9 July 2017
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 9A (RCL)
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
The story in Genesis is rather shocking to our sensibilities; Abraham’s servant is certainly forward in putting a half-shekel gold ring in Rebekah’s nose, and two ten shekel gold bracelets on her wrists. And Laban is certainly forward in promising her to Isaac without her consent — although she does consent after the transaction has already been completed to go with Abraham’s servant right away, rather than waiting ten days. But the story certainly fits within a standard pattern in Old Testament literature (and even an instance in the New Testament) – betrothal at the well.
The well would have been a central meeting place, and under common control. In the story of Moses, the well at which he meets Zipporah was covered by a stone cover too heavy for one person to lift. It took to cooperation of all the shepherds to water their sheep. Even in places like Lui today, the maintenance and operation of the well is a cooperative effort. Abraham’s servant is looking for someone who understands the communal nature of life. The well would have also been where a person needing hospitality would naturally present himself. All of the women in the stories of the patriarchs meeting their wives behave much better than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah; inhospitality was a major crime. We leave out of our reading Laban’s willingness to take in Abraham’s servant, feed him and provide fodder for the camels. The meeting at the well provides an opportunity for each party to test the sincerity of the other.
The reading from Romans is one of the more troubling passages in Paul’s corpus. N. T. Wright, in his commentary in the New Interpreter’s Bible, observes that Paul in this instance is speaking in the person of Israel. This passage sums up Paul’s argument about Israel’s relation to the law, and that Paul uses a device familiar to any reader of the Psalms. Israel acknowledges the goodness of the law, meant to establish a community of inclusivity and righteousness, but recognizes its own failure to do so, interpreting the law in terms of the flesh (the realm in which distinction is made as Paul sees it), instead establishing an exclusive community. But the new righteousness established in Christ rescues Israel from this body of death.
And the passage from Matthew speaks of much the same thing — “this generation” has established an exclusive community, like children in the marketplaces who refuse to play with one another. John was way to strident in his strictures, and Jesus is way too lax. Jesus is willing to eat with tax collectors and sinners! God has revealed the nature of this new righteousness, not to the well educated (in the law), but to the simple. Jesus’ yoke is easy because it is shared. It’s the simple things that build community and increase the value of the common good.