemberton (B.C.) Christian Fellowship.