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.


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