30 July 2017
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 12A (RCL)
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
The trouble with chopping up readings from scripture is that we miss important contextual guides. In today’s Gospel reading, the first two parables are spoken to the crowds. Then we skip the verses where Jesus goes in the house and explains the parable of the wheat and the weeds to the disciples. The last three parables, and the instructions are spoken only to the disciples in the house — these are community instructions, while the first two are public proclamation. That changes the interpretation of each parable rather dramatically.
If the first two are kept with the parable of the wheat and the weeds, then we have three parables that deal with things that are ceremonially unclean. A field sowed with two kinds of seed is defiled (Lev 19:19 – part of the Holiness Code). Mustard is a scrappy weed – no farmer in his right mind would sow it in his field (agros). And yeast (hidden by a woman no less) would be forbidden in any ceremonially pure bread. The kingdom seems to be unclean, scrappy, edgy, persistent, and far removed from the temple system of ceremony.
When the narrative switches to private conversation with the disciples, we learn something different about it. It is hidden, but of great value (and worth pursuing by deceit – finding a treasure and not informing the owner of the field), it is a life’s work (the pearl) and it requires discernment of discrimination – knowing which fish are worth keeping and which aren’t. If the pearl is a reference to Torah, then the scribe disciplined in the kingdom, or apprenticed to the kingdom, is like a householder who knows how to bring out of his treasury both old and new — reading scripture and also discerning God’s ongoing revelation in the current circumstances. The kingdom is messy, unclean, scrappy, persistent, but also abundant, valuable beyond imagination and worth a life-time’s training.
The NRSV translation makes it sound like a scribe has been trained for the kingdom as if it were something future. The Greek makes it clear that a scribe is trained in the kingdom as a discipline (think “I am trained in mathematics,” or “I am trained in physics.”). That is the meaning of Greek word mathetevo, discipled.
Jacob thought that Rachel was worth seven years work, and in the event, even fourteen years work. The kingdom is like that.
The Romans passage has the setting of a courtroom trial. Who will accuse us? The whole Trinity is involved in our defense, in making us righteous, and giving us the assurance of the salvation of the whole cosmos. Again, it is worth the effort, and will happen despite appearances, because God has accomplished it.