Season after Pentecost (Proper 11 [16]): The Gospel Passage – Good wheat, and bad weeds

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.” (Matthew 13:24-26)

This is a little bit “edgier” a parable. False doctrines have somehow gotten intermingled with the good news, and now there is mixed in the good crop weeds that are not good for anything.

“And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ “ (Verses 27 – 28)

I have sometimes seen/heard/read evidence of the thinking that I feel is not quite right; not out and out wrong, but off somehow and results in unfortunate outcomes. Perhaps you have too, beloved reader. I have at times tried to correct it but with little or no success. Other times I have remained silent; either because I did not feel it was my task to apply a corrective. Or because I felt it would cause more harm than good. Or, I did not feel I should pass judgment at all.

“But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'” (Verses 29 – 30)

The reason I find this to be an “edgy” parable is because it implies that authentic Christian thinking and actions are carried out along side the cockeyed and imperfect. It also implies that maybe we should not try to judge between the pure and good, and the imperfect and inaccurate. How’s that for a chilling prospect? Maybe no one except the Divine should try to discern between the “good wheat” and the “weeds”. Furthermore, what turns out to be “weeds” is destined for destruction. It could be the very judgmental attitude that some have which may turn out to be “weeds”. And THAT makes me nervous!

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.”
He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.
Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” (Verses 36 – 43)

The Jesus in this parable in Matthew is very edgy. But I suppose you already knew that beloved reader. It makes even me pause and think. I know I not infallible in my scriptural, faith, and spiritual knowledge; I know I make mistakes and errors. I try to discern rightly, and not proclaim absolutely. I only write what I am as certain as I can be. Perhaps this sort of teaching from Jesus is why Paul has such strict requirements for preachers and teachers. And yet . . . . Paul was very bold and outspoken in his preaching and teaching. I am not judging Paul according to the merits of this parable. I simply mean that it is okay to speak and teach boldly in the Lord. Just make sure you are standing in the midst of “good wheat” beloved reader! Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 10 [15]) : The Gospel Passage – Growing in and with the Lord God Jesus Christ

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.
And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.” (Matthew 13: 1-4)

I have commented a few times about the modern person’s ability to understand basic theological concepts that people back in Jesus’ day may not have comprehended. And in considering this telling of the parable about the sower, maybe it is more accurate to say that people in the current age understand and can perceive the message in parables and stories. It is an easy connection to make when you understand that the seeds in the parable is the good news of Christ, and that the sower is Christ or one of the disciples/apostles. From there one can determine the meaning of the seeds not taking root for one reason or another.

“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.” (Verses 5 – 6)

The middle verses of this passage, verses 10 to 17, tell what happened when the disciples came to Jesus and asked him why he told things in parables. Basically Jesus said some people will understand and others wouldn’t simply because they refuse to see what is before them. In essence, the message in the parable about the sower is the reason Jesus used parables, so that those who were ready to receive and understand the message would, and those who were not ready would not understand.

“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Verses 7 – 8)

Jesus explained specifically to the disciples the meaning of the parable – which sort of raise the question as to whether the disciples would have understood the meaning on their own. And if my premise is correct, that our modern system of education readies us to more easily understand metaphors, allegories, analogies, and metaphors – then perhaps the disciples needed the extra help to understand what Jesus meant.

“Let anyone with ears listen!”(Verse 9)

Does this mean our modern society is more able to assimilate Christian understanding and living into their lives? Um . . . no.

“Hear then the parable of the sower.
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.” (Verses 18 – 22)

Our modern understanding how parables can teach us does not mean the meaning and the lesson of the parable ‘take root.’ That is, just because we understand the concept or meaning does not mean it has and does influence our lives. This parable, then, talks about how the parable itself might function, or not function, in our lives.

“But as for what was sown on 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.” (Verse 23)

I want you to make special note, beloved reader, that there is not the same result in each case. Some bear more “fruit” and some bear less “fruit.” The point is not how fruit or result there is; the point is that there has been growth and development. The Lord God does not insist that all believers grow and mature in the same way, or yield up identical lives. That is not expected; what is expected is that you will make sure your lives and living are futile ground where the Lord’s words can grow. That, beloved reader, is the whole point. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 9 [14]) : The Psalm Passage – Being wooed to a new and different kind of love

Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him; the people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of the people with all kinds of wealth. The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes; in many-colored robes she is led to the king; behind her the virgins, her companions, follow.” (Psalm 45:10 – 14)

It would seem that the theme for this week is blushing brides coming to their groom. We have Rebekah coming to Isaac; Paul coming willingly but with mixed motivations to Jesus; and the people from the time Jesus walked on earth greeting the Messiah with contrary responses. Well, no one said that marriage and Christian was easy and automatic! There is the newlywed honeymoon period where emotions and starry glow obscure the hard work that needs to be done. The same is true when new believers come to faith, or when established believers go deeper into their faith. But I really do not want to dim the beauty of that moment, coming new understandings.

“With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king. In the place of ancestors you, O king, shall have sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.” (Verses 15 – 17)

This last portion is not directed to the consort of the king, but to the king himself; that his fame and glory will come from his descendants and not his ancestors. This would lead one to believe, in the context of the passage, that this is a new king, one that does not owe his ascent to previous rulers but has on his own established dominion.

This underlines the direction of the commentary to be towards the understand that the King is the Messiah; and if so, the church is the Bride or consort. And that actually is one image of Jesus Christ and the church which appears several times in the New Testament. But do not let us get side tracked into Christology or theology. We are in a praise passage; and moreover, I not are focusing on the Divine Object of the praise but the one who is praising. The other possible substituted psalm passage fits the direction of my thinking here.

“The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” (Song of Solomon 2:8-13)

We, beloved reader, are precious to our Lord God and Jesus Christ. Jesus and the Lord God sing a love song to us, and woo us with grace and compassion, love and caring, mercy, forgiveness and grace. Let us not forget one of the main reasons that we come to faith. The love that the Divine shows us draws us in, and the faithfulness that the Divine has towards us binds us in that love.

Yes, as Rebekah showed faith and followed what was the Lord’s plan for her; yes, as our desire to follow the Lord leads us to make choices that our human will would not have thought to do; and yes, we are drawn to a faith that does not seem to coincide with the world is now. Many unusual things are done for love. But the most upside down contrary things are down because of the love of and for the Lord. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 9 [14]) : The Gospel Passage – Living now, but acting as in the past

But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ “ (Matthew 11:16 – 17)

To paraphrase, according to sense of the verses in The Message – “You are not what we wanted you to be, and not what we expected you would be.” There was some conversation on the Christian radio station I listen to, talking about what Paul might say and think about these modern times. The same sort of suppositions have been suggested as to what Jesus Christ would have to say about our generation. And I think just as pertinent a question would be what would this generation that about Jesus Christ?

“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (Verses 18 – 19)

From what I gleaned from listening to the radio DJs, they assumed that Paul would lambaste this current generation as much as he did in the time he was writing. But I have my doubts. They same, I would assume other assume, that Jesus Christ would. Again, I have my doubts.

Both Jesus and Paul spoke to the situations that were presented to them in their time. Now, if we are saying that not much has changed between then and now, maybe they would have the same critique and teaching. And if that is so, then we who espouse Christianity know (or should know) exactly what we should be doing – precisely. But the thing is, why are we not doing it? I will tell you my theory.

We are not living in the same times or the same reality. What was said then is not what would be said now. I think that is why it is so hard to be an authentic Christian in this world. Furthermore, I think that is one of the reasons that Christianity has gained such a diverse reputation.

“At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Verses 25 – 26)

Are you understanding this, beloved reader? Jesus is praying that he is glad that the mysteries that are the Christian life are hidden from those who think themselves educated and well-versed in understandings. But it has been revealed to those who are innocent and child-like. I don’t what that says for people like me who are educated but cling to simple and basic understandings. Lately I have been thinking that I believe in old-fashioned Christianity. Not conservative, or fundamental, or dated; but old-fashioned . . . like unconditional acceptance and love of all humankind, grace, mercy & forgiveness, gentleness & humbleness, patience, compassion & care . . . . things that are not learned by the head but by the heart, soul, & spirit.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Verses 27 – 30)

Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 9 [14]) : The Epistle Passage – Paul leads us through an obstacle course of theology

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15)

What Paul, the writer of Romans, wants to do is follow God’s will. What he says he ends up doing is the opposite of God’s will and that is human willfulness. Now to be clear, we have free will and can do whatever we please – as long as it is within human capability. And it is clear enough that humans can do God’s will; it is a choice, just as following human will is a choice.

“Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.” (Verse 16)

If you feel a little confused, beloved reader, do not feel bad. I am a little confused too. I am familiar with the “not doing what I should; and doing what I should not” discussion, but this seems a little bit different. So I am going to carefully work my way through the verses until it becomes clear in my mind. I owe any clarity to Albert Barnes’ careful work on this passage.

When I referenced various translations, it seem that Paul is saying rules and laws are a good thing because they function to keep him in line. And God’s rules and laws tell Paul exactly what he should not do, and teach him what he should do.

“But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Verse 17)

Paul states that he considers himself saved and redeemed, but within his human nature, and every human nature, is the impulse to sin.

“For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” (Verse 18)

It is here that Paul puts forth his theory that humankind is sinful, and it is only because of the intervention and teaching of Christ that he (or anyone else) does good.

“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Verse 19)

Now here is the clearer statement that I am more familiar with. It would seem that the verses that came before are a build up (in my perspective) to the clearer statement that is in my memory.

“Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.” (Verses 20 – 21)

Here again, Paul sets forth the idea that the law (that is, strict rules and regulations) are more apt to tell us what we did wrong, and entice the imagination to do wrong!

“For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Verses 22 – 23)

It is unfortunate that in our English language the word “law” does not have the nuances Paul gives the word in Greek. Or maybe Paul is inserting his own nuanced meanings when he uses it in different contexts. “Law of God”, “law at war”, “law of my [Paul’s] mind”, and “law of sin”; for Paul these seems to have different shadings and meanings. Yes, actually, we know what he means. Paul loves the guidance and instruction of the Divine, but his baser impulses gravitate to human weakness and tendency toward sin which means the strict laws of forbidding certain actions are more apt to rule his thinking than God’s grace and mercy.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Verses 24 – 25a)

Paul does seem to have placed himself in a muddle, and we as readers battle to find understanding, and then battle to find our way through it. But you know, beloved reader, there is an easier way. Just follow the example of Christ, and take your guidance from the Lord God. And depend on the mercy and grace that is ours. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 9 [14]) : The Old Testament Passages – Following the Lord God’s Tide

From the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare:
There is a tide in the affairs of men [humankind],
Which, taken at the flood,
leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life,
Is bound in shallows and miseries”

I am leading off, not with a citation from scripture, but a quote that I read in my morning meditations. It is used in the cycle of scripture not for this week, but the week before. As I read it, it seemed to me that it is applicable for today also. This quote was used to support the idea that one should not tarry in coming to faith, but express belief in the Lord God and Jesus Christ when presented with that truth, and to put that faith and belief into action. This idea is in line with the theme of this lectionary year, coming to new and renewed faith.

In today’s passage you will read about several people who took good advantage of the “tide” that came about in their lives and affairs.

So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys.
And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’ ” (Genesis 24:34-38)

The Lord had helped Abraham prosper. While he made some missteps, for the most part he was faithful to God, and so God was faithful to Abraham. Abraham saw the “tide” that God had set before him, and he waded full in. Now Abraham again, “goes with the tide” and determines to pick a wife for Isaac who would most likely be faithful to God’s intent. Rather than simply settle for one of the ‘local’ girls, he instructs his servant to find a special girl. And Abraham’s servant also goes with the tide that his master has set for him. Consider what they could have missed out on if they had not heeded God’s tide.


“I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also” –let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master’s son.’ “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’” (Verses 42 – 45)

The servant does not wish to take any chances, and so seeks to place himself in the tide that is the Lord. He does not wish to depend on his own eye and judgment, but gives over to God to pick the correct girl for Isaac’s wife. Consider what he could have missed out on if he had not heeded God’s tide.

She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son.” (Verses 46 – 48)

Rebekah also places herself in God’s tide by helping the stranger and foreigner, and being hospitable and gracious to him. She could have thought of only herself and her household, and not extended graciousness to the stranger. Consider what she could have missed out on if she had not heeded God’s tide.

Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.” And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.” (Verses 49, 58 – 61)

Laban also took a chance with his sister, and stepped into God’s tide. And, if you will remember other biblical stories, you will remember that by stepping into God’s tide, he made this place, and a second place for himself and his family in God’s plan. Consider what he now and latter on could have missed out on if he had not heeded God’s tide.

Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” (Verses 62 – 67)

Isaac could have insisted on marrying a girl close at hand. He could have insisted on going along and approving of the girl he was to marry. But instead he trusted in his father and his father’s servant, and by extension trusted in God. By all accounts Rebekah was quite beautiful and we know she was compassionate, caring, and giving. Consider what he could have missed out on if he had not heeded God’s tide.

We are all free, beloved reader, to step into God’s tide and go where we are directed. We can refuse to go, resist God, and take our own chances. As William Shakespeare pointed however, are lives will be much less than if we had followed God. Consider Shakespeare himself, writing truths into his plays. Consider how much the world has benefited from his writings. Consider too my heeding this quote, and the writer of the book that I read it in. Consider all these things, beloved reader. Consider all of us – Abraham, his servant, Rebekah, Laban, Isaac, Shakespeare, the writer of the book, and myself – how we have sought out and followed God’s plan and guidance. Now, consider yourself; what will you chose to do? Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 8 [13]) : The Gospel Passages – Whoever

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:40-42)

Simple kindness and hospitality. Unconditional acceptance. Care and compassion. These are things that do not cost much, but are priceless when given freely.

One of the things the Pharisees could not understand, with all their laws and rituals, was that the Ten Commandments were based on simply caring about another person and caring about God. We get so bogged down about doing the right thing, that we forget that it is really about doing the good thing. So, now that I have reminded you about that, don’t sit here and keep reading, but go out and welcome into your home and your heart . . . . whoever! Selah!