Monday, June 13, 2011

Proper 10 Year A

Proper 10 A

Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119: 105-112

Isaiah 55: 10-13; Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14

Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Isaac's story continues.  Last Sunday's reading relayed how Rebekah was found among his father, Abraham's, people as a wife for Isaac.  Now we are told the story of "the descendants of Isaac" and Rebekah, who was "barren."  The Lord granted Isaac's prayer and she conceived twin sons who "struggled within her."  Distraught, Rebekah hears from the Lord the reason for this troubled pregnancy: "Two nations are in your womb, and two people born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger."  At birth, the first born is "red and hairy," so was named Esau; the second born came out "gripping Esau's heel" and was named Jacob.  Their father came to favor Esau, who was a hunter and an outdoors man, over Jacob, who was a "quiet man, living in tents," who became his mother's favorite.  On one occasion, Esau came home form his exploits famished.  He asked Jacob for some of "that red stuff" he was cooking.  Jacob seized the opportunity and offered a deal:  he would give his brother some of the stew if Esau would sell his birthright as the first-born son.  Esau casually agreed, saying "I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?"  In this way, the narrative, concludes, "Thus Esau despised his birthright."  Thereafter, Esau was given the nickname, Edom. As the Lord promised, each was the father of a separate tribe or nation; Esau the Edomities and Jacob who is celebrated in Jewish folklore for his cleverness.

The psalmist testifies to his personal loyalty to the Lord's just laws, even when his life is at risk, or
perhaps especially then!

Isaiah declares on the Lord's behalf: Just as the rain renews and sustains the earth, so shall my word that goes out of my mouth.

Paul draws a thin but
unbreakable distinction. On one side are our instincts-- fear, jealousy, self-absorption, self-aggrandizement, indifference. On the other are love, forgiveness, compassion, all those qualities Jesus embodied extravagantly. In Paul's parlance: the one side "flesh," the other "spirit."

In this extended section Jesus tells the growing crowds following him "many things in parables," (which Matthew, only, [13:34-35], writes is a fulfillment of Psalm 78:2), because it is obvious some hear and see but do not understand him or his message, (which Matthew, only, [13:14-15], notes is the same insight Isaiah had [6:9-10]).  The parable itself and the pedantic explication that follows is pretty straight-forward, on one level: lack of "understanding" after one has heard "the word of the kingdom" means it has not taken root, withers quickly "when trouble or persecution arises," and produces nothing.  "But as for what was sown in good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case, a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."  (Frank Kermode provides a stimulating comparison between Matthew's and Mark's treatment of these passages in the Norton lectures at Harvard, subsequently published as The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative, p28 ff.)

The ministry of Jesus was not successful. As all four gospel editors are at pains to point out, there was mostly confusion or hostility. Even those who did follow him were not consistent.

Jacques Derrida has pondered over a story told by Maurice Blanchot near the end of
The Writing of the Disaster, a response to the Holocaust. As Blanchot tells it, the Messiah just shows up among the beggars and rejects who live at the gates into Rome. He blends right in at first. But eventually one of them recognizes him and asks him, "When will you come?" "If anyone will heed my words", the Messiah replies, "I will come today." John Caputo, Derrida's American interpreter, reflects: "The Messianic 'today' means: if you will begin, now, to respond to the call for the Messiah not with hollow words but with virtue. There is a way of waiting for the future that is going on right now, that begins here and now, and places an urgent demand upon us at this moment." (The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, p. 80) Jesus has already said that those whose in whom his words take root will "bear fruit."

How do the words of Jesus take root and eventually bear the fruit of compassion and justice in those who do respond?  "...This is the essence of the Lord's gift of self: it is a full gift, knowing no measure, poured out extravagantly. And when the Lord shows this gift of himself to people, he awakens in them the understanding of such a gift as self, he makes it possible for them to imitate him. He awakens in them the yearning to give more than they themselves possess. He draws forth from them an inclination to pass beyond boundaries." (Thanks be to God for these compelling words of Adrience von Speyer, Hans Urs von Balthasar's partner and inspiration, as quoted by Michelle Schumacher in the current issue of
Modern Theology, p. 363 See link below)

The one who has "ears" let that person "hear."