Engaging the Word: 7/23/17 (The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 11)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, we have the story of Jacob’s dream, Paul continues to contrast living according to the flesh or in the Spirit, and Jesus teaches the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds.

Genesis 28:10-19a: Last week, we read about the birth of Esau and Jacob and then later that Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of stew or, depending on your point of view, that Jacob took advantage of his hungry brother by demanding it. The lectionary passed over the story of how Jacob, with the help of Rebekah, deceived his old, blind father into giving him the special paternal blessing that was supposed to be Esau’s.

Not surprisingly, Esau is furious: “He took away my birthright; and look, now he has taken away my blessing.” Esau plans on killing Jacob after their father dies. Rebekah learns of this and tells Jacob to flee to her brother Laban in Haran. Then Rebekah gets Isaac to send Jacob off to find a wife from among Laban’s daughters.

Jacob’s vision of a ladder to heaven, Morgan Bible, c. 1250. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jacob’s vision of a ladder to heaven, Morgan Bible, c. 1250. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In this week’s reading, Jacob is on his way to Haran to find a wife. He came to “a certain place” and stops for the night to sleep, using a stone for a pillow. “And he dreamed that there was a ladder ([or a stairway] set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” And Jacob sees the Lord standing beside him. The Lord confirms the original promise he made to Abraham. Jacob is promised both land and offspring, though it is not just for Jacob’s benefit. The Lord said, “All the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.” In addition, the Lord promises to be with Jacob wherever he is and will bring him back to his homeland.

When Jacob woke up from his dream, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” Jacob realizes that this a sacred place, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” When he got up in the morning, Jacob set up his pillow stone as a pillar and anointed it with oil. He called the place Bethel, which means “house of God.” From now on, Jacob will live with an awareness of God and his part in fulfilling God’s purposes.

Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23: Attributed to David, our psalm this week praises God for his complete knowledge of the psalmist and for being omnipresent in a direct and personal way. Because God’s spirit is everywhere, even if we attempt to flee from God’s presence, there is no place to hide. In the psalm’s conclusion, the psalmist prays for God’s guidance that he may live a righteous life. “Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my restless thoughts. Look well whether there be any wickedness in me and lead me in the way that is everlasting.”

St. Paul writing by candlelight by Nicolaas Verkolje (1673-1746). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

St. Paul writing by candlelight by Nicolaas Verkolje (1673-1746). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Romans 8:12-25: Paul continues to talk about what it means to live in the Spirit rather than by the desires of the flesh—in other words, living as children of God instead of living self-centered lives. We have been set free from our old way of life, but old habits die hard and we still have work to do. Our salvation is a gift from God and we need to live into this reality. As I read somewhere, salvation is not so much about getting into heaven, but more about getting heaven into us. When we were baptized, we were adopted into the family of God.

In a Kindle book, Barclay on the Lectionary, William Barclay, a Scottish minister and author, says we need to understand how serious Roman adoption was in order to understand the meaning of this passage. In Paul’s eyes, once we have been adopted into the family of God, our old life no longer has any rights over us. The past is cancelled and all debts are wiped out when we begin a new life with God, and we are joint heirs with Jesus Christ. Whatever Christ inherits, we also inherit. If Christ had to suffer, we also inherit that suffering; but, if Christ was raised to life and glory, we also inherit that life and glory. So we have hope for the full and final redemption of all things in creation. We wait with patience.

The Enemy by Heinrich Fullmaurer, c. 1540. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Enemy by Heinrich Fullmaurer, c. 1540. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43: In this week’s reading, Jesus tells the crowd the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds. Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to someone who sowed their field with good seed, but comes to find out that an enemy sowed the field with weeds while everybody was asleep. Commentators say that the weed in question is darnel, a weed that looks like wheat. The farmer knows that if he tries to gather the weeds, he will uproot the wheat, so he decides to wait until the harvest, when the wheat and weeds can be sorted, and the weeds collected and burned.

Jesus told the parable to the crowd, but he goes on to explain the meaning to his disciples. “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.” The granary is heaven, and the furnace is hell.

The story is concerned with the mixture of good and evil in the world, which will be sorted out on judgment day. As Christians, we need to beware of trying to judge who is good and who is not. We need to leave that up to God.

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