Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Other Side

Wednesday, August 18, 2010 -- Week of Proper 15, Year Two
William Porcher DuBose, Priest, 1918
More about today's commemoration at our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 981)
Psalms 119:145-176 (morning)       128, 129, 130 (evening)
Judges 18:16-31
Acts 8:14-25
John 6:1-15

Whatever happened to the disciples, it profoundly affected the way they regarded people.  Like Jesus, the twelve apostles all grew up Jewish.  They grew up being taught the holiness code of scripture and the purity practices common to first century Judaism.  They grew up observing he sabbath, avoiding unclean people and circumstances, and eating kosher.  They heard the common references to "Gentile dogs" and they learned the animosity between Jews and their heretic Samaritan neighbors.  If you grow up in Fayetteville, you learn to call the Hogs.  If you grow up in Israel, you learn the purity practices.

Something remarkable happened to these Jewish men when they met and followed Jesus.  They gave up a lifetime of following the inherited practices of centuries, Biblical practices, and they opened to "others" who were previously unclean outsiders and enemies. 

In our story from the Acts of the Apostles, word gets to Jerusalem that their Hellenistic brother Philip had gone to Samaria where people heard eagerly about Jesus, and Philip baptized them.  You would imagine that the church's leaders in Jerusalem, being good, practicing Jews, would have been outraged.  The normal thing for them to do would be to send someone from the group to instruct the Gentile Philip about their customs and traditions -- Jews do not associate with Samaritans. 

So Peter and John are dispatched.  But instead of shutting down this unauthorized expansion into unclean territory, they bring the anointing of the Holy Spirit with them and reinforce this novelty.  Peter and John join the ministry of "proclaiming the good news to many villages of the Samaritans."

I haven't noticed this before, but the only account of the feeding of the multitudes in John's gospel appears to happen outside of Israel, in Gentile territory.  John 6 opens saying that "Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee."  That phrase commonly refers to the western and southern side of the sea which was also called the region of the Decapolis, a Gentile area that included ten cities.  It was unclean territory.  John sets his version of Jesus' feeding of the multitudes on the "other side," and afterwards, at evening, the disciples board a boat back to their home in Capernaum.

Mark's gospel is more explicit.  He narrates two separate feeding miracles, one in Jewish territory, one in Gentile territory.  In his account the numbers of people and the numbers of baskets and leftovers are clues about the participants.  Mark uses numbers that have significance to Jews in the account of the feeding in Israel; he uses symbolic numbers with Gentile meaning in the feeding on the "other side."  John's account uses the numbers from Mark's first feeding story in Israel, but John places the miracle in Gentile territory.  Whatever the numbers, it is a significant thing that Jesus fed multitudes of Gentiles.  He lived in a culture that taught Jews not to eat with Gentiles.  To do so was profane and rendered one unclean. 

One of the most remarkable things about Jesus was the radical, open hospitality of his table.  Another remarkable thing was his openness and generosity toward people who were not of his religion or tribe.  Both of these practices violated not only deeply embedded cultural practices, but also violated accepted interpretations of the commands of scripture. 

The early church embodied what they learned from Jesus and engaged with Samaritans without qualms.  They violated taboos and created rich relationships of inclusion for Samaritans. 

We are invited to do likewise, whether the "other side" is racial, cultural, political, religious, or a boundary of sexual orientation.  We inherit a tradition of defenseless openness toward the "other side."  How generous can our hospitality be?



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


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