Readings for Proper 9 (14) Ninth Sunday after Pentecost 13 July 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 9A/Ordinary 14A/Pentecost +9 July 13 2008 Textweek

Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit

‘Lord, give me life, according to your word.’ That was the echo from today’s psalm that I heard as we went through the other readings this morning: ‘Lord, give me life, according to your word.’ Genesis gives us the story of Esau and Jacob, and that story is designed to legitimize the birthright of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham; one God, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. We could therefore argue that this story is a rewriting of, or a writing into history, and that becomes even clearer if we can appreciate the subtlety of the Hebrew language. Esau being red-haired is very significant: red in Hebrew is a play on the word Edom; likewise ‘hairy’ is a play on the word for Selah, the region of the Edomites. Jacob provides a similar interpretation with a play on the Hebrew word for ‘heel’, meaning ‘he supplants’. The two sons have distinctly different and rival ways of life: the hunter, Esau, and the shepherd, Jacob. Esau is shown to be easily disenfranchised when hungry; his brother takes advantage of him and attains his birthright, his inheritance and his future. And it’s interesting to just pause there and hear from the second reading, what Paul says, ‘To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.’ It’s almost as if you can hear Paul speaking to Esau and Jacob: Esau is hungry; he sets his mind on his immediate needs and so loses his life, his inheritance, his future.

The Genesis story, according to the Oxford commentary, is intended to explain why Israel gained ascendancy over Edom, though Edom became a nation first. So what we’ve got is the unfolding of history, the nation of Israel, gaining ascendancy of the nation of the Edomites and then there’s a writing of that history into the story of Esau and Jacob, the sons of Isaac. Now initially, one could argue, ‘so, hang on a minute, I thought this was holy scripture, isn’t it just a story that’s being told to explain movements in history?’ Well I think the fact that it does that adds to its value as a sacred text. And it’s good for us to move beyond seeing the Holy Scriptures in that simplistic ‘word of God’ package that the church gives us. They are much more. Here we have the story of two brothers, we have the story of two nations, we have the story of two sides of life. In Genesis what we see is the context of history written into the divine story; or even more valuably, we see the context of the divine story as the narrative for understanding history. The divine story becomes the narrative for understanding history, which is really amazing when we fully appreciate that history is being written in the present moment. The divine story becomes the context for understanding the moment, for understanding where I am and for understanding where I go from here.

How do we write our story into the divine story? ‘Lord, give me life, according to your word.’ That text from Paul in his letter to the Romans is in verse 6: ‘To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace’. Once again we’ve got to move beyond a simplistic Christian-right understanding. We’ve got to move beyond a notion of ‘flesh’ as referring to sexual expression; that’s a church invention. We also need to move beyond or open our understanding of ‘Christ in you’. It’s not about being a Christian, rather it’s about a faith and a knowing of the divine incarnation within; we’ve got to move beyond seeing Jesus as the incarnation of the divine, and see Christ as a revelation of the divine incarnation, of divinity in humanity. It’s not about Jesus, it’s about a relationship between the divine and humanity: ‘Lord, give me life, according to your word.’

‘To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace’. The wisdom of that saying has been re-presented in various models, one of which is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Very briefly, it’s a simple pyramid: at the bottom of the pyramid are our basic needs, the needs for shelter, the needs for security and the needs for sustenance. What the model suggests is that only when those basic needs are met can we move up the pyramid to higher things. You can’t contemplate God while you’re starving; you can’t begin to contemplate God while you live in fear of your life; you can’t begin to contemplate God if you have no shelter. Very simple model, but it picks up exactly what Paul is saying. If we constantly seek to meet our own needs and to satisfy the ever-expanding needs that we have for security, shelter and food, needs that are being constantly expanded by our culture, out of all proportion: the fears of terrorism, the desire to build ever-bigger ‘Mc Mansions’, an endemic obesity. If we continue to broaden the base of the pyramid so our basic needs are not met, then that is where our mind will stay and we will not ever look to higher things, to the Spirit.

‘Lord, give me life, according to your word.’ We then come to the parable of the sower. It’s a narrative of illustration that provides us with an opportunity to locate ourselves in regard to hearing the divine word, just as that phrase ‘Lord, give me life, according to your word’ is our call to the Divine. ‘Lord, give me life’: it’s a call from where I am. So the parable of the sower, gives us an opportunity to locate the place where I am in relation to the Divine. ‘A sower went out to sow, so begins the parable of life, the parable of relationship, relationship or interaction between us and God. Some live like seeds on the path, caught up by breakfast at McDonald’s, sporting engagements, caught up by fears of immigrants that have different beliefs. Some live like seeds on rocky ground, only taking root in their own self-interest. Many of us live like seeds among thorns, all the goodness being sucked out by mindless TV shows and political debates about five cent fuel increases. And some, some live like seeds in good soil, excited by the divine, open to the light, searching and reaching for higher things.

‘Lord, give me life, Lord gives us life, according to your word.’
Peter Humphris