From the Rector Page

This page is one where thoughts, prayers, messages and musings on the life and mission of St. Barnabas from the perspective of the Rector will be found. Some of it may be creative, some may lapse to the pedantic but with room for give and take! Hopefully it will never be a diatribe, a rant, or a bore!

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." 
Philippians 4:8

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A Strong Woman, Radical Inclusion, and the Our National Budget

John 4:1-42

Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church

Make no mistake about her. This woman is strong. Even unnamed this Samaritan woman, meeting Jesus at the well, to my thinking is one of the strongest characters in the Gospels. She is strong both in the literary sense of being well revealed in the narrative but also, more importantly, in the social setting of her time.

One thing we have to get out of the way in looking at this woman is leaping to an appraisal of her moral character. That something is amiss in her life is hinted at by the time fame. Drawing water at midday without the company of other women suggests she is not in favor with others in the village…but why she is something of an outsider we just don’t know.  The bare, unelaborated fact she has had five husbands is really no moral barometer for us. Think of the challenge, in both Luke and Matthew, leveled at Jesus by Sadducees’, teachers of the law. They asked, a woman has had seven husbands, brothers all, all have died, whose wife will she be in the resurrection?

That this woman has had five might be a similar case and perhaps the remaining brother refused to marry her? We can never know. But we know she is strong enough to bear the implications this perhaps stirs up in her village. In any event Jesus makes no moral judgment. I would suggest we would do well to follow his example.

Let’s look at what John tells us. Jesus is alone. He is tired and sits down at the well. The woman comes by herself to draw water in the heat of the day. That alone reveals a certain strength. Five gallons of water weighs about 60 pounds!

Alone, and far from help, she encounters a strange man, a Jew, an enemy. She is not daunted. When, in defiance of all propriety—religious, social, gender and ethnic—Jesus speaks to her and she is doesn’t miss a beat in fearlessly pointing out to a man, a Jew, an enemy, just how far outside the norm this encounter is…for both of them.

In the give and take of the conversation she gives as good as she gets. She has a mind quick to explore the implications of what this man has to say but at first she seems to think him either a bit dimwitted or suffering from delusions of grandeur.

Jesus, I think, respects her quickness of mind and perception.  He goes right into deep waters with her and doesn’t give up when she at first misunderstands. He speaks of deep spirit and frankly theology and waits for her to catch on; he nudges her toward a deeper understanding of what he is saying about who he is, and who she is, and who she yet will become.

Think about the nature of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus; how exasperated he was that Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, the consummate insider who should understand, couldn’t or wouldn’t go deep but stayed stuck at a literal level in their conversation.

There is something powerful going on though in this encounter. For a Jewish Rabbi this woman is so far on the outside she wouldn’t even be on the map. All Samaritans are unclean, anything they touch, like a drinking cup, is unclean. Samaritans and Jews are enemies. Women are always regarded as potentially unclean. A strange woman, not of one’s family, would not even be acknowledged, a Samaritan woman even less so.  And yet Jesus speaks to her.

He opens space for genuine encounter; something she perhaps doesn’t often get in private much less in public. By speaking to her at all, much less at such length and depth, he in effect is saying—we, you and I, are family.

There is movement here; there is growth we didn’t see in Nicodemus. This woman, this dear woman (the word is the same word Jesus speaks to his mother from the cross) moves from misunderstanding, to understanding, from wariness to trust, from skepticism to faith, from nationalism to family. And in that movement this woman, this dear woman becomes a new person. She boldly goes into town, to the public spaces of men, and is apostle to them. She speaks of Jesus and plants the seed that he is the Messiah.

She must have been a force to be reckoned with. She has been welcomed into the family circle of Jesus and suddenly in her turn is calling those, welcoming those, who might have had little or no regard for her, into this newfound family of Jesus. And they come in. And, in reply Jesus, comes in as well. He comes into a Samaritan village; he must have stayed in a Samaritan home and eaten food from a Samaritan kitchen at a Samaritan table.  Suddenly the family is that much larger; it now includes Samaritans! And it is all due to one thirsty, strong woman.

Think about those who Jesus calls into a place of family, of belonging. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The disciples–including even Judas. The man born blind, the Centurion with the sick son, the woman who had bled for years, tax collectors, prostitutes. Jesus was always about radical inclusion and especially of those who were radically excluded such as the 10 lepers (and interesting how the grateful one was a Samaritan!) and the demon possessed man living in a graveyard.

This invitation to inclusion, radical inclusion, still stands, it is unconditional, all are welcome, anyone may come into the family, all you need be is thirsty for the water of life, the fountains of the Spirit. Anyone can come inside this family…that includes me, that includes you.

If this had been an ordinary week I would pretty much wrap up there. But this has not been an ordinary week….although for the next four years it might become so.

This week saw the release of the latest iteration of the Paul Ryan budget under the aegis of the current executive administration.

A budget, our national budget, is always a statement of values. It states what we as a nation value the most, it states what we value the least; it states what we don’t hold to be of any value at all. It states what we fear, and how we respond to that fear. It also states who we consider to be part of the national family and whom we wish to marginalize or exclude or from the family.

In other words our national budget is a measure of the moral state of the nation.  As such it says we are in grave, moral peril.

Much has been made over the years about the ontological nature of our country. Is it nontheistic, deistic, or Christian?  We’re not going there today except insofar as it is asserted we are a Christian nation this budget says we stand in direct contradiction to Christ.

In Matthew 25 the Son of Man, the Christ, says to the nations, the nations assembled before the throne of judgment: “As you did to the least so you did to me.”  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus enunciates the Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

There is no way to reconcile these words of the One Christian’s follow and this budget. 

This budget at root destroying Medicaid and Medicare will destroy systems of care, such as they are, for the sick, the elderly, the handicapped, the mentally disabled, and the homeless.

Beginning the process of privatization of Social Security this budget threatens the lives of our elders and disabled people.

This budget and a proposed resolution would bring the EPA to and end so that God’s sacred creation can be plundered and destroyed with impunity.

A proposed resolution and this budget would bring the Department of Education to an end ultimately imperiling the literate and informed participation of our children in the work of the nation.

This budget would end the efforts of the USDA to support school based child nutrition efforts around the world.

This budget says we do not value children, the elderly, workers, or the quality of life on this planet. We hold as of no value the sick, the lost, and the unemployed.

This budget says we fear the stranger, the immigrant, those seeking refuge from horrors we helped create.

This budget says we fear international resistance to our armed ability to dictate to other nations and fear impediments being put in the way of corporate profiteering.

In granting tax breaks to the wealthy, and ensuring that the rich will get richer and the poor and almost poor will get poorer still, this budget says we have abandoned the way of Christ for the way of Wall Street, we have torn down the golden rule that we might worship the golden calf of money.

In this budget we do not listen to the words of Jesus and recognize our own moral indictment: “What does it profit a person if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?

In this budget I fear for our nation’s soul for it excludes, it marginalizes, it says to so many around and among us, “You are of no value and you have no place in this family called the United States of America.”

In closing, I hope it is not too late for our nation’s soul to be saved. I hope we stand at the foot of a mountain of redemption we must and can climb and pray that we haven’t already been swept away by the avalanche greed and selfishness sweeping out of Washington.

As people of conscience, as followers of Christ, we can and we must speak up, speak out, and frankly say this budget cannot stand, it is not our budget, we are better than this.

Just as Christ has called us all into the family we in our turn must recall ourselves as family. Jesus dared to include the outcast, the excluded, the sick, the strangers, sinners and even the enemy Samaritan’s in his family. With that as our strength and our model is there a reason we as a nation family cannot do the same?

Rev. M. Paul Garrett







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