Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
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.
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:
- Do you see intents and purposes in your family’s history?
- 2What are your personal understandings about your relationship with God?
- 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:
- What “marriages” have you experienced in your lifetime?
- How would you describe your current relationship?
- If you are alone, who is your companion in life?
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:
- In what ways is God your lover?
- How might you describe that relationship poetically?
- Does it have all the drama of a marriage?
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
- What does “Messiah” mean to you?
- Whom do you see as “anointed” to do God’s will?
- 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:
- Where do you see God’s kingdom?
- How is where you live evidence of God’s kingdom?
- 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, 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
 This link will take you to YouTube, but it is only a partial recording of the Hymn of Jesus.