06 July 2020

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10, 12 July 2020

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10, 12 July 2020

 

Track 1

or

Track 2

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

 

Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9,18-23


 

The Collect

 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.

 


 

Background: The Parable

Our word “parable” comes from Greek roots, namely para – alongside, and bolÄ“ – to throw. It’s Greek examples come largely from rhetoricians who used it to make an illustration about their point using a concise fictional narrative. Unlike a fable which uses various animals, inanimate objects, or plants as characters, such as the “sour grapes fable”, parables use human beings as the main characters of the narrative.  David Gowler describes them as a “metaphorical analogy.” We know parables especially in the Gospels, such as parable of the Good Samaritan, or the Prodigal Son. They are also known in the Hebrew Scriptures, such as Nathan’s parable of “The Ewe-Lamb” (II Samuel 12:1-9), or the “Woman of Tekoah” (II Samuel 14:1-13).  Parables are also known in Islam, especially in the Sufi tradition. Meant to impart universal truths, parables use a simple narrative, tells of the action on the part of the characters, and then teaches from or shows the truth that is illustrated in the story.

 

Track One:

 

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.

 


 

There are two introductions from the priestly strand (verses 19 – 20, and 26b) which tie together the story and tradition provided by the Yahwist. In the midst of the story there is a God-saying that provides an etiology about the nations that would spring from both Jacob and Esau. Of interest in this story is the competition that exists amongst the characters: a) Jacob vs. Esau, b) Isaac loves Esau, Rebekah loves Jacob. In a way the narrative mirrors the animosity between Cain and Able. In this story we can see the roots of our own racism and prejudice – Esau, the ruddy and dark skinned one, while Jacob is milder in complexion. Von Rad notes in his commentary, “the Palestinians noticed the much darker color of the eastern and southern inhabitants of the desert…The more civilized Israelites found their wilder neighbors rather scrubby.”[1] The world into which these boys were introduced and raised represented two different styles of life – the hunter (Esau), and the shepherd (Jacob). It appears to represent a cusp in history, the move from the culture of hunting/gathering to that of farming, and settlements.

 

The final line of the story tells the tale, at least in this pericope, “Thus Esau despised his birthright.” Perhaps that is a difficult concept for the nomad, but not the farmer. We are treated here to more than a family history but rather a glimpse of the development of a whole cultural entity – a nation, or nations, if you will. The God-saying in the midst of the pericope is more telling than when first heard or perceived.

 

Breaking open Genesis:

 

1.     Are their tangents or cusps in your family history?

2.     How does this story anticipate the fourth commandment (Honor your father and your mother)?

3.     How have you moved beyond your family traditions?

 

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         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.

 


 

Psalm 119 is a rather ambitious acrostic psalm made up of twenty-two sections, each one initialed by the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Our section this day is initialed by the letter nun. Weiser, in his commentary, is not all that complementary about the psalm. “The psalm is a many-colored mosaic of thoughts which are often repeated in a wearisome fashion.”[2] This section is one of several hymns in the collection, this one rejoicing in God’s word and law. Verse 111 seems to be a reflection on Esau’s rejection of his heritage, “Your decrees are my inheritance for ever.” The psalmist is pictured as a student and YHWH as the teacher.

 

Breaking open the Psalm:

 

1.     How does God’s Word provide light in your life?

2.     What do you say when someone asks you about the Bible?

3.     Does it guide your life at all?

 

Or

 

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.

 


 

Chapter 55 of Isaiah is a thanksgiving and rejoicing in the works of the servant. Verses 1-15 is a celebration of food and drink, a metaphor for the satisfaction that the Lord provides. Verses 6-13, which includes our pericope for this day is a celebration of God’s Word, with its invitation in verse six, “Seek the Lord when he may be found.” Our verses begin with a comparison to the rain and snow that fall on the earth. The verse that precedes takes our eyes upward so that we anticipate the precipitation that falls in our verses, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth…” Then comes what follows, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth.”  The implicit question that this Isaiah asks is one of dependency – on whom shall we depend, on what shall we rely? The prophet’s answer is simple – God’s word and promise, “it shall accomplish that which I purpose.” 

 

The example of the rain is more than we realize. As a Californian, I can image what this Isaiah proposes here. Rain can be indifferent to our needs, but is quite important to our living. So it was in the Near East. Rain was the difference between living on the produce that it provided or dying in its absence. Our minds turn back to the initial verses of this chapter where this Isaiah displays God’ word as the fruit and vegetables that satisfy us and give us life.  There is a cycle here, the rain falling, and then returning to the heavens. Something like God’s word descending and our prayers ascending.  The closing verses see Creation rejoicing in this as well, and that nature itself will substitute the good (the cypress) for the bad (the thorn). 

 

Breaking open Isaiah:

 

1.     How is food used as a symbol in the Bible?

2.     What satisfactions do you find in your faith?

3.     How is your life in God a cycle of response?

 

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.

 


 

Here, in this psalm, we are still in the difficulty that rain (or lack of it) describes in the Near East, and in many of the places in which we live. The optional verses describe a people going to God in prayer, hoping for a response in a time of dire need. The threat of a drought is answered in verses 9 – 14 with a vision of green fields and their plenty. “You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges; with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase.” In this psalm the people ask and God responds to definite need. The idea of God as the protector of creation, “You still the roaring of the seas.” The waters of the seas, in the Hebrew mind, was a sign of death and destruction, but water in the field was veritable life. So not only do the people rejoice but the meadows and valleys as well. “Let them shout for joy and sing.”

 

Breaking open Psalm 65:

 

1.     What are the dire needs of your life?

2.     How have you prayed about these needs?

3.     How have you been an answer to your prayers?

 

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, in his usual manner, sets up a comparison between the flesh and the Spirit.  Martin Franzman in his brief commentary on Romans[3] gives us something to think about when thinking about the Spirit part of this comparison. “Our English use of ‘spirit’ and ‘spiritual’ has cast a grey veil over the meaning of ‘Spirit of life’; the Spirit of God has become for us a pale and unsubstantial member of the Holy Trinity.” He goes on to describe and give us a vision of a powerful Spirit – present at creation, anointing prophets, priests, and kings, touching tongues with fire, seen in mighty winds. Paul attempts to describe here how life can become a different entity when empowered by the Spirit. “To set the mind on flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” 

 

Our reading ought to remind us that we are a new people in our Baptism. To think of it only as a memory, not known to us, but only in pictures and parents’ memories, is to lose its power. Baptism is living, it is process, it is growth. Flesh is death, but the Spirit, Paul preaches, is life. Power to the people!

 

Breaking open Romans:

 

1.     When were you baptized?

2.     What do you know about it, sponsors, etc.?

3.     How can the Spirit given you in Baptism, be powerful in your life?

 

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.”

 


 

In our reading from the Gospel of Matthew we have the Parable of the Sower, and its interpretation in the latter verses of the reading. In the first section we have a rather realistic description of what farming was like in the Levant. Oddly enough, Matthew places this teaching and parable in a boat, on a lake, far from the farm lands of which he is speaking. The lively descriptions have us see the variables on the farm, the hard clay of the path (often translated as “road”, but really just the oft-trodden dirt between the fields. Also seen are the parts of the field where the limestone under the soil comes close to the surface or actually borders it. Thorns were always a problem, for they were only turned under by the plow, not weeded and thus quite easily returned. See the Track Two First Reading, where the thorn gives way to the Cypress. So what is the teaching here? What do our ears need to hear? Jesus is honest about the complications of the enterprise he is recommending. There will be obstacles, but there will be good results as well, with varying results. Is this really a message to the disciples, or does Matthew use it as instruction to the early church?

 

Most commentators see the latter verses (18-23) as an addition to the tradition and text by the early Christian community. This second level of interpretation resorts to allegorizing. It builds on the images imparted in the early verses. We understand Jesus’ purpose from the very beginning of this section, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom…” We need to keep in mind the purpose, the announcement of the kingdom. That was a difficult enterprise in the time of Matthew, where such an announcement divided families and relationships. What does the early church see as obstacles in their mission: a) those who are distracted by “the evil one.” b) opportunists, put off by suffering and persecution, and d) those distracted by secular concerns. The key for the faithful is “hearing and understanding.” There is another part, however, the bearing of fruit and yielding results. “Let anyone with ears listen!”

 

Breaking open Matthew:

 

1.     Which of the obstacles have you found in your life?

2.     What does the Kingdom of God mean to you?

3.     What fruit has been borne out of your faith?

 

 







General Idea:              Recognizing the gift

 

Instance 1:                   Knowing the value of our inheritance in God (Track One: First Reading)

 

                                      The gift of God’s word for growth in our life (Track Two: First Reading)

 

Instance 2:                   Knowing power in the gift of the Spirit and in Baptism (Second Reading)

 

Instance 3:                   Rejoicing in receiving the seed (Gospel)

 

 

All questions and commentary copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller



[1]     Von Rad, G. (1961), Genesis, A Commentary, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, page 265.

[2]     Weiser, A. (1962), The Psalms, A Commentary, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, page 739.

[3]     Franzmann, M. (1968), Concordia Commentary, Romans, Concordia Publishing House, Saint Louis, page 138.

29 June 2020

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, 5 July 2020

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, 5 July 2020

 

Track 1

Or

Track 2

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45: 11-18
or Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 145:8-15
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

The Collect

 

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 





Background: Marriage in the Ancient Near East

 

There was a definite pattern of steps in arranging and celebrating marriage in the ancient near east. There was the deliberative stage during which a family would search for a suitable bride for their son. That was followed by a prenuptial stage during which choices were made by parents, the lead being taken by the father, or the mother or brother in certain circumstances. This might be celebrated by an anointing, or sometimes the bride moved to the house of the father-in-law. She was called a “wife” during this period, and presents would have been given, gold, a ring, or clothing. Men were usually aged from 26 to 32, although the Mishna allows for the age of 18 for men, while the women were aged from 14 to 20. The nuptial stage involved the bride dressed with a band around her head or a veil. The wedding lasted seven days and began with the bride opening the door of her parent’s house. A special room or tent (huppa) was reserved for the first intercourse and the consummation of the wedding. Often the best man witnessed the consummation so that he might attest to its completion. Following the festivities, the couple would begin living together, the Connubial stage, and would look forward to the birth of the first child, the Familial stage.

 

 

Track One:

 

First Reading: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

 

The servant said to Laban, “I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’

“I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also” —let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’

“Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”

And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

 

We continue with the Patriarchal History, here the search for a wife for Isaac by the major domo of Abraham’s household. The pericope is quite long, all of chapter twenty-four. The elided verses are: a) (24:1-33) the introduction of the major domo and his journey to Nahor, his meeting Rebekah at the well and her hospitality, and the meeting of the family, b) (24:39-41) the major domo’s concern that his offer will be rejected, and YHWH’s promise of success, and c) (24:50-58) the conclusion of the betrothal negotiations. The material of this pericope is from the J (Yahwist) strain.

This story comes at the end of Abraham and Sarah’s history, and uses Isaac and his marriage as a link to the Jacob history. In his demand from the major domo we see two significant points that mark the unique history of Israel. First, Isaac is not to be married to a Canaanite woman. The Covenant that has been made between Abraham and Sarah, and their line, must be pure, and not adulterated by people of another god. Secondly, Isaac must not go back to Mesopotamia, because the Covenant with YHWH is linked to the Promised Land. The person that is tasked with these delicate negotiations is the head of the household, whose name might be Eliezer, (cf. Genesis 15:2), however the real active entity in the story is none other than YHWH, who directs and intercedes often in the text. 

 What are we to learn from this text with its intricate pacing and details? As historians of marriage we might learn a great deal about social practices and attitudes in the Ancient Near East. As theologians, however, we need to be struck by Abraham’s tenacious grasp of the meaning of the Covenant, and by his arrangements to make it so beyond his own life and the life of Sarah. YHWH’s presence in the background underscores this viewpoint, and the major domo’s faithfulness to Abraham’s bidding is a lesson in itself. The personal history of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebekah will be quickly expanding to include a whole people in their relationship to YHWH.

Breaking open Genesis:

  1.   Do you see intents and purposes in your family’s history?
  2. 2What are your personal understandings about your relationship with God?
  3. 3.     In what parts of your life have you experienced guidance from your faith?

 

Psalm 45:11-18 Eructavit cor meum

 

11    "Hear, O daughter; consider and listen closely; * 
forget your people and your father's house.

12    The king will have pleasure in your beauty; * 
he is your master; therefore do him honor.

13    The people of Tyre are here with a gift; * 
the rich among the people seek your favor."

14    All glorious is the princess as she enters; * 
her gown is cloth-of-gold.

15    In embroidered apparel she is brought to the king; * 
after her the bridesmaids follow in procession.

16    With joy and gladness they are brought, * 
and enter into the palace of the king.

17    "In place of fathers, O king, you shall have sons; * 
you shall make them princes over all the earth.

18    I will make your name to be remembered 
from one generation to another; * 
therefore nations will praise you for ever and ever."

 


Artur Weiser in his commentary on the Psalms entitles Psalm 45 as “The Royal Wedding Psalm.” The attributions that precede the psalm seem almost elegant: “To the conductor, According to ‘Lilies.’” “To the Sons of Korah, a Maskil, a love song.” Royal indeed. The first verses, 1-10, are a celebration of a particular kingship, describing the might and marital prowess of the king who is to marry a woman from a foreign land. Our reading proceeds from verse 11 on, describing her beauty and her duties to the king. The verses describe the royal procession into the king’s palace, and, apropos of the First Reading, the heritage and legacy that her children will represent.

Breaking open Psalm 45:

  1.    What “marriages” have you experienced in your lifetime?
  2.    How would you describe your current relationship?
  3.  If you are alone, who is your companion in life?  

Or

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,

leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.

My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.

Look, there he stands
behind our wall,

gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.

My beloved speaks and says to me:

"Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;

for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.

The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,

and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.

The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom; 
they give forth fragrance.

Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away."

 


The verses here, again link to the marriage of Isaac. This, however, is a clever love song in which metaphor guides us to see the linking of two lovers. We are to think of the young lover in the guise of a deer bounding down the hillside to peer inside the windows of a house, protecting the young woman. She is invited away by the springtime, the flowers, and the song of the turtledove. This poem was designated to be sung at the Passover, celebrating the relationship (marriage) of YHWH and Israel. 

Breaking open Song of Solomon:

  1.   In what ways is God your lover?
  2.  How might you describe that relationship poetically?
  3.  Does it have all the drama of a marriage?

Or

 Track Two:

First Reading: Zechariah 9:9-12

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,

humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;

and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;

his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.

Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.

 

The book of Zechariah has two parts, Chapters 1-8, “The Prophetic Mission”, and Chapters 9-14, “A Messianic Panorama”. This second half, often attributed to a “Deutero-Zechariah”, has the following characteristics: a) obscure or no historical allusions, b) no dates, c) no mention of rebuilding the Temple, Joshua, or Zerubbabel, d) poetic, direct, and simple, e) quotes from Hosea, Isaiah, and other prophets, f) messianism centered in Judah – no references to Jerusalem, or to the Davidic family. Some commentators think that the book originated during the Maccabean era (167-134 BCE).

Christians will see the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in these verses, but we must get that image out of our minds. Here the image is of a messianic king entering the city on a donkey (horses = war, donkeys = peace). And the scene is expansive from Ephraim (Northern Kingdom) to Jerusalem (Southern Kingdom). It is more extensive than that, for this realm shall go “from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Our vision here is from the Mediterranean Sea to the Tigris/Euphrates, or the Persian Gulf. Finally there is the Covenant that sets the relationship still existing between Israel and God. The final line looks back to the post-exilic period, or perhaps a return to the traditions following the horrors of the Seleucid (Hellenistic) period.

 

Breaking open Zechariah

  1. What does “Messiah” mean to you?
  2. Whom do you see as “anointed” to do God’s will?
  3. You were anointed at your Baptism – what does that mean to you?

 

Psalm 145:8-15 Exaltabo te, Deus

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

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

10    All your works praise you, O Lord, *
and your faithful servants bless you.

11    They make known the glory of your kingdom *
and speak of your power;

12    That the peoples may know of your power *
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

13    Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; *
your dominion endures throughout all ages.

14    The Lord is faithful in all his words *
and merciful in all his deeds.

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

  

This is an acrostic psalm, but our reading is only a sample of the verses. Our reading begins at verse eight which is a quotation from Exodus 34:5 (verse 6 in the hypertext).  Some commentators see this as a “cult hymn”, almost like a creedal statement that outlines for those participating the attributes of the God whom they praise. If we look closely we will see the repetition of the words “kingdom” followed by “dominion” and “power”. These are good links to the Track Two First Reading that celebrates the coming of a messianic king. The theme of the psalm can be seen in verses ten through thirteen. It is the reason for the thanksgivings given in the initial verses of the psalm (145:1-7). The perspective of the psalm, like the reading that precedes it is one of universalism; there is no national aspect to the reasoning behind the psalm. In a sense, it looks forward to the same hopes that are evident in Deutero-Zechariah.

 

Breaking open Psalm 45:

  1.  Where do you see God’s kingdom?
  2.  How is where you live evidence of God’s kingdom?
  3.  How is it not?

 

Second Reading: Romans 7:15-25a

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 

Paul wrestles here with the Law and with sin. In this reading we see evidence of Paul’s inability to use punctuation (although that didn’t even exist at the time). Here we have a complicated confession, if you will. Paul is treading lightly here, for he sees a distinct connection between Law and sin. In chapter 3:20, Paul sees law as bringing “knowledge or awareness of sin.” In our reading for today Paul makes the argument quite personal, “for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Paul has a personal vision of sin being a very part of him, “but sin that dwells within me.” There seem to be two laws. The one is the Law of God, which he, Paul, delights in. However, there is also the law that is “at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin.” Is this a personal look backward to a prior time, or is it Paul squarely in the middle of a personal struggle in the present? 

 

Breaking open Romans:

1.     Do you have a personal struggle with sin?

2.     What are its particulars?

3.     How are you rescued from this struggle?

 

The Gospel: St. Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

Jesus said to the crowd, “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,

 

‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

 

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

 

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

 

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

In this reading we have two pericopes: a) 11:16-19, and b) 11: 25-30. For the first it might do you well to review the pericope that precedes it, The Messengers from John the Baptist, 11:2-6. Here we are introduced to the notion of doubt or disbelief, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” In our reading Jesus notes the skepticism of those who have observed both John and himself. They have seen the asceticism of John as demonic, and the life of Jesus, lived among Jews as a Jew, as gluttonous. Jesus notes, however, as Jeremiah did last Sunday, that the proof of the prophet is in the pudding. “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” The observers of both John and Jesus wanted to see something or hear something different. “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance.” 

 

In Luke the second pericope is placed after the return of the 72, where Jesus gives thanks to the Father. In Matthew, it is placed after the evident disappointment of the Jews and the pattern of disbelief over against John and Jesus. The comparison continues in this reading, “for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” It is the anawim, the little ones, who get it and who understand. That is the lesson here, to be childlike in our apprehension of Jesus and his words. 

 

Finally there is a message for our time – a time of hopelessness and desperation, “Come to me…” We are called here to be the little ones, meek and humble. If the coronaviris has taught us anything it is that we are often powerless in life – little ones in the scheme of things. It is to such a situation, that Jesus speaks – come to me, rest in me, take a light burden. In Gustav Holst’s Hymn of Jesus[1]the composer uses a line from the apocryphal Acts of John. Jesus says, “I am a couch, rest on me.” It is a stunning revelation to age that is simply tired.

 

Breaking open the Gospel:

1.     Where and what are your doubts?

2.     What are your expectations of your faith?

3.     What kind of rest do you need?

 

 







Central Idea:               Peace

 

Example 1a:                The peace of marriage (First Reading and Track One Psalms)

 

Example 1b:                The peaceable kingdom (First Reading and Track Two)

 

Example 2:                  Finding peace in our personal struggle with sin (Second Reading)

 

Example 3:                  Jesus is struggle and Jesus is peace. (Gospel)

 

 

All questions and commentary copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller

 

 

 

 

 



[1]        This link will take you to YouTube, but it is only a partial recording of the Hymn of Jesus.