The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12, 26 July 2020
1 Kings 3:5-12
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.
Background: Bread and leavening agents
In biblical times it was grains that constituted the bulk of the food eaten by the peoples of that time. Chief amongst those foods was bread, Lehem. Hebrew has twelve different words for bread. It was eaten at every meal and accounted for 50 to 70 percent of the daily caloric intake. Originally, barley flour was the main ingredient, but during the Second Temple Period (516 BCE to 70 CE), wheat (either emmer or durum) became the main constituent grain in bread, and also in pulses. Earlier, rice became available in Israel, especially after contact with Persians, and Persian culture.
The making of bread was a daily activity, and began with the preparation of the grain. The milling of grain was performed by the women of a family, and it took around three hours to prepare enough flour to make bread for a family of five. Later, millstones were used rather than the mortar and pestle, smaller versions of which would be available to households. A starter was made with four and water and dough from a previous batch, leavened by the natural yeasts in the air. The starter was called seor, and it gave a sourdough taste to the bread. The loaves were either unleavened, and small and flat kikkar, or were leavened into a loaf hallah. Sometimes leavening was provided by fruit juice, probably grape juice with its own yeasts from the skins. In addition legumes, fennel, or cumin would be incorporated into the bread to give it flavor.
First Reading: Genesis 29:15-28
Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.
We continue our series from the Patriarchal History, here the Marriage of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel. This is an instance of bait and switch, along with other complications. The initial speech by Laban makes us aware of something that we may have assumed was covered under the rubric of kinsman, or family. Laban was concerned about how to remunerate Jacob for his services to Laban. People who worked in the household of a landowner, or nomad as well, could be slaves, (which Von Rad terms as “strangers of land and blood.”)given room, board and protection, paid workers, such as shepherds, and domestic servants, who would have been paid. Jacob was none of these, so Laban’s concern is legitimate. The arrangement arrived at, even though Jacob was a kinsman, is the so-called “servant’s marriage”. The seven years of service seems like a high price, although we might take the number seven as a sign of completeness or perfection – the perfect price. The names of the two women preserve a cultural history, Leah meaning, “cow”, and Rachel meaning “ewe”, cattle-herders and shepherds.
Laban marries the older Leah to the unsuspecting Jacob who has intercourse with Leah. It is too late – he is bound to the older daughter. It is a bit of a turn-around for Jacob, who likewise feigned to be the older Esau, and tricked his father into blessing him. Karma indeed! However, we need to remind ourselves of the purpose of this family history. The marriage of Jacob and Leah is necessary so that Reuben and Levi, and their descendants, Moses and David, might be available in Salvation History.
So there is another perfect period of labor, and the marriage to Rachel can be brought about. All the parties are unaware of what would become a later tradition in Leviticus 18:18, “While your wife is still living you shall not marry her sister as her rival and have intercourse with her.” This may be why the tradition was preserved. It was out of the ordinary.
Breaking open Genesis:
1. What is the purpose of your labor?
2. What is given to you as a result?
3. Does it bring you happiness?
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b Confitemini Domino
1 Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name; *
make known his deeds among the peoples.
2 Sing to him, sing praises to him, *
and speak of all his marvelous works.
3 Glory in his holy Name; *
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
4 Search for the Lord and his strength; *
continually seek his face.
5 Remember the marvels he has done, *
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
6 O offspring of Abraham his servant, *
O children of Jacob his chosen.
7 He is the Lord our God; *
his judgments prevail in all the world.
8 He has always been mindful of his covenant, *
the promise he made for a thousand generations:
9 The covenant he made with Abraham, *
the oath that he swore to Isaac,
10 Which he established as a statute for Jacob, *
an everlasting covenant for Israel,
11 Saying, "To you will I give the land of Canaan *
to be your allotted inheritance."
Weiser calls this psalm “The Divine Covenant”. Our verses (1-11) certainly rehearse various aspects of God’s covenant with humankind, but the elided verses continue that development beyond Abraham. The purpose of the psalm is not to teach about the Covenant, but rather to praise it. Verses 1-6 serve as a hymn that rejoices in the Covenant made with God. Our commentator, Artur Weiser, saw this as a hymn sung by pilgrims with phraseology in the third and fourth verses serving as a clues: “those who seek the Lord,” and “Seek (God’s) face.” A second “hymn” follows in verses 7-11, which rejoices in the history of the Covenant, specifically in our reading, with Abraham (and Sarah). Our reading ends with the tangible promise of land, “To you will I give the land of Canaan, to be your allotted inheritance.” This is a great tie to the first reading, the marriage of Jacob to the two sisters.
Breaking open Psalm 105
1. What do you understand this Covenant to be?
2. What other covenants govern your life?
3. What are God’s promises to you?
Psalm 128 Beati omnes
1 Happy are they all who fear the Lord, *
and who follow in his ways!
2 You shall eat the fruit of your labor; *
happiness and prosperity shall be yours.
3 Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house, *
your children like olive shoots round about your table.
4 The man who fears the Lord *
shall thus indeed be blessed.
5 The Lord bless you from Zion, *
and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
6 May you live to see your children's children; *
may peace be upon Israel.
This psalm seems to rejoice in domestic blessings, and ties into the labor of Jacob for his kinsman Laban. It is a series of beatitudes (happiness) that accrue to those “who fear the Lord, and who follow in (God’s) ways.” The author has the householder see the blessings of God in those with whom the householder is blessed. Wives, children, indeed, the labors of his own hands are all seen as a blessing from Zion. There is a blessing of longevity, and the prosperity of future generations – signs of God’s blessing.
Breaking open Psalm 128:
1. What are the blessings of your household?
2. What do you have that others do not?
3. What do you hope that your peace might be?
First Reading: 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.”
After the consolidations of holy places into Jerusalem, by David, all worship was to be done in Jerusalem. Here, however, we see that this consolidation probably happened at a later time, most likely during the reforms of Jeroboam, for here the shrine at Gibeon is still operating, for Solomon chooses to go there to offer his “one thousand burnt offerings.” The power of the place, however, is something akin to Beth-El, for it is here that Solomon has a “night dream”, a vision. Other instances of these visions can be seen in Genesis 20, where Abimelech has such a vision, and in II Samuel 7, where the prophet Nathan has a vision.
The purpose of this pericope is to bolster the reputation of David, “because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you;” and to see Solomon in that same reputation. Here Solomon asks for the resources that will make him a wise and good ruler such as his father was. Like some of the prophets, Solomon describes himself as a child, unschooled in the ways of the world, inexperienced in the rule of people. Solomon asks for wisdom, “give your servant therefore and understanding mind.” It is this wisdom that will become legendary during his reign. God grants the prayer because Solomon did not ask for wealth or riches, but rather discernment. This passage is a foundation in the legend of the Great King Solomon.
Breaking open I Kings:
1. Have you ever had a vision?
2. For what have you asked God?
3. What has God given you?
Psalm 119:129-136 Mirabilia
129 Your decrees are wonderful; *
therefore I obey them with all my heart.
130 When your word goes forth it gives light; *
it gives understanding to the simple.
131 I open my mouth and pant; *
I long for your commandments.
132 Turn to me in mercy, *
as you always do to those who love your Name.
133 Steady my footsteps in your word; *
let no iniquity have dominion over me.
134 Rescue me from those who oppress me, *
and I will keep your commandments.
135 Let your countenance shine upon your servant *
and teach me your statutes.
136 My eyes shed streams of tears, *
because people do not keep your law.
Psalm 119 is a pastiche of verses, ideas, and phrases from other works, which are specifically centered on God’s Law. Here, in these verses, the author rejoices in God’s commandments, and mirror, in a way, the prayerful request that Solomon makes in the Track Two first reading.
Breaking open Psalm 199:
1. What role do the commandments play in your life?
2. How do you determine what God’s will is?
3. How do you express that will in your life?
Second Reading: 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.
Paul’s reverie on the Spirit and prayer is a wonderful tonic for our time. When things are difficult, or as Paul puts it, “in our weakness”, he sees the Spirit as coming to our aid. The very groans that we might make over our situation and difficulty become virtual prayer as far as Paul is concerned. The Spirit intercedes for us.
Given that, this context of Spirit-driven prayer in the midst of difficulty and chaos, we need to understand that all things work together for our good. This is often difficult to see or even to imagine. You see this in the words of those who see God intervening on their behalf in the midst of the Corona virus. “I don’t need a mask, God will provide!” Is this what Paul means, or is there to be a measure of effort on our own part? I recall conversations with fervent believers who had hope in individuals “conquering” cancer or other illness with their faith. Paul asks the question, “What then are we to say about these things?” His example is Jesus, the given of God Son, who suffered and died for us. That doesn’t seem to be much of an opt-out kind of situation. He quotes Psalm 44 and its lament. This is real-theologie. If we are to have faith and prayer in our lives, then it needs to be in the reality of our lives, in all the muck and mire. What sustains us is the hope of conquering, or seeing situations and institutions as faltering, but not over-whelming us. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers…” There it is, our situation – in prayer. Our world in the hands of Jesus, and in the hands of his body – ourselves.
Breaking open Romans:
1. What do you do when you cannot pray?
2. How do you meditate?
3. What is your prayer about? How are you a part of it?
The Gospel: St. 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.”
The parables of Jesus literally stem from all kinds of sources. For example, take Ezekiel 31, where we have the image of a large tree, “In its branches nested all the birds of the sky; under its boughs all the wild animals gave birth.” Another example is in Daniel 4:7. In this parable, however, the kingdom that is being disclosed is the Kingdom of God, the story designed to make that truth known and realizable.
Our reading today is composed of not only the Mustard Seed Parable (13:31-32), but also that of the woman using yeast (13:33), the Parable of the Treasure Buried (13:44), the Parable of the Fine Pearl (13:45-46), and the Parable of the Dragnet (13:47-50). What are we to glean from these parables? Persistence? Patience? Risk? Yes! Jesus warns us that it is all both old and new. We should not be surprised how the kingdom discloses itself to us. Perhaps that is the real lesson that we can learn in the midst of the difficult times in which we live. Where is the Kingdom of God in the midst of the threat of this disease, or in the national difficulties that we are experiencing? Perhaps this is not best met in a sermon, but in a multiplicity of sermons, and conversation on the part of the people of God. It is not a simple means for which we seek. It may be as close as the yeast in the air (see Background) or as difficult to find as the Great Pearl, but it is our “duty and delight” as the liturgy says.
Breaking open the Gospel:
1. With which of these parables do you most identify?
2. During this enforced Eucharistic Fast, where are you finding the Bread of Life?
3. Jesus asks, “Do you understand all these things?” What might your answer be?
General idea: Wisdom for our time
Idea 1: Seeking wisdom in our praying – seeking the Night Vision (Track Two First Reading)
Idea 2: Seeking wisdom in God’s will and law (Track Two Psalm)
Idea 3: Hearing wisdom in what the Spirit says to us (Romans)
Idea 4: Finding wisdom in the ordinariness and challenging nature of daily life (Gospel)
All questions and commentary copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller