Commentary for Pentecost VII, 19 July 2020
Texts for Pentecost VII are Genesis 28: 10-19a, Psalm 139: 1-12, 23-24, Romans 8: 12-25, and Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43.
By Father Doug Woods
20 07 15
The texts we need to look at in preparation for Sunday: Genesis 28.10-19a, Psalm 139.1-12, 23-24, Romans 8.12-25, and Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
1) Genesis 28.10-19a. This is the famous story of Jacob’s Ladder. They probably read it to you in Sunday School. If you want to get some perspective on the story, go back a few pages in your Bible, and read the WHOLE story of Jacob and Esau (ten minutes of reading). You’ll quickly see that Jacob is a kind of tricky character—looks like sibling rivalry to me—and his brother Esau often ends up at a disadvantage. That’s the perspective for today’s reading. Jacob is on the run; he’s afraid of what could happen to him.
Anyway, here he is alone in the middle of nowhere, and he feels safe enough to let down his guard and go to sleep. While he sleeps, he has a dream—a dream that right there where he is there’s a ladder which stretches from Earth to Heaven, and the angels of God are going up and down on the ladder. All at once, God is standing next to him and makes a promise to him; the long and short of it is that he will receive land and heirs. This should be comforting to Jacob, given why he’s out there in the middle nowhere in the first place—and doubtless it is, but there’s more.
He feels awed. Has God ever spoken to YOU in a dream? You read stories of people who’ve had a strange dream waking up and writing it down right away so they don’t forget any of it. Well, Jacob does something like that. For one thing, he comes to a realization: God is in that place, so he names it Bethel (beth ‘house’ + el ‘the Lord, i.e., ‘the house of the Lord’). The next thing is the promise. You can imagine that Jacob must have had some questions about that. He’s on the run, he’s afraid, and suddenly here’s God promising all sorts of things which imply that he and his heirs have a FUTURE (we’ve already talked about that in the context of preserving the Covenant). So he’s going to be all right. And finally, there’s the promise of protection: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Just when Jacob thought he was safe because he was ALONE, he finds out that he’s anything BUT alone; GOD is with him.
2) Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24. You almost have the impression that Jacob could have said this psalm as a prayer. He thought he was alone, but little did he know that there were angels there—and God was there. Has he gone from feeling isolated—not only physically but also relationally (his relationship with Esau)—to feeling that there’s no place he can go and be alone? If you’re an introvert, like me, you treasure your “alone time”, but even so I find it very comforting to know that no matter what, God is with me.
This psalm also reminds me of the story of Jonah (and the whale—another one you heard in Sunday School). It’s a very short story; go and read it. Jonah is feeling hemmed in by God, and he starts off on a voyage to escape to “Tarshish”, only to discover that there’s literally no place he can go and get away from God: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” Ps. 139.5
God is everywhere, not just in Israel or Bethel; he’s even out there on the way to Tarshish.
3) Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. This is another parable told by Jesus. Last week, it was the Parable of the Sower. In that parable, Jesus tells us what happens when the Word (the seed) is sown. Only a small percentage of it bears fruit, but when it does, look out!
Those who were listening could be excused for saying, “But why does so little of the seed germinate? Why do so many people reject the Word?” And that’s the point of THIS parable. An “enemy” was come by night and sown weeds in the wheat field. For those of you who have a lawn, you’ll know what that’s like: weeds are the enemy! In this case, the weeds are the INSTRUMENT of the enemy, and there’s danger they’ll choke out the wheat.
“Surely God will do something about this,” you say, but God says, “No, let’s be careful. If we try to pull out the weeds, we’ll also pull out some of the wheat. Let’s wait until harvest time, when we’ll cut down the grain anyway. That’s when we’ll separate the wheat and the weeds.”
In the second part of the reading, Jesus explains what’s going on in the story. The seed which the “farmer” has sown is the Word of God, the Good News. The weeds are the very things which choke out the “wheat”. The “enemy” is the Devil, the Denier. So, as the story goes, the wheat and the weeds just have to coexist until the harvest. The “harvest” is the time of judgment, the time when the “wheat” will be collected and saved and valued, but the weeds—the things and the people who try to choke out what’s right—will be thrown into a pile with all the other refuse and burned.
A number of questions: 1) If I’m in the world, how do I know weeds when I see them? 2) How do I call attention to—rebuke—“weeds”, when I can’t be certain they’re weeds? 3) A big question for many of us: are there weeds in the church too? 4) And the biggest question of all: Am I a weed, but I just don’t know it?
4) Romans 8:12-25. This reading is written from the perspective of living among the weeds—and suffering because of it—and it offers a great deal of encouragement. For one thing, if we live according to the Spirit (help yourself out; read John’s gospel, chapters 14-16—it’s only a few pages—for a good description of what the Spirit does), then “ … it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” Rom. 8.16-17. It is by the Spirit that we know what’s the right way to go, the right way to live our lives.
For another thing, even if we are suffering now, that’s nothing in comparison to the glory that comes at the time of the harvest.
Finally, all of creation gets into the act; all of it waits with anticipation to see who will be revealed as children of God (Rom. 8.19-23). We shouldn’t be surprised at that; we’re part of ALL OF CREATION and at the end of the creation process, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Genesis 1:31a, NRSV. That was before the weeds?
See you Sunday!