6 July 2014
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 9A (RCL)
Genesis 24:34-38; 42-49; 58-67
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on this Sunday. In our Old Testament reading, we have a story of one of the patriarchs (or his stand-in) meeting his wife at a well. Jacob meets Rachel at a well. Moses meets Miriam at a well. When John tells the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, he has these episodes in mind. It’s also fascinating that each of Abram, Isaac, and Jacob marry cousins (Rebekah’s grandfather is Abraham’s brother; Rachel’s is Laban’s daughter, Laban is Rebekah’s brother). This tangles the lines of inheritance: it seems that the Canaanites were matrilinial — that is that property was passed from uncle to nephew through sister/aunt. Sacrifice disentangles these lines and makes sure that inheritance passes from father to son — that is an important point in this story. Isaac has inherited all of the wealth of his father Abraham. This is one of the reasons Rebekah consents to go, and one of the reasons it is important that Laban agree, because her son would ordinarily be his heir. One wonders of the dedication of the first born male to God has anything to do with this shift in modes of inheritance.
The reading from Romans makes Paul seem like head case. I’m sure we all experience times when we know what is right, but choose to do the easier thing, but our psychology (owing much, as it does, to Freud), makes this seem like Paul is not a well integrated individual. We often associate flesh with Freud’s id and the law of God with his superego. This makes the struggle Paul describes seem totally internal (to the extent that we’ve internalized the superego). In fact, Paul does not share our psychology, and is in this instance using a rhetorical device (common the psalms) of “I” standing for Israel. The Law was intended to create a new community, characterized by God’s righteousness, but “I”, under the influence of the flesh, used the law for other purposes (creating distinction). “I” knew what was right, but couldn’t do it. The point is that the Law is not the problem, but our use of it. It was supposed to create a new, open community, and we used to draw boundaries (particularly between circumcised/uncircumcised, for Paul).
The passage from Matthew fits well with Paul’s concern in Romans. Jesus invites us to take on his yoke, which is a common metaphor for both Greek and Jewish teachers. For Jewish teachers, Torah is the yoke; for Greek teachers, association with the school is the yoke in mind. Jesus suggests that his yoke is easy and his burden light. In Matthew 23:4, Jesus upbraids the Scribes and Pharisees for tying up heaven burdens and laying them on the backs of others without ever lifting a finger to help them carry those burdens. Teachers and students saw the school as creating a community of people following a common rule of life (the yoke). For Matthew, this school would be made up, not of the wise and intelligent, but of “infants.” The inability to read kept most people dependent on the Scribes to read and interpret Torah. This would be a school of direct revelation: The Son would reveal the Father to those whom he chose.
Neither an ascetic or libertine interpretation of the teaching would matter (piping or mourning). Both could be vindicated by the outcome of the way of life undertaking. The question would be, does this community discern the presence of God in its midst, through its way of living together.