VIII Pentecost, Year A
Laban said to Jacob, "Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?" Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel." Laban said, "It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me." So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed." So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?" Laban said, "This is not done in our country– giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years." Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.
1 Kings 3:5-12
At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, "Ask what I should give you." And Solomon said, "You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?"
It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, "Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
"For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jesus put before the crowds another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."
He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
"Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes." And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."
Where God reigns, everything is touched, everything is restructured, everything is new. God’s reign cannot be stopped.
One of the important elements that Rene Girard develops in mimetic theory is that of the Paraclete as the Spirit of the Victim. That is, the Spirit given in Jesus’ name has been at work throughout human history, both ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’, and the proof is the influence of the gospel on western culture. Culture is myth and the Spirit of the gospel exposes the scapegoating mechanism. Girard can obviously trace this back through the great writers of the 16th-20th century. But there has not yet appeared a thorough interpretation of the history of the church utilizing this approach.
We would think that the peace witness throughout the history of the Christian church would be a good place to start for those who opted for peace were often differentiated, singled out for persecution. There have always been the persecuted, and for far too long, to much persecution has been done in Jesus’ name. “Christians” persecuting Christians. But even though it may appear that the churches have capitulated, there is a growing awareness that the Jesus of “Christendom” (the institutional Jesus) and the Jesus of “Science” (the technical Jesus) are not the same as the Jesus of the Gospels, the Jesus who loves people, who cares for people.
We have learned from Women’s theology, Liberation theology, Afro-American theology and Indigenous (fourth world) theology that there is a very concrete specificity to Jesus’ actions that had implications that resonated on all kinds of levels: social, political, spiritual, ecological, interpersonal, etc. More so, there is a modern hunger for an authentic Jesus. It is the work of the Spirit to create that hunger and it is the work of the Spirit to sate that hunger.
Christianity is constantly being offered the kingdom, the reign of God in the gospel of Jesus. Just like it is offered to the world. But to so many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, the gospel is folly, because the gospel focuses on Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus’ atoning forgiveness, Jesus’ power-full powerlessness. And the kingdom of God is misperceived as some abstract ideal and confused and melded with human notions of politics, fame, fortune, success and power and then mimetically sought after. Where we live, in the United States, this can be seen on an almost daily basis in the news and on television sermons.
We, however, are not beholden to the institutional Jesus nor to the scientific Jesus. The One we worship is constantly dying, arms outstretched in love and forgiveness and we see him everyday in the news. We hear about innocents attacked, accused or killed. And because of the gospel we weep. Because of the gospel our eyes are opened to human suffering, our hearts are softened with empathy; our voice is empowered to speak. We adopt a different perspective, a new hermeneutic, a renewed self-understanding.
The reign of God has always been present. May we be blessed with open eyes.
For Matthew’s community, this means tracing the history of the Victim (that is, Jesus) back through his own sacred literature (the Hebrew scriptural tradition). This is the significance of Matthew 13:52. Kudos and thanks to the Matthean ‘rabbis’/scribes who gave us such a wonderful and highly developed story of Jesus.
It is a beautiful thing. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. God is working in the church and in the world. God rules!! The maker of heaven and earth has not abandoned the creation. The Creator is bringing the creation to a beautiful end. He is awakening us to see from the perspective of the persecuted and we are graced with opportunities for repentance all the day long. God is working.
We cannot bring in the kingdom of God, we humans cannot make God’s rule happen. God’s rule and human rule are completely incompatible, they are of two different origins and motivations, they have two different processes and conclusions.
We can surrender to God’s reign, the reign of the Crucified. Through our surrender we find our place, our gift of service and our work in this reign. By so doing, we share, literally share, in the blessings of the end of the ages. We share, we are heirs, in God’s kingdom. This is Christianity, our becoming “little christs.”
Some Sermon Thoughts
It’s tempting, here, to preach that our congregations should 1) discern the presence of the tiny bit of Kingdom in their present lives, and 2) sell everything in order to "have" it. Let’s all set out on another quest to have something else.
What, though, is the quality of the Kingdom? Well, when found, no one has to tell you to sell everything to buy the field, or the pearl, you can’t help yourself. In fact, the Kingdom is something that, if you find it, you’ll find that it owns you, not the other way ’round. That’s why no one who "puts hand to the plow and then turns back is fit for the Kingdom of God." If you can turn back, if you can walk away from the field, if you can walk away from the pearl, then what you’ve found isn’t the Kingdom.
It calls into question our preaching, when folks can walk away from what it is we offer on Sundays, doesn’t it? Of course, we can blame it all on the instransigence of our congregations, like the rich young man who comes to Jesus and walks away sad. (Except that, at least in Mark’s gospel, it is likely that the unnamed young man returns to be baptized and is present in Gethsemane and the tomb. The love of Jesus really is like that mustard seed!)
What will move our congregations is the evidence that we are owned by the Kingdom we’ve found. That’ll show them just what it is that we so treasure, and having seen it, they’ll be caught, too. They’ll sell everything to own the pearl that owns them.