24 July 2011
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 12A (RCL)
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
We get to chuckle a little bit at Jacob today. The trickster gets tricked. After cheating his brother, tricking his father, and running for his life, Laban gives him a little of his own treatment. I find the story of Jacob, at least as told in Genesis, very ironic. God must keep God’s promises to Abraham, and Jacob wants to make sure the promises apply to him. He schemes and plots, and sure enough, God honors the divine promise, and Jacob becomes the father of a great nation. But at what cost? He and his brother Esau (Edom) become implacable enemies. Even though Jacob later buys his brother off, and secures a temporary peace, throughout their history, Israel and Edom remain enemies. I wonder if the narrator is suggesting that despite their enmity, if they would remember their history, they are really twins. Israel’s effort to see itself as God’s chosen people costs them the amity of their brothers. Likewise, after Jacob has finally tricked Laban and made off with most of his herds and his household gods (in Rachel’s saddlebags), Jacob and Laban make a pact on the border between their two lands that they will basically not ever interact again. Jacob secures God’s promises, but ends up never seeing his brother nor his uncle again. I wonder if the narrator intended the irony.
In the Gospel, we get a collection of parables of the kingdom. Jesus never says what the kingdom is, only what it is like. Like the treasure in the field, sometimes we just stumble on it, find it while doing something else. Like the pearl, sometimes we find it when we are pursuing what we are looking for. Like the mustard seed, it can be scrappy and inconvenient. What farmer in his right mind would plant such a pernicious weed in his garden? Mustard greens may taste good, but if left unattended, mustard is like mint, and will just take over a field. And it never does get big enough to be a tree. (I think the author is referring to the image of Israel as the giant cedar of Lebanon in the psalms and Isaiah — this scrappy little weed will replace that tree). Like the yeast, something that is to be kept far away from all ritual meals (as are women, right?), but a little does the whole lump.
So, the kingdom is worth everything we’ve got, once we’ve identified it. And it’s not something that we are going to bring about ourselves. Like mustard or yeast, it works on it’s own, spreading as it will. But, we work it into everything we do. In a way, Jacob’s devotion to Rachel could be compared to the kingdom. After being tricked by Laban with Leah, he worked another seven years for Rachel, and they seemed like a few days.
God’s plan for the world is hidden in Paul’s mixed community of Jews and Greeks. Once we have been adopted by God, nothing can separate us from that love. All things work together to bring about God’s ultimate purpose for the universe. Christ is the firstborn of a large family of brothers and sisters, whom God is adopting and glorifying. We work toward that. We can’t bring it about ourselves, but if we hide a little bit of it in everything we do, it will raise the whole lump.