Start small

27 July 2014
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 12A (RCL)

Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

We have more parables of the kingdom in the Gospel reading for this Sunday. We’ve been reading a chopped up discourse of Jesus, delivered while sitting in a boat at the lake shore. Into this discourse, Matthew has inserted a number of asides, questions asked by the disciples back in the house. The interpretations of the parables have been separated from the parables themselves by this narrative device, but in our liturgical reading, the parables and interpretations seem to by side by side. In this reading again, we chop out bits in between. The overall effect (if one reads all of chapter 13 in course) is to paint a picture of the kingdom as a final event in history when the righteous and unrighteous will be separated. Matthew will return to this theme again in chapter 25 (the separation of sheep from goats). Continue reading “Start small”

What sort?

20 July 2014
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 11A (RCL)
Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

God certainly chooses the unlikely for the divine purposes. Jacob has little to commend him, ethically, for the job of divine agent. Having extorted Esau’s birthright, and then connived with Rebekah to cheat Esau out of the blessing due him, Jacob is fleeing for his life when we meet him in today’s reading. And yet God shows up in a vision, and assures Jacob that the promises made to Abraham and renewed to Isaac extend to him: he will become the father of a great nation through which the world will be blessed. I’ve joked before that God has to hit Jacob over the head with a rock to get his attention to extend the promise. But, as it turns out, Jacob is standing in the very vestibule of the divine court, witnessing the angels of God entering and leaving with their embassies for the world. This would become the site of the northern sanctuary at Bethel.

As I read the story of Jacob/Israel, I read exilic or post-exilic reflection on the unlikeliness of Israel’s choice as God’s chosen people. Continue reading “What sort?”

Squandering seed

13 July 2014
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 10A (RCL)

Genesis 25:19-34
Psalm 119:105-112
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

If the writers of the gospels lived close to an agrarian culture, the parables of Jesus either don’t show familiarity with that culture, or challenge the assumptions of that culture. Any decent farmer hearing this story would immediately think “What an idiot!” Cultivation was a common metaphor for education in the ancient world. But the metaphor usually focused in the preparation of the soil and then the tending of the plant as images of preparing the student to receive the teaching and then guarding the neophyte in the early stages of adopting the taught philosophy. This teacher simply squanders a good deal of the seed. The parable leaves us asking why. Continue reading “Squandering seed”

Yoked to Jesus

6 July 2014
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 9A (RCL)
Genesis 24:34-38; 42-49; 58-67
Psalm 45:11-18
Romans 7:15-25a
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. Continue reading “Yoked to Jesus”