Readings for Proper 11 (16) Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 27 July 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 11A/Ordinary 16A/Pentecost +11 July 27 2008 Textweek

Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11, 45b; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Let’s start with Genesis. The narratives in Genesis that talk about the development of the family tree - the genealogies of Genesis - they actually are quite important because they provide shape, structure and a history to the people of faith. It’s a bit more than joining the dots; they can also impart qualities associated with being God’s faithful people. One reading is to see them just as a specific family tree, to see them as named people in history and this is their story, just as our family tree can be put together. Another reading is to read them as a generic family tree – these narratives are there to provide a history and a background to our divine oneness. They provide, just as we would provide a family tree and talk about our parents and grandparents in order to give some understanding of where we are and where we’ve come from, so these narratives do that, but in relation to our spiritual self, in relation to that part of us that is at one with all others. That’s why we can trace that generic tree back to an Adam and Eve: if we are all one, then it makes sense that there is one beginning.

Today’s Genesis narrative tells of Jacob taking a wife and it seems pretty harsh and alien. I don’t know how you hear it but there’s unfairness in there, there’s dishonouring in there. It’s a story that doesn’t fit with our culture. Now a few have probably done it – woken up in the morning and realised the person they slept with wasn’t the person you thought you’d gone to bed with, but this isn’t after a Saturday night in Freo or after taking things that have got the word prohibited in front of them. This is part of the family story, but it does offer us some interesting reflections on life and faith.

In verse 17, there’s a contrast between Leah and Rachel, ‘Leah's eyes were lovely’, whereas with Rachel, what we get is a description of just two words but they describe the whole person: graceful and beautiful, so already we’ve got a contrast set up. Laban deceives Jacob, and when we hear of that deception – yes, you can have Rachel, then on the night he does a swap. When we hear that deception surely we’re then reminded that Jacob deceived Isaac. Here is the story being repeated. And it’s interesting because Laban’s deception was only accomplished by the fact that when the bride was taken – and remember we’re talking of a culture where the women were chattels - so the father who owned this chattel as he did the cattle in the field would take the bride into the bedchamber, and the bride would be veiled. It’s interesting isn’t it – the deception took place because her eyes were covered and it was her eyes that distinguished her from her sister. So you can actually read into it and say, Leah was also graceful and beautiful.

Jacob’s deceived, Isaac was duped into honouring the youngest, Jacob before the firstborn, now we actually find the same deception occurring for Jacob. I guess for biblical literalists today’s reading is just another episode in the soap opera Days of their Lives, they’d just think, yes, this is how it all went. But as we read it, what if we reflect on our narrative: what is the story of our faith and development; what is your inheritance in and as a member of God’s family, rather than the family that gives you a surname? What is the part you play? And what are we providing in that family as an inheritance for the faithful development of our children and the unfolding of tomorrow? And where are we deceived; where are we deceived?

Bear in mind these are very ancient texts so they’re an early understanding of our relationship with God, and so they’re set in a family context because that was the primary context of relationship. In time that gives way to a deeper understanding, and Paul in Romans is exploring the same divine relationship but using a more personal dynamic. Paul is exploring our faith development, rather than in the family context - a growing into a people called Israel - Paul is exploring it in terms of the development as a process of growth, our maturing into a fuller sense of who we are in relation to and with God. Having said that, it’s interesting to note in verse 29, Paul sees Jesus as the first-born. I think it’s an amazing insight, because from the narratives of Isaac and Jacob, from the story we’ve just heard of Laban and Jacob, we can see that the first-born is realised in those who come after. Sure, the firstborn owns the inheritance, but that inheritance is realised not in Esau but in Jacob, not in Leah but in Rachel, not in Christ but in us.

Paul sometimes has a real insight in relation to humanity - it’s as if sometimes he sees us in our fullest sense. There are other writings of Paul that see us as lists of sins, so I think all of us is seen by Paul. And in the reading in verses 29 and 30 are quite affirming: we are foreknown, we are predestined, in other words there is a divine future there to be seen for each and for all. We are conformed to the image of Christ, we are called, we are justified and we are glorified. Leading up to that affirmation of who we are, Paul identifies the Spirit as the creative force within; the spirit is a force of prayer, a prayer beyond words into the mind of the spirit that is found in the heart and so when Paul asks in verse 31, ‘If God is for us, who is against us?’ he’s not suggesting that God is on your side or can be on your side, he’s saying much more. He’s saying that God is a side of you, that part of you that has an orientation towards wholeness, that creative spirit that grows us out of our weakness.

Today’s reading from Romans is full of affirmation. The incarnation of Christ is actually shown as being within; the union between humanity and divinity is shown as being amazingly close together. It’s revealed in Christ, it’s like that’s how it looks, but we are in that same image. The gap between humanity and divinity is therefore a gap that we create, because as Paul says, nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Humanity and divinity cannot be pulled apart. Maybe it’s just we’ve become used to being two-faced, in other words, operating out of two quite different sides of ourselves, rather than becoming aware of what draws us together, what brings us into integration, what brings us into wholeness, rather than what pulls us apart.

The closeness, the unity with the divine, is also echoed in the Gospel reading. The kingdom of heaven is not presented as something that’s far away; it’s not presented as something at the end of time. Rather the kingdom of heaven is illustrated in tangible expressions and identifiable experiences. The kingdom of heaven like a mustard seed – potential, something we all have; the kingdom of heaven is like yeast – transformation, we all can change; the kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure, a capacity within; all of us know that we have unrealised capacity; the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl of great value, one of the hardest things for us to see, to honour ourselves as a pearl of great value. Luckily we can do it for others, we can acknowledge others as pearls of great value. So too we can find that within ourselves. The kingdom of heaven is like a net full of fish – realised abundance: it’s not what we’re missing; it’s not what we haven’t got, it’s not what is in short supply.

Jesus teaches about the kingdom of heaven in everyday terms and what we heard Paul in verse 36 of Romans say, ‘we are being killed all the day long’. There's an invitation there, to attend to heaven in the everyday, in the eternal every day; not in death at the end of life, but in everyday. In the dying we do today let us attend to heaven, let us look toward the place where divinity and humanity come together. Let’s not put it off until judgement day, till the end of time. Surely if we bring it into the everyday, then we realise judgement day in the moment.

In the present we are called, in the present we are justified and in the present we are glorified, as we participate in bringing about the kingdom of God. They’re great readings; they become great readings when we realise that they are our story. Jacob and Rachel give shape to who we are, not as people from a time past but again in the moment. The kingdom of heaven is a promise to be realised. Every now and then we glimpse it, it’s as if it’s there, you know, like the gate on Stargate which is just like a film of water. It’s as if we go through it but then come back again.

The orientation that Paul speaks about, knowing ourselves in the image of Christ, gives us an opportunity not to look around at the problems of life but rather to look within at the unfolding of life and the bringing about of a new world, a new way of being, a life that is lived in love and in abundance.

The Lord be with you
Peter Humprhris