13 July 2011

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13 - 31 July 2011

Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 145:8-9, 15-22
Romans 9:1-5
St. Matthew 14:13-21

Shalmaneser III

Background: The Northern Kingdom II
The position of both Judah (South) and Israel (North) placed them right in the middle of the fortunes and aspirations of the empires that surrounded them.  The most dominant power that threatened the situation in Israel was the Assyrian Empire, and its leader Shalmaneser III (858-824).  His raids into the territory threatened Damascus, Tyre and Sidon, and even Egypt itself.  It is during this period that we meet the prophets Elijah and Elisha who struggle with the incursion of other cults and cultures in Israel.  A new king rules in Assyria (Adanirari III) from 810-783, and then Assyria sinks into a period of weakness from 783-745.  Israel reestablishes itself under the King Joash (798-783) and the prophetic work of Amos (who is actually a citizen of Judah) and Hosea becomes active.  The bloom is short lived, however.  In 745, Tiglath Pileser III takes the throne and harasses the region.  Damascus is reduced to a vassalage, and the Galilee is captures.  In 721, Sargon becomes King of Assyria, and in 720 captures Samaria.  Assyrian policy dictated that the inhabitants were sent off to other lands, and the former Kingdom of Israel was settled with peoples from other regions (hence the “mongrel” status that the Samaritans were stuck with well into the New Testament.

Isaiah 55:1-5

Thus says the Lord:
"Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you."

The Eschatological Banquet
Second Isaiah, in this reading, establishes a model which will obtain until the Roman period, and which will be used by Christian theologians as they seek to describe the end time.  After the long poems of the Suffering Servant, IInd Isaiah finally sounds a note of joy, and in this reading describes the Eschatological Banquet to which all will be invited, regardless of their status, even the poor and the destitute.  The Scriptures are full of banquets that celebrate divine intervention and presence (the Passover, the festival of Booths, etc.)  Here, like Isaiah, he describes a new creation, one that restores those who are/were exiles in the land.  It is a model that Jesus will use as he describes the Reign of God, and the Kingdom of heaven.  In the context of war and threats from all sides, such a vision would prove to be powerful and sustaining.  Even more interesting is its “universal character” in which such feasting was not just the right of Judah, but the promise and invitation to all peoples.

Breaking open I Kings:
  1. What meals of celebration have you had at your home?
  2. What was celebrated?
  3. Is there a religious aspect?

Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-22 Exaltabo te, Deus

The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.

The LORD is loving to everyone *
and his compassion is over all his works.

The LORD upholds all those who fall; *
he lifts up those who are bowed down.

The eyes of all wait upon you, O LORD, *
and you give them their food in due season.

You open wide your hand *
and satisfy the needs of every living creature.

The LORD is righteous in all his ways *
and loving in all his works.

The LORD is near to those who call upon him, *
to all who call upon him faithfully.

He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; *
he hears their cry and helps them.

The LORD preserves all those who love him, *
but he destroys all the wicked.

My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD; *
let all flesh bless his holy Name for ever and ever.

The author of this psalm mirrors some of the imagery and themes present in the First Reading.  It is an alphabetic acrostic, and a true praise psalm, the only psalm in the collection that makes such a claim.  Judging from its universal outlook, the psalm may have been written either during or after the Exile.  Verse 15 will be familiar to a great number of Christians, having served as a table prayer for many.  In a period when the kingship of others threatened the religious life of Judah, a psalm that celebrated the kingship of God would be both welcome and necessary – a theological comfort and respite for the people.

Breaking open Psalm 145
1.     Have you ever gone hungry?
2.     Do you know what it is like to be hungry?
3.     How do you alleviate hunger in your community?

Romans 9:1-5

I am speaking the truth in Christ-- I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit-- I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

God cuts a covenant with Abraham

In chapter 9, Paul wrestles with his own people, the Jews.  Out of reverence for them, however, he calls them by their divinely given name, “the Israelites” and then proceeds to list seven divine gifts given to them: 1) the adoption (of the nation) by God, 2) the glory (the presence in the Tabernacle/Temple), 3) the covenants (several to Abraham, Jacob, and Moses), 4) The Law – the Torah, 5) the worship that distinguished them from the idolatry and prostitution of their neighbors, 6) the promises made to Abraham, Moses and David, and finally 7) the patriarchs (and may I add as well, the matriarchs) the legacy of its ancestors.  These qualities impress Paul, and yet he is saddened that they have not see nor responded to the vision of the Christ.  Paul’s enlightened view (that should be read by fundamental Christians today) is that none of this is negated by God, but continues.  Future readings from Romans will undergird Paul’s argument.

Breaking open Romans:
  1. As a Christian how do you feel about the Jews?
  2. What are your thoughts on Paul’s list of their gifts?
  3. Have you ever been to a Jewish liturgy?

Matthew 14:13-21

Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

In the first reading, IInd Isaiah calls us to a vision of the Heavenly Banquet, and its promise.  Matthew does as well.  For him, the feeding of the 5,000, is anticipatory, looking forward to the Eucharist.  All is heightened, both the paucity of the offering (five loaves and two small fish) but also by its abundance (twelve baskets of fragments).  We should not take the details seriously here, for they are to usher us into the messianic age where words and details fail us.  The lesson is that Christ provides, and that the desert (an empty wilderness) becomes a place of refreshment and purgation (just as it had been for Israel).  Also noted is that the food is not merely distributed but that there is ceremonial attached.  There is prayer and there is blessing, the elements common to any Jewish meal (and he took the bread, broke it, and gave thanks).  These are all Eucharistic elements and referents.  What is even more telling is that the simple offering of food for an individual is the source of nourishment for many.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Have you ever leveraged something small into a benefit for many?
  2. How did that happen, how was it possible?
  3. Has someone done this for you?

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

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12 - 24 July 2011

I Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26-39
St. Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Jehu kneels at the feet of Shalmaneser III

Background: The Northern Kingdom I.

The Solomon that exists in our minds eye – wise, decisive, builder of the Temple – had another aspect to his kingship that made for the downfall of the empire built by his father David, and by his own efforts.  Like other ancient near eastern kings, Solomon had an extensive public works project, made possible by the curvée, a system of forced labor that enabled the construction of these facilities.  After Solomon’s death, the northern tribes asked his heir, Rehoboam (931-913) to lighten the load of the curvée.  His response was a resounding “no!” and as a result the tribes asked Jeroboam, a former high official of Solomon exiled in Egypt, to take the throne of the Northern Kingdom (Israel).  He agreed, and Rehoboam was left with only the tribe of Judah to rule.  Since the Temple at Jerusalem was the national temple of the Davidid kings, Jeroboam moved worship to the suppressed shrines in the north, and eventually a temple was established on Mount Gerizim.  In the 9th Century, Omri establishes Samaria as the capitol of the North.  It is in this territory that we read of the prophetic work of Elijah, Elisha, Amos, and Hosea.  Familiar kings are Ahab, and his notorious wife Jezebel, and Jehu, whose portrait on the stele of Shalmaneser III sits in the British Museum.  Next week, we shall look at the fall of this kingdom.

I Kings 3:5-12

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, "Ask what I should give you." And Solomon said, "You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?"

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, "Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.

Solomon's dream
In these passages, which begin the saga of Solomon’s reign, we see Solomon falling into two biblical traditions.  In the dream sequence, Solomon asks for the ability to rule with integrity and justice.  As a dreamer of this type he joins a procession of earlier characters, the dreamer Joseph and Jacob as well.  The dream was an intersection of the divine and the human, and here Solomon is able to join his prayer to the dream. 

The second aspect is seen in the story of Cain and Able, both of whom offer an offering to God.  Cain, the farmer, offers a grain offering, and Able, the herdsman, offers a lamb.  The tale is interesting in that we see the cultural bias of the author.  Nomads could understand flocks, but not agriculture – at least not yet.  It is Able’s offering that God accepts, not Cain’s.  So it is with Solomon. His prayer is looked upon with kindness by God, and like Able, Solomon is commended. 

Breaking open I Kings:
  1. What do you think of Solomon’s prayer?
  2. Do you know of a leader in the present age who has done something similar?
  3. What role might you play in a leader’s dream/prayer?

Psalm 119:129-136 Feci judicium

Your decrees are wonderful; *
therefore I obey them with all my heart.

When your word goes forth it gives light; *
it gives understanding to the simple.

I open my mouth and pant; *
I long for your commandments.

Turn to me in mercy, *
as you always do to those who love your Name.

Steady my footsteps in your word; *
let no iniquity have dominion over me.

Rescue me from those who oppress me, *
and I will keep your commandments.

Let your countenance shine upon your servant *
and teach me your statutes.

My eyes shed streams of tears, *
because people do not keep your law.

Psalm 119 is a Long Acrostic poem related to the alphabet.  In Christian editions of this psalm, each section of the psalm is named separately, and is used in the liturgy and divine office as separate sections.  In general, the psalm is a wisdom psalm, but has elements of aspects of both praise and lament.  Its main point is praise of the Law (Torah), and throughout the psalm there are repeated synonyms for the Law.  In our reading for today we find “decrees”, “word”, and “commandments.” 

Breaking open Psalm 119
1.     Do the Ten Commandments influence your life at all?
2.     What other ethical statements influence you?

Romans 8:26-39

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

"For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered."

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In today’s reading we have an on going reading in which Paul develops his notion of the Christian life, lived in the Spirit.  Paul begins by dealing with the natural weakness of humankind (the flesh) and he recognizes the Spirit’s ability in over-coming this weakness.  This reading has two powerful sections that continue to speak to the human condition and the life in Christ.  The first is the notion of the weakness of our prayer.  Often our weakness makes it ineffective and a collection of intelligible thoughts.  This the Spirit meets with her own intercessions and prayers – aiding our inability to pray.  The second is Paul’s recognition that the forces of this world (angels, rulers, things present, things to come, powers, heights, depths…) are powerless when confronted by this same Spirit, who not only helps us to pray, but helps us to resist the powers that would defeat us and separate us from God.

Breaking open Romans:
  1. What has separated you from God?
  2. What has separated you from your prayer life?
  3. What has separated you from your faith?

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Jesus put before the crowds another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."

He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
"Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes." And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."

Finally we begin to read the text that has been eliminated from the last two Sunday’s readings, as several parables are given.  The first two parables deal with the on-coming Reign of Heaven, and Jesus models the almost imperceptible approach.  A small mustard seed, and a small ration of meal – both grow into comparatively larger things.  From small things grows the Kingdom of God, and this is the lesson that Jesus wishes to teach here.

The second set of parables show a positive aspect to avarice.  The one who discovers the treasure, doesn’t own the field in which it is discovered.  So he, like the merchant who finds the pearl, sells all to obtain the treasure/pearl.  This is not an ethical discussion, but rather a point made about investing in the future kingdom, and the good that it will bring.  Here the message is addressed to an individual (merchant, and the purchaser of the field).  At some point, Jesus says, each of you will need to take the risk.

Finally, the last parable about the net has some similarity to last Sunday’s parable about the darnel.  Here again, both good and bad are the result of the Christian community’s effort.  The reign (the catch of “everything”) will be useful, and at the end of time it will all be sorted out.  The final statement about the scribe bringing out both old and new describes the Gospel as a continuation and fulfillment of the Torah.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What small things in your life have made for big things for others?
  2. What do you understand when Jesus talks about “the Kingdom of Heaven”, or the “Reign”?
  3. Who will be saved, in your mind, at the end of time?

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

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

08 July 2011

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11 - 17 July 2011

Isaiah 44:6-8
Psalm 86:11-17
Romans 8:12-25
St. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Background: The United Monarchy
The next few background articles will attempt to familiarize you with the political entities that encompass most of the prophetic works of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Today we will focus on the so-called “United Monarchy”.  This period is preceded by the amphichtyony  (a loose confederation of tribes) during which the Israelites were “ruled” by judges – ad hoc leaders that rose to points of national crisis and conflict.  With the incursion of the “Sea Peoples” (read Phoenicians) and the on-going Canaanite city-states (read Philistines) increased pressure on the Israelites necessitated a new manner of governance.  Four characters enter the scene at this point, Saul (ca. 1050) – appointed King of Israel and Judah, reigned for 40 years.  Samuel appears around 1040 who prophecies on both sides of the question of whether or not to have a monarchy, and Ishboseth (ca. 1010) who rules in Israel after Saul.  Finally, David (1010) who rules over Judah for 7 years, and then is asked to rule over a “united monarchy”, Judah and Israel, and does so for another 33 years.  He is succeeded by Solomon (970), who builds the temple and expands “the empire”.  Solomon is succeeded by Rehoboam in Judah, but the kingdom is split with Jeroboam ruling in the North (Israel).  Next Sunday, the Kingdom of Judah will be discussed.

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. 

In this reading Second Isaiah preaches to the exiles in Babylon, and hears from Yahweh’s mouth an assertion about God’s rule, even while they are in Babylon.  Usually the term “Lord of hosts” refers to God ruling over the council of the gods in heaven, and over the hosts of angels, seraphim and cherubim.  Here, however, the term may mean those who are still faithful to Yahweh, and who battle for Yahweh against the gods of Babylon.  Another commentator sees the hosts in this passage as the son and moon gods of Babylon – for Yahweh rules over them as well.  He aks his readers to not be afraid, for God will redeem and save them.  Isaiah describes this promise as an ancient prophecy, but one full of power, and fully present in the now of their exile in Babylon.

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. Have you ever been in exile, far from home and family?  What was it like?
  2. What role did your faith have in your exile?
  3. Does it help to revisit those times of “being removed” or away “in the closet”?

Psalm 86:11-17 Inclina Domine

Teach me your way, O LORD,
and I will walk in your truth; *
knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name.

I will thank you, O LORD my God, with all my heart, *
and glorify your Name for evermore.

For great is your love toward me; *
you have delivered me from the nethermost Pit.

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.

But you, O LORD, are gracious and full of compassion, *
slow to anger, and full of kindness and truth.

Turn to me and have mercy upon me; *
give your strength to your servant;
and save the child of your handmaid.

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.

Robert Alter, in his commentary and translation of the Psalms, notes that this psalm is composed of “stock phrases” that we have encountered in other psalms.  They are assembled here for the purpose of writing a psalm of supplication, that seems to match the concerns of Second Isaiah in the first reading. At verse 8 in the psalm (not a part of today’s reading) we see a quotation from Exodus 15:11, “There is none like you among the gods, O Master,” in which the author of Exodus sees Yahweh as the “one beyond compare” in the company of many gods.  Later in verse 10, immediately preceding our reading the psalmist presses further to the point of monotheism – “You alone are God!”  This is the God of power and might that is the point of the psalmist’s supplication.  The parameters of Yahweh’s greatness know no bounds, extending to “the nethermost Pit” our translation’s word for Sheol, the place of the dead (verse 13).  It is this power, and the power to redeem that the author requests, as he characterizes himself as “servant”, and “child of your handmaid” in verse 17.

Breaking open Psalm 65
1.     Have you ever had to “beg” God?
2.     What was it all about?
3.     What was the answer?

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.

Here we have in the beginning verses of this reading the closing lines of a classic Pauline argument about the flesh (sarx) and the Spirit (pneuma).  Even those baptized (the spirit of adoption) can be tempted back into the slavery of the flesh.  This spirit of adoption is that force that captivates life, and becomes both its model and its source.  There is a sense of destiny here, best proclaimed in the passage that looks to creation itself.  Paul sees creation itself, longing and groaning in anticipation of a new birth of life.  It is this life that Paul sees in those who follow the Christ and are endowed with the Spirit.  The closing phrases rub against our modern spirit, “For who hopes for what is seen?”  Such a phrase seems to set the modern scientific enterprise on its ear, and makes us think about what it is for which we really hope.  “Seeing is believing” says the old saying, but not here! 

Breaking open Romans:
  1. What do you think Paul means by “the flesh”?
  2. What does he mean by “the Spirit”?
  3. What kind of interchange do you have between your flesh and your spirit?

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!"

The reading from the Gospel for last Sunday and this Sunday are interposed in the original text, and the lectionary has pulled them apart.  Thus we have parable 1 (13:1-9) followed by its explanation in (13:18-23) for last Sunday.  And this Sunday, Parable 2 (13:24-30) followed by its explanation (13:36-43).  The missing verses, if you are being observant, are other parables.  This Sunday’s parable is the “Parable of the Darnel”.  Darnel was a weed that resembled wheat, but had no value in the marketplace.  The material is unique to Matthew, and in the interpretation that follows later we are treated to a totally allegorical explanation.  Many commentators see this parable and its explanation as a reworking of the Parable of the Sower (last Sunday)

There was purpose and maturity to this reworking, for not all was genuine and reliable in the church in Palestine.  Not all were the “elect” (the tares and weeds).  The solution is one that waits (a hint of Paul’s waiting with patience in the Second Lesson) for time to work all things out.  The division of good from the bad shall wait until the harvest (the End Time) when each will get its due.  This explanation may be the result of Matthew’s community working things out for themselves as they worked to be the followers of Christ in Palestine.  Perhaps both parable and explanation are more of a sermon for the community that attempted to work out the difficulties and exigencies of their community. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Is your life made up of both wheat and weeds?
  2. What are the weeds, and what is the wheat?
  3. How will it sort itself out at the end?

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.