A vase balanced on her shoulder, held in place by her upraised left arm, Miri walked towards the Well of Yakobel. She herded seven young goats before her, chiding them for wandering, tapping the occasional animal who tarried too long with a willow switch to move forward. For the most part her flock ambled about her contentedly, constantly jockeying for position, woven about her as one randomly metamorphosing entity.
As she approached the well, she noticed a young man resting beside the well. Eyes closed, he basked in the rays of the overhead sun. A donkey stood patiently under the shade of a nearby fig tree, its ears back and eyes closed. She thought perhaps the stranger was sleeping and she approached cautiously, but as she drew nearer, he opened his eyes and looked directly at her. In an instant, their eyes met and Miri was in shock.
She knew him!
She knew him as she knew her own image reflected from a dark pool of deep water.
“Yehuda!” She squealed in delight and broke into a run.
Her outburst startled the man, and he squinted into the sun to see who had called his name. He had no chance to react before Miri wrapped herself around him, and kissed him firmly on the lips.
“Yehuda, of Nazareth! It is I, Miriam! We met in Malayalam!”
“Miriam?” cried the man, “Of all the-”
“What in the Mother’s name are you doing in Sychar?”
“I am travelling home to Nazareth from the festival at Yerushalayim,” replied the stranger. “I am afraid to ask, but what do you know of my brother, Yehuda?”
“You are not…” Miri suddenly realized this was Yehuda’s brother. “Yeshua!” she gushed, “I knew your brother in Hindustan!”
“Praise be!” declared Yeshua, “I have not seen Yehuda for many years! I had thought him lost!”
Miri could not look Yeshua in the eye. “The last time I saw him he was in bondage, but I received a letter that he had escaped and was making his way to Galillee.”
“Hindustan is very far from here,” said Yeshua. Disappointment darkened his gaze. “It may take him time to return” he said hopefully, “I am sure that he will return when the time is right.”
For the most part, Yeshua seemed to take the news of his brother very calmly. Miri saw him for who he was for the first time. Though he had features very similar to Yehuda, she could sense within this twin a quiet assurance, a physical confidence and a peaceful acceptance that Yehuda had not. Yeshua, though quiet, was a strong willed, very masculine man, and she tingled for a moment as their eyes met.
“My brethren have gone into Sychar to find a place to stay for the night.” He said, “Do you live here in Sychar?”
“I grew up here, but I no longer live in Sychar,” Miri said. “I share a house in Bethany, east of Yerushalayim, and now live by the shores of the Kinnereth north of Tiberius. And you?”
Yeshua smiled and filled Miri with a peculiar sense of expectation and contentment. “I am from a small village south east of Nazareth called Bait Lehem.”
“I know it!” declared Miri, “I stopped by there once!”
“Then you may know my mother, Mariamne,” said Yeshua.
Miri remembered the matron who had brought her and her companions food from the village. “I believe I have, though I had little time to speak with anyone there. It was some time ago. Do you still live there?”
“No, our family lived in Nazareth until my father died. He…” Yeshua hesitated, and Miri sensed a great deal of pain, “He traveled a lot…”
He recovered quickly from his melancholy, “My mother has remarried and has moved to Kefar Nahum to live in a very loud house full of even louder fishermen.”
“By the name of Zebedee?” Miri asked excitedly, “Is she to be wed this week?”
“My! This is more than coincidence!” Yehsua declared, “Not only have you already met my mother, but you know of her new husband! What kind of a man is he?”
“He is hard-working,”
“Hard-working is good!” said Yeshua with a twinkle in his eye, “Perhaps he has other qualities,” he prompted, “Is he a harsh man?”
“Oh no!” replied Miri, “Quite the opposite! He is loud, that’s true, but he is kind and generous, and his face is a short and opened scroll!”
“My mother would need a man like that!” he replied tenderly.
“You haven’t met him?” Miri asked curiously.
“I have been-” He paused for a moment, “Away! I remained in the hills by Bait Lehem, and lost contact with my family! I rejoined my brothers and sisters, for we needed to atone for the sins of my father, before my mother could remarry. I have only once visited my mother after she moved to Nazareth.
“Dear Mother!” exclaimed Miri, “Perhaps we have passed on the street!”
“It is doubtful,” replied Yeshua, “As much as I would wish otherwise, for I am a shepherd now and rarely in the company of men.“ He paused. “Or women.” He stood up and bowed to her. “And I am sure I would remember seeing a woman as lovely as you, Miriam!” He held his hand out in greeting.
“Why did you remain by the well?” Miri asked as they disengaged from their clutch.
He smiled. “Well, someone had to watch Joab,” he said indicating the donkey standing patiently nearby. “I stayed because I was tired, but now I see that the Lord had placed the ache in my legs so that you and I would meet here at the well.”
“So, you are a seer? You knew I would come here? At this moment?”
“Do you doubt the will of God?” Yehuda countered amiably, “Why did you come to the well?”
“To draw water,” replied Miri.
“Indeed,” observed Yehuda, “And is it common for women in these parts to carry water at the height of the mid-day sun? Where I live, this is done in the early morning.”
Miri checked the knot of the dipping rope around the handles of the bucket.
“It is so here, but I had nothing to do and these few goats-”
After she tightened the rope with a final tug, she lowered the bucket by the rope into the well. After what seemed like an eternity, the bucket slid under the surface of the dark green pool far below. The current caught the bucket and she pulled upward and strained under the weight of the full bucket. Yeshua moved to her side and helped pull on the rope. He smelled vaguely of sweet field flowers and sweat, and she concentrated on the task of hauling on the rope so that she would not be distracted by the feel of his body touching hers.
“You-” she began. Her brow furrowed “This is woman’s work. You feel no dishonour in doing women’s work?”
“As long as a woman such of yourself lives upon the earth, I am sure you will find a hundred men who would stoop to help you.” Miri was suddenly embarrassed by his answer and averted her eyes downward, concentrating on the task of drawing the jar the last few feet from the well. The muscles on Yeshua’s bare arms strained and stood out magnificently as he lifted the amphora onto the stone ledge of the well wall, and Miri took a deep breath and hauled on the rope.
At the very moment she thought she might melt from her own heat, their attention was caught by the sound of voices.
“My family,” said Yehuda apologetically, as he grasped the bucket by its handles, then set it firmly on the ground beside the well.
A group of three pilgrims drew nearer and Miri could see by their faces they were greatly surprised to find Yeshua talking with a woman. Although they were deeply curious, none of them asked Miri who she was or Yeshua why he was talking to her. Miri was surprised at this, as Jews and Samaritans very rarely spoke without going for each other’s throat, unless it was to vehemently argue over the price of an item of mutual interest up for sale.
“There is no room for us in Sychar,” announced the young man leading the group.
“My youngest brother, Yusef,” Yehuda gestured gallantly. “May I present Miriam of Tarichae?”
Yusef frowned for a moment then said “Shalom,” shyly.
“And Peace to you, Yusef.” returned Miri “So handsome!” she added, “Your betrothal will be the loss of every maiden in Galilee!”
Yusef blushed and Miri smiled warmly at the youngster, “My father-in-law has the same name as you!”
“My sister Rebecca,” continued Yehuda.
Rebecca carried a large basket of round loaves in the crook of her left arm.
“Shalom!” Rebecca hugged Miri with her right hand, and Miri knew the Soul within Rebecca instantly. A force held them together for an instant longer than a usual greeting. “You’re a long way from home,” commented Rebecca, “Are you travelling alone?”
“I am visiting with my sister and her family in Sychar,” answered Miri, “We came to fulfill a dream. We had property here once.” She omitted that they had also celebrated the Solstice with the few remaining Daughters of Astarte at Mount Gerizim.
“My sister Judith,” said Yehuda, indicating the thin girl standing shyly behind Rebecca.
Judith smiled wanly and stared down at her feet.
“Miriam has met our dear prodigal, Yehuda!” announced Yeshua, “She met him in the far eastern lands of the Hindus.”
The siblings all began to ask questions at once and the ensuing babble was almost unintelligible. They wanted to know all about their brother, and finally Miri had to hold her hands up for quiet. “I will tell you all I know about Yehuda at supper! You must all come to my sister’s house!”
Miri’s smile faded for a moment for she realized she knew nothing by her own eyes of Yehuda’s fate. Yeshua quietly stepped from behind the others, and the intensity of his gaze made her gasp.
“What is wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing is wrong,” replied Miri breathlessly, “In fact events seem very right, but I am not sure why that would be.” She held her hand to her breast in an effort to regain her composure. “I am sorry, but despite my knowing Yehuda, I cannot help but feel that you and I have met before. You seem as familiar to me as my own sisters.”
Yeshua frowned briefly. Though his eyes never wavered from hers, Miri felt the fingers of his mind caress every fibre of her being. The feeling of familiarity was even greater than she had felt when she had first spied him, and now, in this instant, she knew Yeshua was almost her own reflection standing before her, but he was so much more than her twin. Their spirits recognized each other as being One.
“I know you well,” he said simply, in echo to her thoughts.
“And I you,” returned Miri.
Suddenly aware that there were others around them, Miri changed the subject. “Could I get you a drink of water?”
“That would be very kind of you,” he said softly.
“Oh I almost forgot,” said Miri, “You are Jews and I a Samaritan. Do you mind using the same cups and bowls that I use?”
“It is not that which enters the mouth which defiles us, but that which comes out of it,” returned Yeshua. “Besides we are children of Israel, not the progeny of Judah, and are used to dealing with gentiles and apostates!”
“Excellent!” declared Miri, “And you are not a typical follower of Yahweh, I would think.”
“I am what I am.”
“Yehuda looks so much like you!” Miri said to Yeshua.
“Not as alike as you might think, Miriam,” interrupted Rebecca, slipping her hand into the crook of Miriam’s arm. “To strangers they seem as alike as coins within a wallet, but Yeshua is gold throughout and Yehuda’s twinkle is only on the surface.”
“She is teasing you,” said Yeshua. “We are more alike than grapes on a vine.”
“But,” said Rebecca, “Yehuda tries at every turn to turn the grape juice to vinegar when Yeshua turns all to wine!”
“Every household has need of both,” replied Miri, “Your mother and father have been blessed!”
The mention of the parents immediately sobered the group.
“I am sorry,” apologized Miri.
“Our father is dead,” said Rebecca quietly, “We must return to Nazareth in order to clear her house and sell the property before Lag B’Omer! We have just returned from the Temple in Yerushalayim to offer a sacrifice for him. Because of Mother Mary’s wedding, we did not stay for the Passover.”
“It was his last wish,” said Yusef bitterly, and Miri sensed an undercurrent of darkness within the family, of an unspoken secret. “He wished for us to make a sacrifice to atone for his sins.”
“Would that your prayers are answered,” said Miri, “You are traveling to Kefar Nahum for your Mother’s wedding?”
The siblings exchanged glances.
“She asked us not to come,” replied Rebecca.
“What?” asked Miri in surprise, “For Heaven’s sake! Why would she not want you there?”
“I think Mother Mary thinks we don’t approve of her remarrying,” answered Rebecca, “And she thought it best to clear our father’s name before she married. It was all very rushed. She said she didn’t want to make a fuss over it and that a second wedding should be like eating bread for breakfast!”
“She doesn’t know Zebedee!” declared Miri, “If she thinks she’s in for a quiet wedding, she’s joining the wrong family!”
“You know her suitor?” asked Judith in surprise.
“His sons!” she said. “Zebedee has not called upon me. He stays close to his nets!”
“Mother would approve of that!” declared Rebecca.
“How is it you came through Shechem and not through Perea on the Eastern side of the Jordan?” she asked, for Jews visiting the Temple usually traveled the high road through Perea to Yericho to avoid traveling in Samaria.
“Our brother Yakov and Mother Mary returned that way several days ago,” volunteered Yusef, “Yeshua wanted to see Mount Gerizim.”
“So, that is why you came this way?” Miri asked Yeshua, gesturing to the rocky crag of Mount Gerizim, “To see our mountain?”
“It is a sacred place for our ancestors, the Israelites, as well as you Samaritans. I could not persuade the mountain to come to me, so I came to it!” replied Yeshua staring into the heights of Gerizim.
“Some say that the Messiah will appear on the Holy Mount and explain All to the unenlightened,” answered Miri, turning back to Yeshua. “And he will teach us everything.”
“And you are talking to him.” interrupted Rebecca.
The others laughed, and Yeshua grinned sheepishly.
“Don’t get our brother talking of the ways of God, or you’ll be listening until God himself calls for Gabriel to blow his shofar loud enough to silence him!”
Balancing the jar with one hand, Yeshua reached into a bag slung around his shoulder, and produced a dipper. He filled it with water from the jar and offered it to Miri.
“I-” She stopped.
Yeshua was now less than an arm’s length away, and Miri fought an overpowering urge to pull him to her and kiss him firmly and drink deeply of his soul. Her palms ached to touch his body and to pull him hard against her. It seemed the most natural thing in the world for her to do! It felt so right!
Her emotions were so intense she felt giddy. She touched her hand to her forehead. He looked at her with concern. He reached up and held her by the arm, and she felt a wave of energy flow between them as he touched her. He led her to the stone wall by the well, and she sat down. She felt extremely hot, and pulled the veil from her face to catch her breath.
Concerned, Yeshua held his dipper to her lips. Miri closed her eyes as she drank from it. Never had she tasted water so sweet! The taste was so exquisite that Miriam moaned. When she opened her eyes, she and Yeshua were no longer at the well. They stood beneath the lush green branches of the tree at the centre of the world.
“I can only wonder what God gives us,” whispered Yeshua, “If you ask me now for a drink, I would give you the gift of this life-giving water. Drink of the water I give, and you will never be thirsty again. The Water of Life will become a spring within your soul and flow with life-giving water so that you shall live in me as I in you. Together, we will find eternal love.”
“Yeshua,” whispered Miriam, “give me that water so I will never thirst again. Nor ever will I ever have to come here again to draw water.” She reached into the branches above her and produced a pomegranate. “And if you ask me now for food, I would give you the gift of life-giving fruit. Eat of the fruit I give, and you will never be hungry again. The fruit will grow from the field of your soul and its seed will grow and you shall live in me as I in you. Together we will find eternal life.”
She lifted the pomegranate to Yeshua’s mouth.
“Lord save me!” cried Yeshua in shock, and the dream world faded instantly, replaced by the hot landscape of Canaan. “This is incredible!” he cried, “I have dreamed of you more times than I can remember! You are Eve!”
“My name is Miriam,” said Miri.
“No! You don’t understand!” cried Yeshua, “I have dreamed of you. You are Eve! The woman in the Garden. You are the one the Lord sent to tempt me! I have seen you in the Garden of Eden, and you ate the Fruit of Life and offer it to me! You are the One who passed me the chalice filled with the Water of Life!”
In an instant, Miri knew she had seen him in the same place and the entire cosmos seemed to twist and distort around her. She could feel the hair on her body rising, pulling her skin into goosebumps.
“Mother, preserve me!" she gasped, “You are the Gardener!”
She grasped him by his sleeves. “I have dreamed of you as well!” she explained, “My dream is of a garden. In the centre of the Garden is a tree. A beautiful tree guarded by a snake. And you! You were the one tending the Garden, watering the tree! I gave you a crystal goblet with water from the pool!”
“Yes!” answered Yeshua, “It is you!”
Overcome, they stood a footstep apart and gripped each other’s arms tightly.
Judith coughed politely to gain their attention, and, embarrassed, Miri and Yeshua released their grip on each other’s arm.
“So, you’re finished?” asked Yusef.
“I am sorry,” replied Miri, “You must allow me to make amends for my rudeness. You are staying with us tonight as my honoured guests,” said Miri to the family. “There is room for you at our table, and a place for your donkey in our sheepfold.”
“You are very kind,” answered Rebecca and stared quizzically at her older brother.
Yeshua shrugged and looked at Yusef. All eyes were on Yeshua. Yeshua looked at Miri. The silence was unbearable, but Miri held her tongue impatiently. It seemed Yeshua was taking forever to answer her invitation. Why was he hesitating?
“Perhaps you should ask your husband, first” said Yusef.
“She has no husband,” Yeshua replied.
Yusef stared at his brother in amazement. “She has a father-in-law, why would she not have a husband?”
Yeshua smiled. “I don’t know,” then continued, looking directly at Miriam, “You have been betrothed to five men, and yet you married none. Nor is the man you live with now really your father or husband, nor is he your brother.”
“I see you are a seer, Yeshua,” Miri said, “You are almost right, and your words are almost true. I have been close to five men, but with none married. But for now, Yusef, father of David, my brother-in-law, the dead husband of my sister, Yohanna, her husband Chuza and I, would that you and your brethren would stop and eat with us.” she turned to face Yeshua and her eyes bored into him, “Married or not, I have no need to ask any man permission to do as I wish! I will go now and prepare a greeting for you,” said Miri. She squeezed Yeshua’s arm and stepped forward to leave.
“What about your goats?” asked Yusef, “They have not been watered.”
Miri stopped. She had forgotten them entirely.
“Don’t worry,” said Rebecca, “Yusef and I will water them. It is the least we can do to repay your hospitality.”
“I couldn’t possibly-” began Miri.
“Nonsense!” interrupted Yeshua, “Both Yusef and I are experienced shepherds!”
So Miri left her water jar for Yeshua and his family to water the goats and Joab, their donkey, and went back to the town to prepare her household for the visitors, promising to send a message when all was ready. Her flock seemed distressed at her leaving, and bleated plaintively as they watched her disappear down the road. The sound of water splashing into the stone watering trough distracted them, and as they drank of the water Yeshua had poured, they soon forgot their mistress.
As Yusef and Yeshua lowered the bucket into the well for another fill of water, Yusef smiled at his brother. “She has a fine spirit!” he said enthusiastically. Embarrassed, Yeshua stared down at the darkness below, and Rebecca and Judith exchanged knowing glances.
Miri’s heart beat rapidly as she entered the camp. Yohanna sat on the ground helping Martha prepare vegetables for the evening meal, and she looked up and smiled as Miri came in.
“Where is the water jar?” she asked Miri, then looked puzzled as she caught Miri’s elated mood.
“I left it at the well, with four travellers. I have invited them to be guests for dinner. I hope that you don’t mind. I couldn’t help myself!”
“Is one of them a man?” asked Yohanna, who had seen the look in her sister’s eyes before.
“Yes!” said Miri breathlessly, “He is the most amazing man I have ever met!” she declared enthusiastically. “You have to meet him, Yohanna!”
“Obviously if he is to eat in our house, then I should meet him,” replied Yohanna dryly. “Who is this man who has stolen your heart?”
“He told me of visions I have told no one! I think he may be the One.”
Staring directly at the vegetables, Martha sighed an exasperated sigh.
Miri raised her eyebrows at Martha.
“I have nothing to say!” Martha declared.
“You don’t approve!” stated Miri.
“I have nothing to say!” Martha said firmly, but could hold her silence no longer than a heartbeat. She looked up at the ceiling together her energy, and stared directly at Miri. “Even if I did have something to say, you would not listen to me. You listen to no one, so if I did say that you only just met this man, and that you should not play with him as a cat plays with a mouse, I don’t think you would hear me! You are beautiful and talented, and you play with men as if you were the Goddess herself!” Her voice rose in pitch and her hands trembled. “You use them, then throw them away like old rags! It’s not fair!”
Tears welling in her eyes, she threw the paring knife into the bowl, and ran out of the kitchen to the stables.
Yohanna and Miri stared at each other, shocked at Martha’s outburst.
“What ails Sister Martha?” asked Sister Miriam as she came in from the courtyard.
“Go to the pastures and ask Eliazar to bring the flock back to the fold immediately. We need a young lamb for sacrifice. We have guests.”
Miri cleared her throat. “Ah, I forgot to mention that our guests are Jews from Galilee. They may not take kindly to sacrifice at our field altar.”
“They will eat our food, or go hungry,” said Yohanna sternly. “Now, go and do as I say, Miriam!”
Sister Miriam disappeared as quickly as a zephyr, leaving a swirl of dust in her wake. Yohanna stared at the ceiling. “Mother, help me!” she sighed. Yohanna turned to Miri.
“Now, what is this of more Jews in our household? Have you gone mad, Miriam? Isn’t one Galilean enough? Now we must have four?”