I took a trip to Sychar today, to The Well in the village center. There I met a young, half-starved girl who had eyes of jade and amber under her striped headcovering. The girl's name was Mara, which means bitter, and life had mirrored her name for far too long. She was the daughter of Nava, the infamous village scandal: the woman who has been married five times.
Her mother's sinful reputation and obvious emptiness left Mara torn to pieces... she wanted to shake her mother for ruining their family, and she wanted to find whatever her mother needed to heal and live again.
Over the years, Mara swallowed her sorrow and buried her dreams, providing the best she could for her beloved brother and desperately trying to hide her mother's secret. Nava had been married five times, but she also had another man who was not her husband. No one else knew of this but Mara, and no one must ever know. If Nava's adultery were ever proved to be more than just gossip at the well, no pardon would be granted to her.
Samaria was a harsh land, and judgements there were harsher, judgements unmixed with mercy or grace and tainted with pride and revenge.
Mara lived with the hope that someday the Taheb (The Restorer) would come. Though of course He would not care to help outcasts such as Mara's mother, would he?
After visiting with Mara at The Well, I will not read John Four the same way again.
I had never imagined what this woman's children would have felt like, and I hadn't thought too deeply about Nava herself. Stephanie Landsem has made them real people.
Stephanie has woven another story into Mara's, the story of Shem ben Ezra.
Shem was a cultured young scholar, skilled in languages and laws, exiled to the olive groves of his Samaritan grandparents to escape Roman crucifixion. When Shem found Mara weeping in a moonlit olive grove, he was drawn to help her.
Soon, Shem and all of the village must look into the Taheb's face and decide whether they will drink of the living water only He can give. Shem must come to terms with this question: If following Jesus meant denying something you desire, will you lay that desire aside and answer His call?
Questions of Law, Mercy, and Love are raised in The Well, leaving you with much to think about.
The truth of the living water and its source flows through these pages, cool and cleansing, calling us to come and drink deeply.
The ending may shock some people, but when I reflect on it I think it is the most beautiful, fitting ending any of our stories could hope to have.
Thank you Stephanie Landsem for this worthy Biblical fiction, and thank you for sending me a copy to review. I hope to have the honor of reviewing your next books!
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