Friday, July 1, 2011

Proper 12 Year A

Proper 12 A
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11,45b;
OR Psalm 128


I Kings 3:5
-12; Psalm 119:129-136;

Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

The intrigue and duplicity among the patriarchal and matriarchal families continue, but God finds ways for the Covenant to be preserved and renewed.
Jacob has fallen for Rachel, the younger daughter of his uncle, Laban.  To win her, Laban asks for seven years service from him.  Jacob accepts the terms, which "seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her."  When the seven years are completed, Jacob tells Laban: "Give me my wife that I may go with her...."  Laban puts on an elaborate party, promising Rachel to Jacob that night.  However, under the cover of darkness, he took his older daughter, Leah, to Jacob instead of Rachel.  In the dark, Jacob could not tell the difference (using only his sense of touch).  But the next morning, when he realizes what has happened, he confronts Laban: "Why then have you deceived me?"  Laban responds that the custom in his country is that the younger daughters is not married before the "first born."  Laban proposes that for one week's more labor, he will give away both his daughter to Jacob.  Which is what happened.  (What a wicked irony, that Jacob, with the complicity of his mother, Rachel, had deceived his father, Isaac, who was blind and could only tell his sons apart by touch, was now deceived in the dark.)  But the generations continue and so does God's Covenant.

The psalmist recalls God's mighty acts, beginning with God's initiating a Covenant with Abraham, which the Lord renewed with Isaac and then Jacob.

This "wisdom psalm" identifies a happy home life as one of the blessings of those "who fear the Lord/who walk in His ways."  Enjoying the food that comes from "the toil of your hands" at table with parents and children is its own blessing.  The psalmist concludes with a benediction: "may you see children of your children."


The narrative of I Kings highlights Solomon's "wisdom."  At Gibeon, a place of worship in Benjamin, the Lord appears to Solomon in  a dream, addressing him: "Ask what I should give you?"  Solomon responds first by acknowledging a gift that God has already given-- the "great and steadfast love" shown to his father, David, and to the son soon to succeed him on the throne.  Solomon asks God for "an understanding mind... to discern between good and evil....."  The Lord promises to fulfill Solomon's request as no one before or after him.  (Walter
Bureggemann describes the particular understanding of "wisdom" in the Hebrew scriptures and Solomon as an exemplar this way: "An Old Testament articulation of humanness does not flinch from celebrating shrewdness and insight of a tough-minded kind. But the discernment to which human persons are enjoined is not simply technical knowledge. It is, rather, a sense of how things are put together and how things work in God's inscrutable deployment of creation. It is the delicate recognition that reality is an intricate network of limits and possibilities, of givens and choices that must be respected, well-managed, and carefully guarded in order to enhance the well-being willed by and granted by Yahweh for the whole earth." [Theology of the Old Testament, 1997, p. 465])

psalmist compares the Lord's "precepts" to light that can make even the "simple" to understand.  The psalmist "pants" and "craves" the Lord's "commands."  "shine Your face upon Your servant/and teach me Your statues."

Paul acknowledges his "sighs too deep for words." But then he discovers that God "stretches the heart." After he repeats the creed-- "Christ
Jesus who died, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us"-- he find his voice and becomes bold, confident and articulate. "Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

While Matthew examines in
detail the extent and ways is which Jesus was misunderstood and rejected-- and still is in Matthew's time-- he never attributes the confusion to esoteric reasons. In this series of comparisons, God's word and work in Jesus is depicted as small, humble, buried but not obscure. The individual must take the initiative to seek and find. But once it is found, it is prized. Who has found it? Leave that judgment to God.   Each of the five short parables in this very compact excerpt is meant to provide a different glimpse of a central theme of Jesus' teaching: "the Kingdom of God."  It can start out (in some one's heart and imagination) as small as a mustard seed, yet grow mightily.  Like yeast causes dough to rise, it can transform and expand.  It is like a unique discovery one makes and sells everything else to possess it.  Or, like a jeweler who  finds the most exquisite pearl she has ever seen and sells all other possessions to have it.  This excerpt closes with an eschcatological proviso: it is also like a fisherman's net, which scoops up everything but when brought ashore the "good" are separated from the "bad."  "So it will be at the end of the age."  "The angels" will do the sorting.  A statement unique to Matthew's narrative appears next.  One who is "trained" [in the ways] of the Kingdom is like a householder who brings out of her possessions "what is old and what is new."

The biblicaltestimony to Jesus continues that claim. Understanding and following Jesus does not require sophisticated or esoteric knowledge. The tendency is to over complicate it, turn it into abstract, theological concepts, to shellac it over with piety. The only obstacle is human will. And the application of God's wisdom, especially as seen in Jesus, is as routine as daily life. Writing about the insights of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Fergus Kerr observes: "What is primary and foundational, according to Wittgenstein, is, however, neither ideas nor beliefs nor any other class of mental events, but human beings in a multiplicity of transactions with one another." On the preceding page, he quotes Wittgenstein: "The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something-- because it is always before one's eyes.) (Theology after Wittgenstein, pp 119 and 118) Also inspired by Wittgenstein, Henry Staten notes: "Language stores up insights for us, but saves us the trouble of actively bringing them into being; it is our ethical responsibility to quicken them with the constitutive activity of our own minds." (Wittgenstein and Derrida, p.32)

The "scribe" in Matthew's narrative, compared to a householder, brings out of her possessions some old, familiar things and some entirely new ones.  The "scribe," who is knowledgeable in the ways of God's "Kingdom,"  finds new words (that "quicken... the constitutive activity of our minds") to implant the "Kingdom" in the imaginations and hearts of others not as abstractions, but as specific, clear, quotidian actions that feed on themselves, causing the "Kingdom" to sink deep roots, grow massive branches, or rise and transform.  It becomes a self-fulfilling activity-- the more one "does" "Kingdom" deeds, the more one gets it; the more one gets it, the more deeds proliferate.  It can begin as small (as a mustard seed), but grow into a life-altering transformation that causes one to jettison some treasures to gain this particular one more dearly.

Until God sorts through the mass of humanity engaged in this journey, it's going to be quite messy and confusing, sometimes, too. But that is not a reason to stop pursuing God's "Kingdom."

Seek, find, and act in
ever day understanding and personal interactions-- these are the biblical three steps for learning and loving God's wisdom. That begins the life-long discernment that is shrewd, tough-minded, well-managed, and carefully guarded, to return to Brueggemann's choice of words.