Wednesday, August 11, 2010

From Prejudice to Grace

Wednesday, August 12, 2010 -- Week of Proper 14, Year Two
Clare, Abbess at Assisi, 1253
More about today's commemoration at our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 979)
Psalms 101, 109:1-4(5-19)20-30 (morning)       119:121-144 (evening)
Judges 13:15-24
Acts 6:1-15
John 4:1-26

Conflicts born of prejudice underline two stories of expansive grace today.  

Within the early church's works of charity, there is an accusation of discrimination.  Already Luke has said that the members of the early church sold their property and held all things in common, giving to all as any had need.  Such an arrangement would be particularly important to widows, who may have no adult male responsible for seeing to their well being.  The church provided for a daily distribution of food.  One secular source complained that the Christians fed not only their own widows but others not associated with the church as well.

As we begin Acts 6, there is a complaint.  The Christians who came from Greek-speaking Gentile origins complain that their widows "were being neglected in the daily distribution of food."  They say that the Aramaic speaking Christians from Jewish origins are discriminating against them.

In a nice piece of management and delegation, the twelve apostles appoint seven people to a ministry of service.  The Greek phrase describing their service is translated literally "to serve tables."  It is also a Greek idiom that can mean "to keep accounts" or "to handle finances."  Either interpretation makes sense, as the ministry is to provide for needs -- food and/or money -- serving any who may have needs.  The church looks to this story as the beginning of the order of deacon,  a word meaning "servant, minister, messenger." 

A story about a problem of prejudice and discrimination becomes the impetus for creating a stronger structure of generosity and charity.  That's a creative example of solving problems.

In the Gospel we have an even more dramatic and more creative image of overcoming prejudice.  Jesus is traveling from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north.  He is taking the less-used direct route through Samaria.  That's a little like an American going from India to Rome by traveling through Iran. 

Four hundred years before Jesus, the people remaining in the land during the exile, many of them Jewish themselves, were excluded from the rebuilding communities created by the exiles returning from Babylon, despite the locals offerings to help with the rebuilding efforts.  The separation amounted to a form of ethnic cleansing, which left neighbors alienated from one another for centuries. 

By the time of Jesus, Jews regarded Samaritans as unclean heretics and enemies.  Samaritans ignored or made troubles for any Jews who took the direct route through Samaritan territory between Judea and Galilee.  There was deep hatred between the cultures.

Middle Eastern culture also forbade a woman to speak to a man who was not part of her family.  Cultural sensitivities were particularly tight with regard to sharing food or drink.

Jesus disregards all of these cultural taboos and prejudices.  Jesus opens conversation with a woman who is a stranger, a Samaritan, and he invites her into the shocking intimacy of drinking water together from her container.  From the cultural perspective of any Middle Eastern Jew, this encounter was an impossibility -- a scandal.  Yet Jesus reaches out in conversation with her to invite her into his community of "living water."  Many today point to this story and others as models for a church practice of "radical hospitality."

What are the cultural taboos, historical resentments, cultural and economic separations, prejudices and discriminations that divide people and communities today?  What limits our charity and service to the needs of others?  Whom do we think of as heretic or unclean, as less deserving than the others? 

Dare the church promote and maintain these divisions?  



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
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

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

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


At 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stop meddling, Lowell. I've been to two "fundamental" or traditional churches in the last few days. Your reflection was fine with me until I was brought up short with the realization that the political, religious "right" is where my prejudice lie. Now, you make me look through different eyes. Woo is me!cures

At 5:40 PM, Blogger HumbleHumanity said...

He also calls her a sinner and tells her to stop.


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