Thursday, June 9, 2011

Proper 9 Year A

Proper 9 A

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45: 11-18 OR "The Song of My Beloved" (Song of Solomon 2:8-13)


Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145: 8-15

Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30
(Revised Common Lectionary)

After the death of Sarah and as Abraham nears his own death, he sends a servant to find a wife for Isaac. He wants Isaac not to marry a Canaanite, but someone from his homeland. The servant prays to the Lord to guide him to the right woman. He meets Rebekah at a well and she fulfills the expectations. Then the servant learns that she is the granddaughter of Abraham's brother, Nabor. Isaac takes her and they are married. "So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death." (Many years later, Rebekah will conspire with their younger son, Jacob, to deceive Isaac when he is old and blind, to cheat Esau out of his birthright blessing. And so through this marriage God's covenant continues, even through human treachery.)

This psalm was written for a royal wedding. The bride's beauty is enhanced by gold gowns and pearls. Their union will produce princes, continuing progeny for generations to come.


Writing about the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs as he prefers, in The Literary Guide to the Bible, Francis Landy, observes that this lyric poem uses extravagant language and strange metaphors, which he calls "verbal magic," to describe that which cannot be adequately described-- the human capacity for love, desire, longing and the complex relationship between women and men. (p.307)   In this small excerpt, the woman being wooed by the man compares him to a "young stag or gazelle," coyly spying on her.  He calls to her to come with him, just at the time the whole earth is awakening in bounty and beauty.


This excerpt from the book of Zechariah appears to be inserted and celebrates a new king who "shall bring peace to the nations." This promise is for "prisioners of hope" who will receive even more than they hoped!

A psalm of thanksgiving to "You my God, the king," praises God for mercy, generosity in the abundance of the earth and God's closeness to all, especially the disadvantaged.

Paul acknowledges in himself a uniquely human predicament: although I know what is right and want to do it, my own body and mind are "at war" within me. Is there no escape from this predicament? "Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord." Only a grand innovation, literally an act of God-- the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ-- is adequate to break this cycle of our always failing. Because of God's limitless second-chances, we never stop trying to do what we ought to do.

Once again in Matthew's gospel Jesus confronts the strong, even violent, mixed reactions to him in his own generation, which he notes vilified John the Baptizer because he was too ascetic and now criticize him because he  cavorts with "tax collectors and sinners." Jesus offers a prayer to his Father: although his offer has been refused by the "wise and intelligent" may it be accessible to "infants." He issues an invitation to any who will accept it. "Take my yoke and learn from me; because I am humble and gentle, you will find rest for your souls. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.

From the beginning to the very end of the biblical texts, God promises to be with us in all the ways that matter most, but every time that promise gets entangled in human deception, cowardice, deception and duplicity. And so the promises must be made again and again so the story can continue. Otherwise, the story just ends in meaningless futility and cynicism about our fate.

God leads Isaac to the right woman to marry so the covenant can continue, but later human duplicity twists the way God's covenant is given to the next generation. Paul shakes his head in clinched-fist frustration that on his own he cannot escape the all-too-human predicament of knowing what is right but just being able to do it. And then blurts out thanksgiving to God for the spectacular gift of Jesus Christ, through whom Paul has finally found an escape from the conundrum of himself. Jesus confronts directly the fact that some get him and some do not. He then offers an open-ended invitation that requires response by every generation and really by every individual person: Take up this relationship with me, it is a new kind of binding-together in your experience.

For whatever reasons, known to God alone, God's capacity for forgiveness, which allows a second-chance, is limitless. It is available to every person for all time. God provides these second chances no matter how messy it can get sometimes. At the end of "Literature in Secret," Jacques Derrida writes: "Forgiveness comes to pass as a covenant between God and God through the human. It comes to pass through the body of man, through man's evil or fault...." "Saying that forgiveness is a history
of God, an affair between God and God-- and we humans are found from one end of it to the other end of it--provides neither a reason for nor a means for dispensing with it." (p. 148)

There is no explanation for why God has chosen to behave this way toward those who persistently fail the relationship God initiated and sustains.  It is a paradox lost on "the wise and intelligent" (while babies respond instinctively to such love!)  This is the relationship which Jesus invites anyone to "yoke" or bind herself.