Today is Oculi Sunday – the third Sunday in Lent. The name comes from the first word in Latin of the introit of the day (taken from Psalm 25): Oculi mei semper ad Dominum – My eyes are always on God. If you’re a real stickler you can hear (or sing) the introit as a Gregorian chant. This site will give you the full monty: text, music, original Latin with translation and commentary, plus an .mp3.
My liturgical side is minute (at best), so I’ll pass.
The lectionary Gospel reading this year (Year A) is the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). You may need to familiarize yourself with it if your memory is hazy – or you don’t know it.
The story has two key elements. First, Jesus does not treat the woman harshly even though she has had 5 husbands and the man she is currently living with is not her husband. Jesus was not a moralist, unlike many contemporary so-called Christians. Second, the woman was a Samaritan, and Jews and Samaritans generally despised one another (which is why the story of the Good Samaritan is so poignant). Jesus preached tolerance of those who are different from us in religion and culture. We could use a lot more of that kind of tolerance these days.
The story of the woman at the well does not get a lot of coverage in the popular world but, curiously there is an Irish song that tells it:
The story also introduces the idea of “bread of heaven” and “living water” as images of the spiritual life. Both images are reflected in one of my favorite hymns, Cwm Rhondda (Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah):
The history of Samaria and Samaritans, and their historic relations with Jews is rather obscure. According to the Bible Samaria is roughly coterminous with the region that was originally designated for the two half tribes of Joseph: Ephraim and Manasseh. Here we encounter an immediate problem. There is no clear evidence that the tribal boundaries given in the Hebrew Bible match historical facts. It is certainly true (in my expert opinion !!!) that the farther back in time we go in the history of Israel, the more unreliable the Bible is. I have no hesitation in saying, for example, that the kings David and Solomon did not exist. At the purported time of their massive kingdoms, Jerusalem was little more than a village of shepherds according to archeology. It is reasonably clear that in the 8th century BCE the region of Samaria was wealthy and opulent. The early prophets Amos and Hosea rail against the region for its ostentation and greed, and this is confirmed by archeology.
In 726–722 BCE, the new king of Assyria, Shalmaneser V, invaded Israel and besieged the city of Samaria, the capital. After an assault of three years, the city fell and much of its population was taken into captivity and deported. The great mystery is what happened to the people who were deported (the so-called Lost Tribes of Israel), and who took their place. There was a lot of friction between the new Samaritans and the remaining Jews in Judah and in Galilee down to the time of Jesus. But from the outside it’s hard to distinguish between Samaritans and Judeans. The Samaritans used the Torah as their sacred text, celebrated the High Holy Days and so forth. The Samaritan Torah is somewhat different in places from the classic Jewish Torah, but not significantly. So, why were the Jews and the Samaritans at odds so much? I suspect it was a simple matter of prejudice against newcomers (i.e. immigrants). We know all about that. In Jesus’ time people usually skirted around Samaria if they were traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee. Jesus did not. He ploughed through Samaria in a straight line, and was not fazed at all by common prejudice. This behavior got him noticed.
The archeological record of Samaria in Biblical times is chock full of cooking pots. In fact styles of cooking pots are used to date sites and archeological strata. What was cooked in the pots is mere speculation but some things are reasonably clear. If the people had kilns to fire pots they had ovens to bake yeast bread. Furthermore, the superabundance of cooking pots tells us that boiling food was the common daily habit. The Seven Species – wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranates, olive, and date – were the staples in Biblical times. Meat would have been a rarity, and hunted meat was a bonus. Hence for a celebratory meal I’m going to make a rabbit stew. Simplicity needs to be the order of the day here. You can’t brown meat in a ceramic pot. You have to simply add the meat, jointed, to the pot, cover with water and add whatever seasonings you have on hand, such as onions and garlic. Then bring the pot to a simmer and cook for several hours. It’s a very simple dish, obviously, but you can dress it up. Bitter herbs such as horehound and wormwood were available, as were mushrooms in season.
Here’s my effort for the day: