Engaging the Word: 7/16/17 (The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 10)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Genesis 25:19-34; Palm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text. This week we learn about Isaac and Rebekah’s twins, the psalmist revels in the word of God, Paul tells us the law is powerless because of Jesus Christ, and Jesus tells the Parable of the Sower.

Esau Gives Up His Birthright by Everhard Rensig, 1521. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Esau Gives Up His Birthright by Everhard Rensig, 1521. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Genesis 25:19-34: Last week’s reading told the story of Isaac and Rebekah’s meeting and marriage. In this week’s reading, we read about the births of Esau and Jacob, their twins.

Twenty years have passed since Isaac and Rebekah married. Rebekah is barren; Isaac prays for Rebekah to conceive, and God grants his prayer in double measure. Rebekah becomes pregnant with twins. She was having a difficult pregnancy and asked God, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” God responds that the two sons represent divided nations, and the older son will serve the younger son. The struggle in the womb is just the beginning of the conflict and discord that will follow. The twins are born, Esau (Heb. “hairy”) is born first, and Jacob (Heb. probably “may God protect”) follows quickly, “gripping Esau’s heel.”

When the boys grew up, Esau loved to hunt and roam the fields and Jacob was a homebody. Isaac loves Esau, and Rebekah loves Jacob. It never bodes well when parents play favorites. One day, Jacob was cooking a stew and Esau came home famished. One commentator finds it interesting that Jacob was “cooking up a stew,” meaning “stirring up trouble.” Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.”

The birthright of the firstborn son entitled him to the father’s special blessing and a major part of the estate. By demanding the Esau’s birthright as payment for a meal, Jacob was a poor example of a gracious and loving brother. Yet, Esau sells his birthright all too easily. He devalues his coming privilege by being more concerned about a meal in the present than about his future inheritance. And this is the beginning of how it happened that Abraham’s line continued through Jacob rather than Esau.

Psalm 119:105-112: Psalm 119 gives a beautiful pattern for living by the torah, God’s sacred law, and brims with piety, praise, thanksgiving, and joy. It’s the longest psalm in the Psalter, with 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet; it’s arranged in an elaborate acrostic. When the psalmist reflects on God’s law, he doesn’t see it as a bunch of rules and regulations but as an invitation to be in relationship with God through trusting obedience. Our verses this week will be familiar to those who pray at noonday from the Prayer Book, “Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path.”

St. Paul Writing, 9th century manuscript. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul Writing, 9th century manuscript. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Romans 8:1-11: In last week’s reading, Paul struggled with the internal conflict that comes to all believers: “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” In this week’s reading, Paul tells us, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” How can this be? Because God sent us salvation through Jesus. The law is a good thing, but our fallen human nature (“flesh”) is so damaged and sinful that we can’t follow it.

Paul contrasts two ways of life that reflect our relationship with God. “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Because of Christ, “you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Through the indwelling grace and power of the Holy Spirit, we have been set free to live new lives of justice and holiness. Thanks be to God.

The Sower by Vincent van Gogh, 1888. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Sower by Vincent van Gogh, 1888. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23: This week, we begin the first of three readings from a set of parables on the kingdom theme. This is also called the Parables Discourse. In this week’s reading, Jesus tells the familiar Parable of the Sower and its interpretation, which is found in all three synoptic gospels.

Great crowds of people have come to see Jesus, so he got into a boat and taught from there, while the crowds listened from the beach.

The sower sowed seed that landed in various places: on the path (the birds ate them), on rocky ground (they sprouted, but quickly withered away because they had no root), among thorns (the thorns choked out the seed), and on good soil (they brought forth grain and multiplied).

Jesus explains the meaning of the parable. The seed represents the word of the kingdom. Jesus sows the word of the kingdom everywhere he goes. The soils represent the different receptivity (hearts) to the word of the kingdom. The seeds falling on the road don’t sprout because people are unreceptive and the evil one takes it away. The seeds falling on rocky ground represent folks who respond to Jesus’ teaching, but fall away when the going gets tough. They have a shallow understanding. The disciples partially fit here, as they responded to Jesus immediately, but later desert him at Gethsemane. The thorny ground represents people like the rich young man who has other loyalties competing with God’s word, and the word gets choked out. These people are attempting to serve two masters. Good soil stands for those who hear and respond to Jesus’ message and bear the fruit of an abundant life.

The first thing that popped up for me as a gardener is that soil structure can be improved by amending it with organic materials such as compost, peat moss, fertilizer, manure. No matter if our faith is shallow, or our lives are rocky, we can amend our soil by practicing spiritual discipline. If we practice our welcome, worship, study, and service, we will grow in understanding and “indeed bear fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” In addition, as we till and turn over our soil, seeds that may have been planted in our childhood but have been dormant for years and years, will sprout when they are exposed to the light and love of Christ.

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