The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12 - 24 July 2011
I Kings 3:5-12
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.
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:
- What do you think of Solomon’s prayer?
- Do you know of a leader in the present age who has done something similar?
- 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?
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:
- What has separated you from God?
- What has separated you from your prayer life?
- 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:
- What small things in your life have made for big things for others?
- What do you understand when Jesus talks about “the Kingdom of Heaven”, or the “Reign”?
- 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.