20 July 2017

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11, 23 July 2017

Track One:
Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139:1-11, or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19

Track Two:
Isaiah 44:6-8
Psalm 86:11-17

Romans 8:12-25
St. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Background: Ancient foods.

Some 10,000 years ago, humans began to move from the mode of hunter-gatherer culture to that of farming culture. Those communities which settled in the Fertile Crescent along with southwest Asia depended upon basic grains and pulses as their domestic crops. The cereals were emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, and barley, upon which both baked goods and beverages were based. The pulses consisted of lentils, peas, chickpeas, and bitter vetch. The other domesticated crop, which was used in early civilizations, was that of flax. In ancient Israel the diet consisted of bread, wine, and olive oil, along with legumes, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, fish, and meat. Some of these products were raised in walled-in open spaces near villages, as well as on terraced hillsides in the hill country. Foods were stored in underground granaries, and in central storage cities. We know what was grown when due to the Gezer agricultural calendar that records the types of crops that were grown, and when during the year.

Track One:

First Reading: Genesis 28:10-19a

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel.

Jacob stops at a place with a long history as a sacred space, although the biblical story sidesteps that tradition. The purpose of this story is to take an anonymous place and make it into a sacred place, but really that had already been done by generations prior to Jacob. Jacob is a product of his culture, and all of its borrowed or requisitioned elements. He sleeps with stones, he sets them up as memorials, the stone or stones that mark a place. Upon this foreign foundation, however, there is some theological insight that is shared with us.

One of the story’s themes is access to heaven, and thus a stairway (are these memories of a Mesopotamian ziggurat?) to heaven is the heart of Jacob’s vision. In this momentous meeting with God (compare Moses’ meetings on Sinai), there is the repetition of the covenant story, in which God promises a future to Jacob, “and your seed shall be like the dust of the earth.” This covenant is secured and remembered with a ritual pillar anointed with oil – marking the place named as “The House of God.”

Breaking open Genesis:
1.          What is your connection with heaven?
2.          What are your sacred places?
3.         What kind of agreements do you have with God?

Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23 Domine, probasti

     Lord, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
2      You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.
3      Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
4      You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.
5      Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
6      Where can I go then from your Spirit? *
where can I flee from your presence?
7      If I climb up to heaven, you are there; *
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
8      If I take the wings of the morning *
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
9      Even there your hand will lead me *
and your right hand hold me fast.
10    If I say, "Surely the darkness will cover me, *
and the light around me turn to night,"
11    Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day; *
darkness and light to you are both alike.
22    Search me out, O God, and know my heart; *
try me and know my restless thoughts.
23    Look well whether there be any wickedness in me *
and lead me in the way that is everlasting.

Read through the entirety of the psalm to fully gather its tone and intent. The elided verses, especially verses 19 and 20 move us away from this meditation on God’s knowledge of us, but the prior verses play with other senses in an anthropomorphization of God’s knowing of us. The author leads us down a path with multiple destinations, all giving a glimpse of the individual and how God knows the individual. We go from resting place, to various aspects of the individual shaped as a potter would shape a pot. Likewise we pass through the various phases of sun and moon, time, if you will, during which God continues to observe and have knowledge. The heart, mind and thoughts are open to God. But who can withstand such a thorough investigation? The verse requesting an oblique forgiveness and asking for leadership trusts in God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Breaking open Psalm 139
  1. Have you ever tried to hide from God?
  2. Where was that?
  3. How does God find you?


Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19

There is no god besides you, whose care is for all people,
to whom you should prove that you have not judged unjustly;
for your strength is the source of righteousness,
and your sovereignty over all causes you to spare all.
For you show your strength when people doubt the completeness of your power,
and you rebuke any insolence among those who know it.
Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness,
and with great forbearance you govern us;
for you have power to act whenever you choose.
Through such works you have taught your people
that the righteous must be kind,
and you have filled your children with good hope,
because you give repentance for sins.

This is a meditation nestled in a longer section that looks back at the deliverance from Egypt. Here the author rhapsodizes over the mercy of a forgiving God. There is an implicit universalism that speaks with a new clarity to its second or first century world, “whose care is for all people.” The images are contrastive, sovereign vs. mildness, governance vs. forbearance. This is the basis of the wisdom that the people are urged to seek after, and the prayer that is offered to the God who gives repentance.

Breaking open Wisdom of Solomon
  1. In your mind, for whom does God care?
  2. With what kind of attitude does God greet you?
  3. What does “Wisdom” mean to you?

Track Two:

First Reading: Isaiah 44:6-8

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let them proclaim it,
let them declare and set it forth before me.
Who has announced from of old the things to come?
Let them tell us what is yet to be.
Do not fear, or be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
You are my witnesses!
Is there any god besides me?
There is no other rock; I know not one.

If in the alternate reading from the Wisdom of Solomon, God is seen in many guises by many people, in this Isaiah there is only one God, and that is YHWH the God of the Judeans. The verses are a challenge to the gods of the world, and to their powers and attributes. God insists that the reign of YHWH is supreme and unmovable. There is a remarkable connection in the final verse, “There is no other rock,” with the rocks in the First Reading.

Breaking open the Isaiah:
1.         What are the gods of this world?
2.         How is God different?
3.        How is God a rock?

Psalm 86:11-17 Inclina, Domine

11    Teach me your way, O Lord,
and I will walk in your truth; *
knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name.
12    I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, *
and glorify your Name for evermore.
13    For great is your love toward me; *
you have delivered me from the nethermost Pit.
14    The arrogant rise up against me, O God,
and a band of violent men seeks my life; *
they have not set you before their eyes.
15    But you, O Lord, are gracious and full of compassion, *
slow to anger, and full of kindness and truth.
16    Turn to me and have mercy upon me; *
give your strength to your servant;
and save the child of your handmaid.
17    Show me a sign of your favor,
so that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed; *
because you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

The psalmist asks for instruction, and promises compliance. From then on the verses recount deeds for which the author offers thanksgiving, and like the insights in the Track One psalm, there is a ubiquity in God’s connections with the psalmist. There are notes of supplication as well as thanksgiving. The author looks at God’s compassion and desires mercy and kindness.

Breaking open the Psalm 86:
1.     How does God instruct you?
2.     What do you ask of God?
3.    How does God greet you with mercy?

Second Reading: Romans 8:12-25

Brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-- for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ-- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

We continue with “The Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus”, and a continuation of the contrasts of spirit and flesh. For Paul, this is the issue of life and death. The flesh calls us to an identity that is bound too tightly to the world, but the Spirit calls us to another world, indeed another family in which we are the adopted of the Father. As he continues the argument, however, we suddenly realize that we must still endure the “sufferings of this present time.” These are not the sufferings that meet us in the daily stuff of life. These are the troubles and risks that face us as we enter a new time, a new kingdom. This new creation exists as did the first creation, unformed, indescribable, all potential. It is the Spirit that gives voice to this new world.

Breaking open Romans:
  1. What parts of your life are flesh?
  2. What parts are spirit?
  3. Can you pray without words? How?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Jesus put before the crowd another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Again we have the structure of parable and then explanation. The listeners are like the soil in the earlier parable – the message is received differently by the different types of listeners. “Let the one who has ears hear.” Seeds amongst the weeds, and the misdeeds done by “the enemy” speaks to the real situation of Jesus’ ministry, and of the ministry that will come after him. There is a practicality here, that asks for both time and patience along with discernment.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What are the weeds in your life?
  2. Who are your enemies that sow the weeds?
  3. How will you deal with or forgive them?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller

11 July 2017

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10, 16 July 2017

Track One:
Genesis 25:19-34
Psalm 119:105-112

Track Two:
Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65:[1-8], 9-14

Romans 8:1-11
St. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Background: Water as a sign of abundance

A great deal of the biblical texts deals with water as a sign of destruction or death. Notable are the Flood texts, and the various psalms in which death is viewed as the overwhelming waters of the sea. These metaphors are not the only biblical references, however. Water is also seen as a sign of abundance, seen in the product of the rain-watered field or orchard. This attitude may come from the viewpoint of the farmer hoping for a fruitful harvest, or the nomad both fearing/seeing the rainwater rushing down the course of the wadi. These attitudes probably traveled with these ancient peoples as they moved out of the Mesopotamian region into the Levant where the sources of water were markedly different. In the Mesopotamian creation myths it is the absence of water that characterizes the very beginning. As opposed to the creation story of the Hebrews, and the mythology of the Canaanites where water was symbolic of the chaos that needed to be ordered, in Mesopotamia it was the absence of water that needed to be corrected. The images are both real in terms of their reference to the irrigation systems of the Tigris-Euphrates river valley, and they are evocative of the signs of sexuality and fertility that these images present. The waters are semen, and the furrows the womb. Thus, engendered within the waters are family and civilization. These motifs were carried into other civilizations as well, Mari, Aššur, Canaan, and the Hebrew Scriptures. These themes will be explored in some of the readings for this day.

Those interested in a full review of these ideas and their history should visit Stéphanie Anthonicz’s article, “The Water(s) of Abundance” available at https://www.academia.edu/7383580/Water_s_of_Abundance_in_the_Ancient_Near_East_and_in_the_Hebrew_Bible_Texts_A_Sign_of_Kingship?auto=download

First Reading: Genesis 25:19-34

These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.”

When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

We continue the story of Isaac, and here the birth of his two sons Jacob and Esau. This is not just a story but rather an outlining of a lineage, but one in which there is an interruption – a divine interruption. That is the reason for its inclusion in the Scriptures. There are familiar themes here, namely the “barrenness” of Rebekah, who is prayed for by her husband Isaac. This theme is borrowed from the Sarah story and will be played out in the future in Hannah’s story. Here there is an annunciation to the mother herself, in which the Lord explains the nature of the twins and the destiny of each. That the younger should receive the greater inheritance runs contrary to social custom, and is a sign of the Divine intervention. Rebekah does not laugh as Sarah did, but is in distress, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?”

There is a great deal of punning in the texts relating to the birth: ruddy (red) =  ‘adom = Edom (another name for Esau, and the name of a nation), hairy = se’ar = Seir, (a territory of Edom), and Jacob = ‘aqeb = heel. Thus the naming and the events of the birth carry within themselves the future struggle between the two men (nations). There is a flavor here of the contest between Can and Able but without the disastrous consequences. The loss here, or perhaps the gain, is the birthright itself, and is the point of the story.

Breaking open Genesis:
1.          What is the point of this story, other than the beginning of two nations?
2.          How have you been like Esau?
3.         Have you ever cheated like Jacob?

Psalm 119:105-112 Lucerna pedibus meis

105  Your word is a lantern to my feet *
and a light upon my path.
106 I have sworn and am determined *
to keep your righteous judgments.
107 I am deeply troubled; *
preserve my life, O Lord, according to your word.
108         Accept, O Lord, the willing tribute of my lips, *
and teach me your judgments.
109         My life is always in my hand, *
yet I do not forget your law.
110 O The wicked have set a trap for me, *
but I have not strayed from your commandments.
111 Your decrees are my inheritance for ever; *
truly, they are the joy of my heart.
112 I have applied my heart to fulfill your statutes *
for ever and to the end.

Here the theme is sacrifice, but not the sacrifice of a thing, but rather the sacrifice of the lips – prayer. The psalmist sees God’s word as insinuating itself into the midst of life, into its sorrows as well as its joys. The psalmist is in a sense of distress and trouble, “my life is always in my hand (at risk).” Nevertheless, prayer is present here in the time of trouble.

Breaking open Psalm 119
  1. In what ways do you use your Bible?
  2. If you don’t use it, why not?
  3. From where does your wisdom come?


Track Two:

First Reading: Isaiah 55:10-13

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

This reading is composed of the part of one pericope (Isaiah 55:6-11) “The word that goes forth from my mouth,” and the one immediately following (Isaiah 55:12-13) “You shall go out in joy.” The initial verses (6-9) set up a contrast between YHWY and humankind. It is a request to return to God, “for (God) is abundant in mercy. The author then outlines this mercy in terms of the word, which like the rains of the summer makes the earth fertile and abundant (see the Background material above). The decision on the part of humankind is whether or not to accept this word (water), which is rained down in abundance. That is the question that this Isaiah poses to Israel.

The initial line is a direct consequence of the acceptance of what God has to say, “You shall go out in joy.” All manner of things come up when rain waters the earth – thorn and cypress, brier and myrtle. Life to the exile must have been seen as both, thorny problems in the midst of the joy of divine protection. Briar and thorn had their own usefulness to the people, as cypress and myrtle brought joy. God’s word is present in all of life. Thus the exiles are invited home.

Breaking open the Isaiah:
1.         How did you deal with the recent drought?
2.         What were your feelings when it began to rain again?
3.        Does Isaiah’s use of these images work?

Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14 Te decet hymnus

[1     You are to be praised, O God, in Zion; *
to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.
2      To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come, *
because of their transgressions.
3      Our sins are stronger than we are, *
but you will blot them out.
4      Happy are they whom you choose
and draw to your courts to dwell there! *
they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,
by the holiness of your temple.
5      Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness,
O God of our salvation, *
O Hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the seas that are far away.
6      You make fast the mountains by your power; *
they are girded about with might.
7      You still the roaring of the seas, *
the roaring of their waves,
and the clamor of the peoples.
8      Those who dwell at the ends of the earth will tremble at your marvelous signs; *
you make the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy.]
9      You visit the earth and water it abundantly;
you make it very plenteous; *
the river of God is full of water.
10    You prepare the grain, *
for so you provide for the earth.
11    You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges; *
with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase.
12    You crown the year with your goodness, *
and your paths overflow with plenty.
13    May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing, *
and the hills be clothed with joy.
14    May the meadows cover themselves with flocks,
and the valleys cloak themselves with grain; *
let them shout for joy and sing.

The first line of this psalm has a more interesting translation from the hand of Robert Alter, “To you, silence is praise.” [1] The verb indicates silence, and so the psalm begins with the notion that our words are incapable of describing the God worthy of our best words. The verses of the optional section describe the multi-faceted relationship of God and people. The God depicted is the God of creation, maintaining and protecting that which was made with the Word. At the ninth verse we encounter a series of verses that mirror some of the images used in Second Isaiah. There is abundance and there is water and all the things that flow from it. The image of the well-drenched furrow and the abundant grain are a part of the continuing creation that God effects. The silence of field and meadow praises God. The noise of bird and animal praises God. Thus the silence of time and space is filled with God’s creative word, and the praise that emanates from the created.

Breaking open the Psalm 65:
1.     What do you understand by “Silence praising God”?
2.     How do you make up your words of praise -  or are they not words?
3.    How does creation praise God?

The Second Reading: Romans 8:1-11

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law-- indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Paul once again uses the contrasting nature of two elements, here “things of the flesh” and life lived “according to the Spirit.” The flesh is nothing negative, but it is limited – it goes no farther than what we as fleshly individuals contain and think. The Spirit, however, is something more. The real contrasts with which Paul urges us to wrestle are death and life itself. The resurrection becomes more than a simple event that exists only it time, rather it is an influence, a reality that “dwells in you.” What God has done in Christ, God will accomplish in our mortal bodies as well.

Breaking open Romans:
  1. In what ways are you of the flesh?
  2. In what ways are you of the spirit?
  3. How do the two come together?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

This pericope consists of a parable (verses 1-9), a question from the disciples about parables (verses 10-17) and finally an explanation of the parable (verses 18-23). Our reading this morning consists only of the first and last segments. The form of the initial verses is the parable, a figurative story, distinct from fables in that parables are concerned only with human characters. Some commentators have seen in the parables a type of Mashal, a Hebrew parable with a moral lesson or religious allegory. The Mashal is seen frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures, and it is a form that Jesus uses to effectively get across his message.

In this parable Jesus uses a familiar agrarian image, one that would have a wide audience. He also uses an image that has its provenance in the works of Second Isaiah: seed and soil, but absent the water. If you have traveled around the area surrounding Jerusalem, these images will be vivid and recognizable. Stony ground, thorns, and the well-tended plot of good soil are all evident in the area. God’s word may be like rain upon the earth, but its reception is both spotty and less than effective.

The final section of our reading, “Hear then the parable of the sower,” depicts the reality of the parable in the life of those who chose to follow Jesus. It was a process, and a movement within understanding the sayings of Jesus. While these might not be the words of Jesus himself, they do reflect the active inquiry and explanation of the early community. William Albright, after some study of the same parable in the Gospel of Mark, concludes that there are two different traditions of these words of Jesus. One is centered on the seed and another focus on the soil. Thus we can explore a double track of the Divine Word and of the suitability of the soil, and thus the effect of the soil on the Word so prodigiously scattered.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What kind of soil are you?
  2. Where and how do you receive the seed?
  3. Who is the sower for you?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller

[1]  Alter, R. (2007), The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, W. W. Norton & Company, Kindle Edition, Kindle Location 5172).