Posts Tagged 'Proper 10'

For July 13, 2014: Fifth Sunday of Pentecost, Proper 10, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 55:10-13

The reading from Isaiah, written as exiles were returning from Babylon to what was left of Jerusalem, takes the Lord’s voice in comparing rain and snow to the Word: both come down from heaven to bring the blessing and fruitfulness intended by the Lord.

The Response            Psalm 65:9-14

Psalm 65 was composed during the period of the return from Babylon. Verses 9 through 15 probably commemorate the end of a terrible drought. By God’s grace come the rains, the seed for planting, the harvests, and the flocks and herds.

The Epistle            Romans 8:1-11

The epistle to the church at Rome amounts to a short course in theology. In previous chapters the apostle Paul has analyzed our existential quandary: we cannot possibly hope to save ourselves. Nevertheless, Paul now tells us, we have hope: it is in God’s grace, which is exactly what allows us to live according to God’s Spirit.

The Gospel            Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-9 deploys imagery from agricultural life that would have been familiar to first-century rural Jews. In Jesus’ time, and even in ours, a yield of sevenfold—seven times as many seeds reaped as sown—would have been very good: even the smallest yield of this good soil is spectacular.

 

Further thoughts

The reading from Isaiah, the psalm, and the gospel all invoke the bounty of God’s creation, though each takes this in a different direction. Psalm 65 praises God’s provision of water and grain: water smoothes the furrows and makes the harvest possible. Isaiah’s God announces the fruitfulness as an accomplishment for God’s glory and the restoration of Israel. In Matthew, Jesus contrasts the nonexistent return from seed sown in adverse conditions with a staggeringly rich harvest from sowing in good soil and subsequently explains that the varying conditions represent different hearers of God’s Word.

In failing to continue the agricultural metaphor, the epistle to the Romans seems anomalous; one could say it comes out of left field. It notes, though, that it is God moving in us that makes us as fruitful in the spirit as we are. That is God’s grace—but it is also up to us to “set our minds on the things of the Spirit”, as verse 5 says: being open to receiving grace requires some movement on our parts.

But Matthew’s sower sows in all conditions, rather than prudently saving the seed just for the soil where it is likeliest to sprout. This reminds me of Matthew 5: 45, which we read last week for Independence Day: our God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” What if being children of the Father in heaven means letting go of the right to judge not only whether we ourselves are worthy of grace but also which of God’s children deserves the good things—from decent wages and housing and health care and education to forbearance and grace—that we crave for ourselves and those we love? What if our task and joy is to sow goodness as freely as God?

For July 14, 2013: Proper 10, Year C

The Reading            Amos 7:7-17

With Israel’s occupiers busy elsewhere around 750 BC, the elites enjoy peace and prosperity while afflicting the poor. The unlikely prophet Amos, called from his herds and fruit trees to set things right, speaks of God’s plumb line: a heavy weight hanging from a string to show how far a wall is from being perfectly upright. Amaziah resists by misquoting Amos on purpose—but, like a wall, a nation that is not upright cannot be allowed to stand.

The Response            Psalm 82 Page 705, BCP

The Epistle            Colossians 1:1-14

We begin reading from the letter to the Colossians, which may or may not have been written by Paul. Colossae was a prosperous Roman city in what is now southwestern Turkey. The Christians there were mostly gentile, so disputes about doctrine tended not to center on Jewish practice. The writer’s delight in what the Colossians are doing well is evident.

The Gospel            Luke 10:25-37

“‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’”

 

Further thoughts

The “credibility gap” of the 1960s and 1970s was the perceived discrepancy between the messages issued by the Johnson government about the controversial war in Vietnam, and later about Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate burglary and coverup, and the facts being uncovered in the media. Credibility gaps figure in several of today’s readings. Amaziah is a priest of Bethel and thus an anointed servant of the God of truth, but when Amos announces that Israel just doesn’t measure, up, Amaziah responds by misrepresenting the prophecy of Amos ’s to protect his lord King Jeroboam. The lawyer who attempts to snare Jesus does not resort to lying, at least—but his area of expertise would have been religious law, and his asking “Who is my neighbor?” smacks more than slightly of a later president’s widely parodied “It depends on what ‘is’ is.”

It is easy to condemn Amaziah and the lawyer, and two millennia of hindsight as to how the story comes out don’t make it any less tempting. The fact is that none of us measures up to God’s standards of goodness, neighborliness, and love—and even if we did, as the apostle Paul forcefully argues elsewhere, it wouldn’t justify us before God, because nothing can. As the letter to the Colossians tells it today, however, God loves us when we fail and he loves us when we try. Attempting to be good will not justify us—even the Samaritan reaching out beyond his own parochial interests to tend the wounds of the Jew was not justified by this—but making the attempt, when and as we can, bears blessed fruit not only for the world but for ourselves.

As a sage once said, “Don’t give until it hurts. Give until it feels good. The cost is about the same.” That’s precisely how God’s economy works.


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