WOMAN AT THE WELL IN INDIA, GRACE AND POLITICAL RHETORIC OF OUR TIME: REFLECTION OF THE ASIAMERICAN MISSIONER
(By the Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred Vergara at the meeting of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, New Jersey, USA 10.21.2016)
All these years I tried to live with the thought that I cannot lighten anyone’s burden unless I bear the pressure in my own soul. My job as Missioner for Asiamerican and Pacific Islanders in the Episcopal Church has enabled me to engage with people in this country, across Asia and Pacific and even around the world and I am amazed at the grace of God.
I have come face to face with God in people; I rejoiced with those who were honored and cried with those who were oppressed and I have transcended my presumption that simply because someone looks happy, that he or she is. For behind the smiles and the laughter is the human drama, that when the curtain falls, the comedian weeps, and deep within the mask of a warrior is a child.
In India, there is saying which says “You can never know what someone is carrying until she is bumped.” The image is a woman in a village carrying a jar on her head; you don’t know what’s inside, milk or water. Then there are children who were playing and accidentally bumped the woman and the content of the jar spilled. We can program our action but we cannot program our reaction and that is why, we need to listen to our hearts, and that is why we need to have empathy or compassion.
The poet George Elliot wrote, “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”
There is so much pain and heartaches in the world and there are people who constantly live in the shadow of use and abuse, of bullying and shaming, of oppression and suppression---and in some ways these dark shadows get into the limelight of political rhetoric. But the grace of God is sufficient, for somewhere in this universe there is a place where all the heartaches and pains of humanity are funneled into---and that place is the heart of God. And if our hearts are too small to contain God, God’s heart is large enough to contain ours.
When Jesus saw the crowd, he was filled with compassion for they were like sheep without a shepherd and he taught his disciples many things. Miracles broke their hearts open but I wondered if they were moved enough to help change their world.
I learned that as missioner, I can teach the skills of evangelism and revival and church growth but passion and compassion are more caught than taught. Like charisma, you either you have it or you don’t. For his age, some people wonder the kind of energy our Presiding Bishop exudes especially when he is proclaiming the gospel. For me this is the major challenge of the Jesus Movement that we should address ourselves to—how to be more like Jesus in his passion for the lost and his compassion for the oppressed.
Grace is free but it is not cheap; Jesus paid the price with his own blood. And so when we address ourselves to human sin in all its protean forms, when we address ourselves to calling people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, we must do so as a divine-human interaction. God calls, we respond. This world is worth saving because God so loves it He gave His only Son.
People who only believe in the “pie in the sky” and who care only for the “end times” may not do their part in climate change, in environmental stewardship. But we who are Anglicans or Episcopalians are “passionately cool” because we believe in the resurrection but also care for the here and now.
We are a both/and people of God. People who believe only in the spiritualist understanding of the kingdom of God would be passive audience in the political arena. But we who believe as Jesus said that the “kingdom is in our midst” know that participation in the political system is an integral part of faith, that fighting to change unjust structures and challenging structures of injustice is an integral part of peace.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us now and ever more. Amen