The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14 - 7 August 2011
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b
I Kings 19:9-18
St. Matthew 14:22-33
Background: At the request of Trinity Church, San Francisco, I am going to begin commenting on all the choices that the RCL offers during Ordinary Time. The Continuing Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures and its accompanying psalm will be commented along with the Hebrew Scripture and Psalm that is linked to the Gospel for the day. I hope that this will be helpful to any who are using this series as a devotional or homiletical aid.
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
Now his brothers went to pasture their father's flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, "Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them." He answered, "Here I am." So he said to him, "Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me." So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.
He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, "What are you seeking?" "I am seeking my brothers," he said; "tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock." The man said, "They have gone away, for I heard them say, `Let us go to Dothan.'" So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, "Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams." But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, "Let us not take his life." Reuben said to them, "Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him" -- that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
With these readings we step into the initial scenes of the Joseph Epic, and witness the expansion of a family history into the history of a people. There are two other patterns that emerge here. One is the tradition of the dreamer, and not only that, but the interpreter of dreams. This is material that St. Matthew will use in his birth narrative, as he introduces his Joseph, the spouse of Mary. Other dreamers will appear in the Hebrew texts, but Joseph seems to the first example. In today’s reading, we only know Joseph as a dreamer by the reputation he has gained among his brothers, “Here comes this dreamer.” These are not just random dreams, but rather dreams that indicate Divine Direction. That Jacob “ponders” his son’s dream, indicates its theological import.
The other pattern that is evidenced here is the preeminence of the younger Son as opposed the eldest. We have seen this pattern before with Jacob and Esau, Isaac and Ishmael, and later in David and his brothers. By tradition, and an ancient tradition at that, the eldest son was due the inheritance and the blessing. In these stories, however, it is the younger one who is chosen – out of line, and outside of the tradition. In some cases it is arranged surreptitiously, and in others it is the case of affection. This reading caps Joseph’s experience in his family, and sets his feet in Egypt where his dreams and divination will have meaning and import – a second phase of this epic
Breaking open Genesis:
- What kind of dreams do you have? Do you remember them?
- Do they have meaning for you?
- What do you think of the dreamers in the Bible?
Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b Confitemini Domino
Give thanks to the LORD and call upon his Name; *
make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him, *
and speak of all his marvelous works.
Glory in his holy Name; *
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Search for the LORD and his strength; *
continually seek his face.
Remember the marvels he has done, *
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
O offspring of Abraham his servant, *
O children of Jacob his chosen.
Then he called for a famine in the land *
and destroyed the supply of bread.
He sent a man before them, *
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
They bruised his feet in fetters; *
his neck they put in an iron collar.
Until his prediction came to pass, *
the word of the LORD tested him.
The king sent and released him; *
the ruler of the peoples set him free.
He set him as a master over his household,*
as a ruler over all his possessions,
To instruct his princes according to his will*
and to teach his elders wisdom.
Psalm 105 is a retelling, in poetic form, of the family history in Genesis, the family engendered by Abraham. This history soon evolves into the history of a people, and the focus is soon on Moses and the trek through the wilderness. Excised from it and presented here are the materials regarding Joseph, as the author looks back on the deeds of Joseph, and his role in the salvation of Israel.
Breaking open Psalm 105
- How does Joseph serve as God’s agent
- How do Joseph’s brothers serve as God’s agent?
I Kings 19:9-18
At Horeb, the mount of God, Elijah came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." Then the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."
The style of this reading is a prediction/fulfillment narrative, in which the prophet indicates a present problem, a prediction as to what will happen and then evidence as to how the prediction was fulfilled. This particular series are interesting in that some of them begin with Elijah, later to be fulfilled in the ministry of Elisha. Another interesting element is how this reading is patterned upon the Moses/Sinai story.
Elijah has had a fiery relationship with Ahab and his foreign Queen, Jezebel. From Elijah’s point of view he is now the only faithful one – and he has felt some pressure to leave the kingdom and flee to Mount Horeb. What Elijah meets here is not quite what he expects. God troubles Elijah, pointing out the contradictions that come with being the mouth of the Most High. We intuit that Elijah expects to experience God in the mighty wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but he is disappointed, for God is manifested in the “sheer silence”. Even the answers that follow, direct as they are, are difficult. There will be no quiet time, and the battles that Elijah (and the faithful) have endured will only continue and be seen as well in the ministry of Elisha his successor. Elijah is not alone – it only feels that way. What a comment on contemporary life!
Breaking open I Kings:
1. How are Elijah’s expectations like those of your own? How are they not?
2. How do you deal with God’s silence?
3. What does it say to you?
Psalm 85:8-13 Benedixisti, Domine
I will listen to what the LORD God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
The LORD will indeed grant prosperity, *
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.
In verses not included in this reading, we hear the psalmist speak of the God “who has laid aside wrath” in favor of justice. Such a notion of contrasts is a good counterpoint to the first reading. The psalmist expects justice and peace, and reminds God, that God is a “rescuer”. The entire landscape is to be changed, if the psalmist has his way, and God will turn things around, substituting peace for anger, faithfulness for folly. The image of the journey (Justice before him goes, that he set his footsteps on the way, v. 14, Alter) is both apt and dynamic. We like Elijah cannot rest on our laurels of faith, there is a way to walk.
Breaking open Psalm 85
1. What kind of path does God walk?
2. How is it different than your own?
3. Does your faith change your path?
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that "the person who does these things will live by them." But the righteousness that comes from faith says, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) "or 'Who will descend into the abyss?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?
"The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart"
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For,
"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
In this continuing reading from Romans, Paul takes a moment to build on an idea from Deuteronomy 30: "For this command which I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, 'Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” Moses attempts to convince his hearers of the intimacy of God’s will and way. Paul uses this same model in speaking of the closeness of Christ – the Word. Not only is this Word on our lips, but it is on the lips of any who might choose to speak the Name. But it does not end there. Paul wants to convince the Romans that it is not some arduous task to believe. He also wants them and us to realize that there is work to do, however. We are to be apostles (sent out ones) who bear on our lips and hearts the Word that saves.
Breaking open Romans:
- What does your religion require you to do?
- Is it difficult?
- What message does it give you to speak?
Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."
Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
The readings for today seem to want to explore the notion of a faith in extremis, a faith tested at the limits. Elijah thinks that he is already at the limit of his experience and energy, but a “sheer silence” draws him in deeper to the requirements that God has for him. Unlike Elijah, Peter wants to think that he is capable of more. In the context of fear and apprehension as the disciples see the figure of Christ coming to them on the water, Peter’s brash attempt seems heroic until he realizes that he is caught in the same trap of fear. He suddenly needs a “rescuer” (see Psalm 85) to pick him up and save him for future adventures of faith. In some respects, Matthew’s account is the opposite of the Elijah story. What convinces Elijah does not convince the disciples and Peter, and visa versa. The wind and wave are heady proofs of the danger and their vision of Jesus over coming them seem to be the seed bed of their faith. Which theme is more convincing? The silence seems to work for our time.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- When does Jesus move into your life unexpectedly?
- Does fear ever accompany your faith?
- Does Jesus ever lift you up?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.