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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 12 - Proper 7 - Year A
Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10,16-17; Romans 6:1(b)-11; Matthew 10:24-39
Alt – Psalm 69; Jeremiah 20:7-13

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Ordinary 12 - Proper 7 - Year A

     [NOTE: Throughout the Season after Pentecost the RCL 
     provides a set of alternate lessons which some 
     denominations prefer.  A summary of these readings is 
     also included below.]

GENESIS 21:8-21			This version of the story of the woeful 
drama of Abraham’s two sons still echoes in the violent Middle East 
conflict today between Arabs and Jews.  Arabs trace their ancestry to 
Ishmael and Jews to Isaac.  Another version is found in 16:1-16.  Anyone 
claiming absolute divine authority for either Jewish or Arab rights to 
their common holy land must deal with the dilemma of God’s blessing of 
Abraham as the father of both.

PSALM 86:1-10, 16-17		This lament pleads for God’s forgiveness for 
some unstated transgression.  Whereas the petitioner claimed to have a 
godly character (vs.2) fully devoted to and trusting in Yahweh’s help, in 
vs. 5 he also acknowledges that God is “ready to forgive.” 


JEREMIAH 20:7-13			[Alternate]  This exquisite poetry describes 
how Jeremiah felt when his fellow countrymen rejected his prophetic 
message from God.  Though he was mocked and derided for preaching the doom 
soon to befall the nation, he could not keep quiet.  He trusted that God 
would vindicate him and bring about the fateful end he predicted.


PSALM 69					[Alternate]  Although attributed wrongly to 
David, this plea for divine help in a disastrous situation sounds very 
similar to the one above by Jeremiah.  It is believed to date from a 
period long after the return from the exile in Babylon (539 BCE).  As an 
individual’s lament it also projects a view of an individual’s experience 
as history in miniature.


ROMANS 6:1(b)-11			The passage presents Paul’s definition of 
the benefits of baptism based on faith in God’s free gift of forgiveness.  
One of the problems raised by this new relationship has to do with its 
ethical implications.  Paul’s answer is that all Christians obviously 
should not continue to sin.  God’s grace has freed us to live new, holy 
lives with the risen Christ.  To put it in traditional terms, our 
justification has been accomplished, but however incomplete our 
sanctification must still go on.  


MATTHEW 10:24-39.  This reading contains part of one of five discourses by 
Jesus which shape the structure of Matthew’s Gospel.  These sayings were 
included in Jesus’ instructions to the twelve (vs. 5-42), but may have 
come from several sources rather than being a verbatim account of one 
message.  
	The disciples success was not guaranteed (vs. 24-25).  Nor is it for any 
of us who would follow Christ now.  As discomforting as this may seem to 
us, discipleship is always costly to those who remain true to their 
commitment.  The remaining segment of the reading, however, does offer 
encouragement and a promise of reward for those who are faithful.  The 
essential element is loyalty to Christ who gave his all for us.


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS.

GENESIS 21:8-21   This version of the story of the woeful drama of 
Abraham’s two sons still echoes in the violent Middle East conflict today 
between Arabs and Jews.  Arabs trace their ancestry to Ishmael and Jews to 
Isaac.  Anyone claiming absolute divine authority for either Jewish or 
Arab rights to their common holy land must deal with the dilemma of God’s 
blessing of Abraham as the father of both.

Religious or political ideology always rewrites history.  That is what 
happened to this tribal legend.  A conflicting version of this legend is 
found in 16:1-16, from the J document of the Pentateuch from the 9th 
century BCE.  According to OT scholars, it has been rewritten at least two 
or three times, then edited into the Hebrew scriptures which were 
officially canonized at the end of the 1st century CE.  

In the earlier version, Hagar, the slave girl given to Abraham by Sarah, 
and pregnant with his child, flees from Sarah’s jealous wrath before the 
birth of Ishmael (16:6).  In 16:11 we find the etymology of the name as 
“The Lord has given heed.”  In this passage (21:8-21), the author of the E 
document (8th century BCE) makes Sarah’s jealousy a little more respectable 
by insisting that her son, Isaac, be Abraham’s heir.  There is also a 
tenderness in this version of the story lacking in the earlier one.  The 
patriarch Abraham also stands out in a more humane light, although he did 
accede to Sarah’s demand (21:10-12).

Yahweh, the sovereign Lord of history, is not easily to be pushed aside by 
anyone’s sin.  This later version of the legend cites other divine plans 
for Ishmael’s future (vs. 12-13).  His survival shaped the future history 
of the whole Middle East to this day.  That Hagar received a revelation 
from Yahweh as well places the descendants of Ishmael on an equal footing 
with his half-brother’s descendants from the religious point of view.  
Only a minority of both Jews and Palestinians accept each other as equals 
with a spiritual claim to the same territory.

On the whole, the Genesis narratives tend to regard Ishmael favourably.  
In his case as in all the Genesis stories, the name stands for a whole 
tribal community, not just an individual.  His tribe is said to dwell in 
the wilderness of Paran (vs. 20) in the western part of the Sinai 
peninsula.  He was present at Abraham’s burial (25:9).  Like Jacob, he had 
twelve sons (25:16).  Perhaps more surprising, several other later 
Israelites also bore the same name, most of whom had connections with the 
royal court or family (2 Kings 25:25; 1 Chron. 8:38; 2 Chron. 19:11; 23:1; 
Ezra 10:22).  It is not possible to know whether or not his story 
persisted to influence later custom.  

From these few details, a colourful summer sermon could draw some modern 
parallels to current Israeli and Palestinian struggles.


PSALM 86:1-10, 16-17   This lament pleads for Yahweh’s forgiveness for 
some unstated transgression.  Whereas the petitioner claimed to have a 
godly character (vs.2) fully devoted to and trusting in Yahweh’s help, in 
vs. 5 he also acknowledges that Yahweh is “ready to forgive.” 

For some time this psalm has been such a problem for interpreters that 
some have suggest that it be rearranged to comply with the classic form of 
a lament.  This would place the psalmist’s complaint and plea for help 
contained in vs. 14-17 after vs. 1-7.  The reasoning behind this proposal 
holds that thankful praise and commitment contained in the vs. 8-13 assume 
that deliverance from the specific trouble had already happened.  As 
Professor W. Stewart McCullough put it: “We have no way of knowing whether 
it was the original order or whether the psalmist would agree with our 
preference.”  (*Interpreter’s Bible*, vol. 4, 463)


JEREMIAH 20:7-13   [Alternate] This exquisite poetry describes how 
Jeremiah felt when his fellow countrymen rejected his prophetic message 
from God.  Though he was mocked and derided for preaching the doom soon to 
befall the nation, he could not keep quiet.  He trusted that God would 
vindicate him and bring about the fateful end he predicted.

In many ways this oracle delineates the constant dilemma faced by those 
who would speak prophetically.  In order for prophetic words to be 
accepted by one’s contemporaries, they must have some relevance to the 
moral and spiritual circumstances in which they are uttered.  On the other 
hand, no one appreciates unfavourable criticism or to forecast doom which 
the prophet is bound to proclaim if faith dictates.

Shortly after the Korean War (1950-53), a Christian minister was driven 
from his parish because he spoken openly against the military government 
which had seized power.  He was threatened with imprisonment if he 
continued his outspoken opposition to the forces controlling his country.  
Before fleeing for his life, he hid a copy of the Bible in a box buried in 
the backyard of his home.  Eventually he was captured and imprisoned.  
Years later, after the government had been replaced, he was freed, 
returned to his home and immediately retrieved the sacred book.  Opening 
it, his eye fell on the same verse he had recited as he secreted his 
treasure years before: “To you I have committed my cause.” (vs. 20) A 
movie was made of his story to encourage faithfulness in those who 
struggled against oppression.  


PSALM 69   [Alternate] Although attributed wrongly to David, this plea for 
divine help in a disastrous situation sounds very similar to the one above 
by Jeremiah.  It is believed to date from a period long after the return 
from the exile in Babylon (539 BCE).  As an individual’s lament it also 
projects a view of an individual’s experience as history in miniature.
The desperate pathos of the poet’s condition comes immediately to the fore 
in repeated metaphors of vs. 1-3.  In water up to his neck, sunk in the 
mire, floods sweeping over him, weary from crying, with parched throat and 
dimming eyes – what a predicament!  Immediately he declares how numerous 
his enemies are, though without cause (vs. 4).  It would appear that he 
was being falsely accused of some serious theft, although he does admit to 
some folly.  One almost suspects he is being accused of some form of fraud 
(vs. 5).  One can imagine a low level member of the priesthood, one of the 
twelve courses of Levites perhaps, being accused of mishandling money from 
the temple treasury.  

Obviously, from vss. 9-12 and 19-21, we learn that he has been the object 
of much public gossip and insult.  So desperate is he to justify his 
conduct that he feels he can only resign himself to Yahweh’s favour and 
trust that in time he will be vindicated.  He is no less bitter, however, 
in calling on Yahweh to punish his enemies (vs. 22-29).  Despite the fact 
that laments usually do end in praise to Yahweh, the last few verses sound 
such a different note that one wonders if they come from a different 
source.  


ROMANS 6:1b-11   It is always a puzzle as to why the selections in the RCL 
are cut off in the way they frequently are.  Remembering that the 
versification of the scriptures did not occur until mediaeval times, this 
passage seems to flow naturally into a new paragraph (as modern 
translations put it) with the rhetorical question at the beginning of vs. 
1.  The question provides a link with what has gone before.  

The passage presents Paul’s definition of the benefits of baptism based on 
faith in God’s free gift of forgiveness for human sin and our 
justification through the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  One of the 
problems raised by this new status we enjoy has to do with its ethical 
implications.  Paul immediately addresses that issue in his second 
question in vs. 1.  His answer is important in that all Christians 
obviously do “continue in sin” despite our claim to having been forgiven.  
To put it in Wesleyan terms, our justification has been accomplished, but 
our sanctification is incomplete.  

Paul finds the solution to this dilemma in the symbolism of baptism, then 
normally carried out by means of immersion in a natural body of water.  He 
likens baptism to dying and being buried with Christ, and being raised to 
a new life in him.  In other words, the baptized Christian shares the 
resurrection life of Christ himself.  Having died to and being freed from 
sin, it is no longer possible for us to live as before.  The reign of sin 
over Christ has been completely conquered by his death and resurrection 
(vs. 9-11).  The life we are now to live is nothing short of the life of 
Christ in us.  

Paul made this inference on two fundamental premises: First, baptism was 
invariably connected with each individual’s confession of faith in Jesus 
Christ, the crucified and risen Lord.  Whether the candidates came from 
Jewish or pagan backgrounds, it marked a complete change from everything 
associated with their previous faith and life.  This meant more than a 
change of clothes - a metaphor which Paul used elsewhere in his letters.  
As William Barclay once said: “In baptism a man (sic) came to a decision 
which cut his life in two, a decision which often meant that he had to 
tear himself up by the roots, a decision which was so definite that for 
him it meant nothing less than beginning life all over again.” (*Daily 
Bible Study. The Letter to the Romans,* Edinburgh: Church of Scotland, 
1955, 83-84.)

Secondly, since baptism was practiced by both Judaism and Greek mystery 
religions, converts from either community would understand exactly what 
Paul meant.  When a Gentile man became a Jew, he had to be instructed in 
the Torah, offer the prescribed sacrifices, be circumcised and then 
ritually cleansed by being baptized.  Because of their inferior position 
to men, women could not become members of the covenant of Israel.  They 
simply followed their fathers or husbands direction and were permitted to 
perform limited ritual functions, particularly in the home.  Greek 
mysteries not only included an initiation rite similar to baptism, but 
also what amounted to passion plays in which a god suffered, died and rose 
again.  

When people converted to the Christian faith, they spent a long, pre-
baptismal period as catechumens similar to that in both Judaism and 
mystery religions.  Also as before, initiation into the church acquired 
the same symbolism of identification with Christ, and an emotional and 
spiritual experience akin to voluntary death.  The new life which followed 
required exemplary ethical behaviour following the rigorous practices set 
forth in the teachings of Jesus.  The uniqueness of Christian baptism was 
its inclusion of women, children and slaves on an equitable basis with 
men, a practice totally lacking in Jewish or Greek society.

Thus, when Paul wrote in vs. 11 “So, you also must consider yourselves  
dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus,” he was stating the 
discontinuity of the convert’s life with all that had gone before and yet 
also some obvious continuity with that experience.  No wonder there were - 
as there still are - real difficulties for Christian converts living in 
the same social, political and economic milieu in which they had formerly 
lived.
 

MATTHEW 10:24-39   This reading contains sayings given close to the end of 
Jesus’ instructions to the twelve (vs. 5-42).  Most scholars agree that 
these sayings originally stood alone or in smaller collections gathered 
from several sources of the tradition.  Matthew composed the whole as one 
of five discourses forming the body of teachings which cast Jesus as the 
new Moses.  Close examination reveals that the various parts of this 
discourse are not entirely consistent (e.g. vs. 5-6 cf. vs. 16).  Vss. 21-
22 reflect persecutions which the apostolic church endured in the decades 
immediately before the Roman-Jewish war of 68-70 CE, but not at the time 
of Jesus’ ministry ca. 30 CE.  These sayings on persecution and 
discipleship were drawn from Mark 9:41 and 13:9-13.  

Other sayings in this specific reading are shared by Luke and hence come 
from the document scholars designate as Q.  Vss. 24-25 are very similar to 
Luke 6:40.  Apparently this dealt with the false expectation that 
disciples of Jesus would fare better in their ministry than he did.  Their 
success was not guaranteed.  Nor is it for any of us who would follow 
Christ now.  

The remaining segment of this reading, however, does offer encouragement 
and a promise of reward for those who are faithful.  Indeed, Jesus 
instructed his disciples to speak openly in contrast to the rabbinical 
custom of keeping their teachings so secret that they whispered to their 
disciples (vs. 27).  A parallel saying is found in Luke 12:3.  Such 
openness would certainly court opposition and even physical violence (vs. 
28-30).  The reference to fear “him who can destroy both body and soul” 
poses the issue of faithfulness, for only God can do that.  By succumbing 
to the test, a disciple would be rejecting the Spirit and so committing 
the unforgivable sin.  This brings forth the striking contrast of how 
valued the disciples are by God described in the hyperbolic statement 
emphasizing God’s personal care for each one of them.  The saying “the 
hairs of your head are all counted” (vs. 30) may be a popular proverb 
quoted in 1 Samuel 14:45.  On the other hand, a similar saying in Psalm 
69:4 presents the obverse side of the same proverb.

A parallel saying to that of vs. 34-36 occurs in Luke 12:51-53.  The 
experience of hostility in families due to the deep commitment of one 
member still arises.  Many are the stories of candidates offering 
themselves for ministry having to struggle against family preferences in 
order to respond to a genuine call to a Christian vocation.  We were never 
promised that discipleship would be easy.

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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