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King Fahd’s Fountain reminds me of a story…

Jeddah’s famous King Fahd’s Fountain–the highest fountain in the world. Eighteen tons of water at any given moment, looking as though suspended in air, towering more than 800 feet above the Red Sea.

I grabbed a taxi and was off to the fountain

I’ve been living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for six months now. I had seen the famous King Fahd’s Fountain from the rooftop of my building here, but never up close. So last night I flagged down a taxi and took off for the fountain! Water makes me think, and a lot of water makes me think a lot.

Seeing King Faud’s Fountain last evening brought back  a couple of memories. For one thing, it reminded me of the great Jet d’Eau  fountain in Geneva, Switzerland. The Jet d’Eau (French for “water jet”) is one of Geneva’s most famous landmarks.

I saw Geneva’s Jet d’Eau for the first time when I was beginning my world travels. I had just graduated high school from Bob Jones Academy and was working in France during the summer with the Evangelical Reformed Church. At the end of the summer I spent time in Switzerland and Germany before returning to the US to begin college.

The fountain reminded of Jesus’ story about a woman

Seeing King Fahd’s Fountain also reminded me of some words from Jesus–something about a “fountain” in our hearts that would spring up in our lives giving life to people. This morning I pulled out my Bible—a book, by the way that Muslims throughout the world hold in great respect. (The Qur’an refers often to the writings of the Bible. The Bible, in the Quran, is called “the Book.” And Jews and Christians are referred to respectfully in the Qur’an as “the people of the Book.”) So, being a “person of the Book,” I was eager to find this passage.

Christ and the woman of Samaria as depicted by Italian artist Giovanni Francesco Guercino.

My Bible search took me to the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John. And, here’s the picture. Jesus was in Samaria—a nation disrespected by the Jews. We read that the hatred for Samaritan people was so strong among the Jews that they would have absolutely no association or business with them. Jews had been taught by their religious leaders to not even speak to a Samaritan. When travelling north toward Nazareth, the Jews would go out of their way to avoid Samaria and its population. The Samaritan people, in their opinion were evil–the “scum of the earth.” To even speak to one of them or shake hands with one of them would make you “unclean.”

Jesus abhorred racism and hatred

Jesus, when travelling north to the region of Lake Galilee (or Nazareth), didn’t avoid Samaria. We read in the Gospel of John, “Now it was necessary for him to go through Samaria.” In other words he had some work to do in Samaria—some compelling mission there. He simply had to go there.

From this story we can see that Jesus was not a racist or xenophobic. The religious leaders of Jerusalem were teaching people to hate the Samaritans. We know Jesus had no hate towards anyone; however, he did have some pretty harsh words for religious leaders of his day.

Jesus was full of God’s love and mercy! It had been a long trip—a lot of walking for many miles, probably at least 60 miles. Jesus and his disciples were tired and hungry. Arriving in Samaria, his disciples took off in search of food, while Jesus sat down  and rested alone at a public well. And there at that well his mission was accomplished.

While Jesus is sitting by the well, a strange woman comes to draw water. He speaks to her. He asks her, “Will you give me a drink?” Now she recognizes that Jesus is a Jew, and she knows the Jews hate Samaritans, and she asks, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

Then we read that not only did Jesus continue the conversation with her, but he revealed many things to her about her life. He told her things that even some of her closest friends didn’t know.

Marriage laws

Sam with Saudi and Syrian friends having dinner Bedouin-style. Two huge platters of lamb and rice, complete with individual large bowls of fresh camel milk!

The religious laws regarding marriage and divorce were extremely strict at that time. This woman had lived with six different men—without ever being married. Jesus asked her if she were married. She responded, “I have no husband.”  Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands (lovers), and the man you now have is not your husband.”

Now this would have been extremely disconcerting to the Jewish religious leaders back in Jerusalem! They would have condemned Jesus for talking to her and then stoned the woman to death.

Not only did Jesus go to Samaria, not only did he speak with a Samaritan woman at the well, not only was she a Samaritan woman—the Jewish religious leaders would have also considered her a horrible sinner—a prostitute, and, in their opinion, certainly no one should associate with such a disgusting, immoral person.

Now the “fountain” part of the story!

But here sat Jesus in Samaria, totally at ease, talking with someone others would have rejected out of hand as a mere “piece of human garbage”—or worse. We read that Jesus, speaking about the water from that well, said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life!”

And then it’s said that the disciples returned, and were shocked to see him sitting with this strange Samaritan woman in public—talking so freely with her.

Even today we disassociate ourselves from certain types of people who don’t behave as we behave. Many Christians and Jews today will not associate with Muslims. They are either afraid of Muslims, or they are offended by what they think Muslims believe about them.

Before I came to live in Saudi Arabia many of my friends and family members questioned my actions. “Aren’t you afraid of getting kidnapped?” I did go online to the US State Department website, and there was prominently displayed a warning for Americans not to travel in certain parts of Saudi Arabia. (By the way, I’d probably warn my Muslim friends, when travelling in the US to avoid Alabama and a couple of other states!)

Some very convinced Christians, say terrible things about Muslims. “They’re all terrorists,” I’ve been told. “Muslims hate Christians and Jews.” “Muslims stone people to death.” I’ve been told that Muslims hate this kind of people or that kind of people. Saudi Arabia is dangerous. And on and on…

“You’re a Christian, and I’m a Muslim. Why are you talking to me?”

Sam with Muhammed and Waleed. We have no problem appreciating and caring about each other.

Now, when I first arrived in Saudi Arabia some Muslims were suspicious of me, an American Christian. They were of the impression that most Americans and western Christians hate Muslims. They heard from a relative living in the US about how Muslims are sometimes treated in the US. They see on TV that American Christians and Jews are protesting the construction of mosques in Tennessee or near Ground Zero in New York. Or they read about some ill-informed, fundamentalist Christian pastor who’s publicly burning “Qur’ans.”

There is so much misunderstanding in the world today, and if people would just communicate, as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman, a lot of the hate, bigotry and cruelty on all sides would dissipate. The disinformation about what the Bible says or the Qur’an says would be overcome if we would just sit down and talk.

Are we different?

We ask, are there important differences between us Christians, Jews and Muslims? Yes. Do we agree on all aspects of theology? No—we never will.

But we can also ask, do we Muslims and Christians have anything in common? Yes, both in our faiths and as members of the human race! Can we be friends? Yes! I now know that as fact.

We all claim to worship the God of Abraham. We can kneel or bow in prayer and worship together. (I am doing that with my friends here!) We can show respect and love to each other. We can look at past injustices that were committed and injustices that persist today and seek to right wrongs and commit to doing right towards each other now and in the future. We can all be like Jesus who was tolerant and non-condemning of others who were different.

All my friends here are Muslims. They are from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Yemen and Pakistan. We have already learned to pray together and to trust one another–but also important we love and respect one another as human beings. We work side by side, supporting and helping one another as we pursue forgiveness and reconciliation in the Middle East and around the world.

What should we do?

Somehow, after reading this story about Jesus and the Samaritan woman, I just can’t picture Jesus rallying people to stone prostitutes, or to somehow make life more difficult for them than other types of sinners. I can’t picture Jesus organizing his disciples in North Carolina, to make certain lifestyles illegal or telling people to “break wrists” or “punch” people until they are just like you and me.  

The person of Jesus is greatly respected, not only by Christians, but also by Muslims and Jews. Muslims consider Jesus as a great Prophet and the Messiah. The Jews, certainly think of him as an important, wise rabbi, and they would admit that he remains the most famous Jew that ever walked the earth.  So Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman have meaning to all of the Abrahamic faiths. We can all picture Jesus reaching out to people who are despised, rejected or different, saying, “I love you. I offer you God’s water–like a fountain that will spring up, gush up inside your hearts. The water I’m talking about gives life and hope!”

So all of these thoughts came to my mind when I was standing alone last night gazing at King Fahd’s Fountain. Now that you know what I was thinking, here is what I saw:

May 11, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments