Engaging the Word: Readings for 7/6/14 (4th Sunday after Pentecost)

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By Barbara Klugh

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text.

This week we have the story of Isaac and Rebekah, poetry from Song of Solomon instead of a psalm, Paul’s internal conflict between sin and grace, and Jesus’ invitation to find rest for our weary souls.

Eliezer and Rebecca by  Giambattista Pittoni (1687 - 1767). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Eliezer and Rebecca by Giambattista Pittoni (1687 – 1767). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Genesis: Since last week’s reading, many years have gone by. Abraham’s wife Sarah has died, and Isaac is now around 40 years old and unmarried. Abraham wants Isaac to marry a woman from his own kinfolk, and instructs his servant, probably Eleazar, to go to his hometown to find a wife for Isaac. The servant loads up ten camels with gifts for the future bride and her family. He travels to the city of Nahor, and sets his camels down by the community well. He prays that the appointed wife for Isaac will be the one who offers him and his camels a drink of water. Even before he had finished praying, beautiful Rebekah comes to the well as an answer to his prayer. The servant finds out about Rebekah’s lineage—she is the granddaughter of Abraham’s younger brother Nahor—and he worships God in thanksgiving for God’s guidance.

This week’s reading continues the story with the servant’s meeting with Rebekah’s brother Laban and her father (and Abraham’s nephew) Bethuel. The servant recounts the story about Abraham’s directions and God’s divine intervention. The family agreed, “The thing comes from the Lord….take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has spoken.” They then ask Rebekah, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” The family sends her off with a lovely blessing.

Rebecca and her maids went with the servant. When the caravan approached their destination, Isaac was in the field. Rebekah saw Isaac, and asked the servant who he was. The servant said, “It is my master.” As was the custom, Rebekah covered herself with a veil. After the servant told Isaac the whole story, “Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”

Song of Songs by Gustave Moreau (1826-1898). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Song of Songs by Gustave Moreau (1826-1898). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Song of Solomon: Song of Solomon (Heb “Song of Songs) is a series of lyric love poems about how glorious it is to be in love, and they celebrate God’s gift of human sexuality. Although they are attributed to Solomon, scholars think it’s because of references to Solomon in the poems, and that the author is unknown. It’s entirely in dialogue, with the speakers being a man, a woman, and a kind of chorus by the women of Jerusalem.

Until the nineteenth century, the book was presented as an allegory, between God and Israel, Christ and the church, or Christ and the individual believer. Modern scholars agree that there is nothing in the text to suggest they were written as allegory.

Our selection is the woman’s first long speech. The woman thinks of her lover as a gazelle, or a young stag, and she relates the words spoken by her beloved: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land… Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” I love this passage, especially since my husband recited it to me when we were dating. I was so stunned and overwhelmed that all I could do was reply, “Okey-dokey!”

Romans: Sometimes Paul seems pompous and self-important, but not in this week’s reading. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” I can relate to this ongoing battle. It’s the struggle between duty and desire. What we do know is that the law tells us what is good, but it doesn’t empower us to resist sin. Paul gets it that when he wants to do what is good, “evil lies close at hand.” Paul (and we) have another force within ourselves, “making us captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” And, of course, Paul knows the answer: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

SHead of Christ by Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Head of Christ by Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Matthew: This week’s reading follows the missionary discourse. Jesus is frustrated with the crowd (“this generation.”) They don’t follow the ascetic prophet John the Baptist because they say he has a demon. Then Jesus comes and he eats, drinks, and hangs out with outcasts, so they say, `Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ They find excuses to follow neither John nor Jesus. However, in the end, Jesus will be vindicated by his deeds.

Jesus thanks his Heavenly Father for revealing spiritual truth to “infants,” (those whom the religious establishment considers to be ignorant) and for hiding it from those who think themselves wise. Jesus knows the Father intimately and he is the only one in a position to reveal the Father’s character and purposes.

Jesus then invites the weary and the over-burdened to find their rest in him, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Good advice.

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