Thursday, January 24, 2008

Wells and Towers

Thursday, January 24, 2008 -- Week of 2 Epiphany, Year 2
(Ordination of Florence Li Tim-Oi, First Woman Priest in the Anglican Communion, 1944)

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 945)
Psalms 37:1-18 (morning) 37:19-42 (evening)
Genesis 11:1-9
Hebrews 6:13-20
John 4:1-15

It seems like there is so much in the readings today. I am struck by how elements of the stories and geography of two of the readings are also factors in what we will read in our newspapers today.

Beginning with the story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman. It appears that some sort of conflict or hostility has arisen during the baptizing that John and Jesus' (or his disciples) were doing in Judah. Jesus leaves to return to his homeland in Galilee. The direct route is through Samaria.

Five centuries earlier, when the Jewish exiles were working to rebuild Israel under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, those Jewish leaders rejected offers of support and partnership in the rebuilding when their relatives who were living among them in the land offered their friendship. The Jewish leaders banned Samaritans and others from having any part in the renewed community. Thus began bitter divisions that last unto this day.

In an arid land, wells are vital and critical resources, places of life. We have a heritage of great Biblical stories that happen at wells -- Abraham's servant finds a wife for Isaac at a well; Jacob and Rachel meet at a well; Moses meets the daughters of Ruel and finds his family at a well. These are all stories that combine quests with family engagements.

It is noon. The hottest time of the day. Not a time to do the hard chore of carrying water from the well to the home. Jesus meets a woman from Samaria. Five centuries of hostility are underneath their meeting. From the Jewish perspective, she is a heretic; she and her vessels are unclean. From a Samaritan perspective, he is the enemy. Even if she were Jewish, Jesus would be culturally forbidden to speak to an unescorted woman who is not a member of his family. The levels of separation between Jesus and this woman are profound.

Jesus ignores centuries of tradition and religious practice and asks her for water. (Hear the gasps from those who practice their Judaism.) Then Jesus freely offers to share with her the living water from God that he brings as life to the world. Could we ask for a more profound challenge to all the ways we separate ourselves from other human beings on the basis of historical enmity, cultural practice and religious belief?

In Genesis we read the story of the tower of Babel. The setting is Babylon, called the land of Shinar. Today we call it Baghdad in the land of Iraq. In one sense, this is a folk tale, a legend or myth that answers great questions: "Daddy, why do people speak different languages? Why are we scattered all over the earth into different tribes, separated by language and culture?"

It is also a tale of the temptation to power. Knowledge and technology when mixed with human pride and presumption may turn into projects that have a blasphemous character. We will make proud towers that will reach into heaven. We will be like gods.

Knowledge and technology is dangerous power. It can only be used safely when approached humbly, with deference toward how God would have us exercise such powers.

Like so many good stories, this folk tale has a good play on words. The Hebrew word "balal" means "to confuse." The name "Babel" in the language of Babylon means "Gate of God." Maybe you have seen pictures of the ruins and archaeological reconstruction designs of the high pyramid-like structure called a ziggaurat. It was a temple of the gods of ancient Babylon.

In how many ways does the conflict (the confusion) in modern Babylon/Baghdad and modern Samaria/Israel track the cultural divisions these stories reflect. So much of the war in Iraq has its genesis in the dark side of technology. Does Saddam have WMD's? We will overcome them with "shock and awe" -- smart bombs, satellite guided missiles and apocalyptic-like munitions.

How different might our human history be if Jesus at the well had been our core paradigm?

Lowell
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Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.


Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html


The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas

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