This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news
The Tower of Babel
11Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.2And as they migrated from the east,* they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.3And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.4Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’5The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built.6And the Lord said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.7Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’8So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.9Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused* the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
Jesus and the Woman of Samaria
4Now when Jesus* learned that the Pharisees had heard, ‘Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John’—2 although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized—3he left Judea and started back to Galilee.4But he had to go through Samaria.5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’.8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)9The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)*10Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’11The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’13Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’15The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
The Genesis passage explains the existence of different races of humanity and their different languages with a story about the dangerous arrogance of human beings who think that by cooperating on the construction of a skyscaper they can rule the world like gods. In this effort their “gathering” is depicted as a threat to the order of creation, an assertion of human power that imagines itslel divine. Perhaps the story was written at the time of great empires like that of Egypt and Babylon. God “scatters” humanity and makes its languages mutually incomprehensible as a way of limiting human evil. The history of worldly empires from Babylon to the USSR and USA shows the same arrogance and the same inevitable collapse.
John’s gospel has depicted Jesus as the Bridegroom of Israel, the Messiah, but here he acts the part of Bridegroom towards a non-Jew, a woman from Samaria. All Jewish stories about men and women meeting at wells are in some sense stories of courtship. Here a woman who has had many husbands (representing a people who’ve had many religious commitments) finds that Jesus is the true partner for her and her people. He woos her not with flattery but with truth-the difficult truth about her own life- but also with the truth which he draws from a far deeper souce than Jacob’s well (that is, deeper even than the Jewish religion.) This living water is God’s goodness bubbling up into human life. The reader should note that here Jesus begins to repair the racial and linguistic division of humanity. His “gathering” of people is not a power play but a patient personal communication of God’s goodness; a sharing of the divine life across racial and religious divisions. This story could be a guide to the Christian Church for its evangelical work today.