The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, 24 February 2019

The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, 24 February 2019

Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42
I Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Saint Luke 6:27-38



Background: Blessings and Curses

 

The style that Luke uses in his version of the Sermon on the Mount has Jesus proclaim blessings (Blessed are…) and curses (Woe to you…) to both poor and rich. He follows, in doing that, a rich tradition from the Hebrew Scriptures which saw such proclamations as a part of the Covenant tradition, and the forms that it followed from Hittite treaty and suzerainty traditions in the Ancient Near East. The Israelites knew these forms from the codes and agreements that they lived under during their rule by Hittites, Egyptians, and Assyrians. The forms of Israelite covenant most closely follow the Hittite forms. The treaty form had the following elements:

 

1)    Preamble – which named the parties of the treaty, the suzerain and the vassal.

2)    Prologue – notes the history of the relationship, and what the suzerain had done for the vassal in the past.

3)    Stipulations – what was expected of the vassal.

4)    Publication – that the agreement was to be read and renewed annually.

5)    Divine Sanction – the gods invoked by both suzerain and vassal.

6)    Blessings and Curses – what would accrue if the stipulations were met (blessings) or what would accrue if the stipulations were not met (curses).

7)    Sacrificial Meal – binding the two parties in the provisions of the treaty.

 

In the Sermon on the Mount it is only the sixth element that obtains, but it shows how Jesus’ preaching relied, in part, on the forms of the ancient world.


First Reading: Genesis 45:3-11, 15

 

Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come closer to me." And they came closer. He said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there--since there are five more years of famine to come--so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.'"

And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.



The introductory verses of this pericope are elided from the lectionary and with them the emotional weight of the scene. Joseph weeps for the third time, first in secret and now quite openly. His first concern is his relationship with his father, “Is my father still alive?” Since he is quite obviously alive (a shock to his brothers) he needs to know about the primary relationship with ‘my father.” This is an intimate revelation that Joseph makes, and he underscores that intimacy by inviting them to come closer. The added element, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt,” brings the relationship into sharp focus, troubled though it may be. This also has a bit of a dramatic element to it – what will he do next must have troubled the brothers’ minds. 

Joseph is clear in understanding the brothers’ agency, but he is more clear in understanding God’s agency in the situation. Joseph sees God as a providential means for the family (both intimate and in the broader sense of humankind.) There is an aspect to this in which Joseph also appears to be the wise one, the one who made good things happen in a difficult situation. He is a blessing amongst the curses of famine. It’s a formal element that is followed by an even more formal aspect. Joseph makes a proclamation beginning with, “Thus says your son Joseph.” The speech has a regal aspect to it, and it is clearly addressed to a larger audience than merely the brothers. In a way it foreshadows what God will promise Israel: land, provision for a long period of time (“you and your children, and your children’s children.), and provisions for livelihood and survival.

Perhaps in preaching or reading, one might make the connection between Joseph’s reconciliation with his family, and the family that Jesus will propose and define in today’s Gospel.

Breaking open Genesis:
  1. Was Joseph being wise or cruel?
  2. What two families did Joseph have?
  3. Have you ever had a similar situation of disclosure?

Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42 Noli aemulari

 

1      Do not fret yourself because of evildoers; *
do not be jealous of those who do wrong.
2      For they shall soon wither like the grass, *
and like the green grass fade away.
3      Put your trust in the Lord and do good; *
dwell in the land and feed on its riches.
4      Take delight in the Lord, *
and he shall give you your heart's desire.
5      Commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in him, *
and he will bring it to pass.
6      He will make your righteousness as clear as the light *
and your just dealing as the noonday.
7      Be still before the Lord *
and wait patiently for him.
8      Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers, *
the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
9      Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; *
do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.
10    For evildoers shall be cut off, *
but those who wait upon the Lord shall possess the land.
11    In a little while the wicked shall be no more; *
you shall search out their place, but they will not be there.
12    But the lowly shall possess the land; *
they will delight in abundance of peace.
41    But the deliverance of the righteous comes from the Lord; *
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
42    The Lord will help them and rescue them; *
he will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them,
because they seek refuge in him.



 

In this psalm we have an acrostic based on the alphabet. It is a wisdom psalm which notes how the wicked will be justly punished, and how the righteous will prosper. Though this psalm is directed as common-sense proverbs about what is happening in the world around those to whom the psalm is given, it also has a thematic relationship with both the Gospel and the First Reading, “But the lowly shall possess the land.” Joseph’s family was hardly “lowly”, but they were along with all others challenged by the famine. The connection with the Gospel beatitude is more clear. Again, the psalm is filled with both blessings and curses.


Breaking open Psalm 37:
  1. Where is their wickedness in your life?
  2. Where is there good?
  3. How do you know the difference?


Second Reading: I Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50

 

Someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
So, it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus, it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.



Paul continues his thoughts on the resurrection. The argument is raised by an unseen voice, “Someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised?’” Paul then continues with an example of dying and of newness by using the illustration of the seed. It is an example that Jesus also uses, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat;but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24). Paul furthers the argument by defining what we mean by body and flesh, and we understand by a “spiritual body.” He argues for an understanding of the body aspect to resurrection but does not argue for the resuscitation of corpses. 

He moves to the example of Adam and of Christ and notes the stages of Adam’s becoming a living being, and of Christ’s moving beyond being just a living entity to becoming a spiritual entity. So, he compares the first man and the man of heaven. So, it is the spiritual to whom eternal life is given – “nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. Where is your life spirit-driven?
  2. Where is your life fleshy?
  3. How do you distinguish between them?

The Gospel: St. Luke 6:27-38

 

Jesus said, "I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."



Jesus continues his teaching on the mount, and a series of on-going blessings and curses mark the change that comes with the Kingdom of God. The first statement is remarkable, and fundamental, “Love your enemies.” What follows are a series of reversals, good vs. hate, prayers vs. curses, a coat taken, and a shirt given. These are striking examples, especially in our own time where the poor have become the scapegoats to so much in our society. Christians, or those who choose to follow Jesus, are called to radical behaviors of social reversal and what amounts to revolution. What Jesus calls us to model is what is first modelled for us by God, the Most High. “For (God) is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Jesus calls us to mercy.

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. What blessings does Jesus see in life?
  2. What curses?
  3. What do you see in life?








Principal Idea:            Jesus calls us to mercy.

First Example:            Joseph and his brothers and our families (First Reading)
Second Example:       Not being troubled by the wicked (Psalm)

Third Example:          Dying to the Physical, and Rising to the Spiritual (Second Reading)

Fourth Example:        Jesus’ mercies (Gospel)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 



O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller

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