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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 16 - Proper 11 - Year A
Genesis 28:10-19a; Ps. 139:1-12;23-24; Romans 8:12-25; Matt. 13:24-30,36-43

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John normally structures 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'. This week the first portion is not available.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Ordinary 16 - Proper 11 - Year A

     [NOTE: Throughout the Season after Pentecost the RCL 
     provides a set of alternate lessons which some 
     denominations prefer.  This week John has not provided a
     a summary of these readings.]


GENESIS 28:10-19a             As with all the patriarchal narratives, the
Jacob cycle is a composite of several sources behind which lay oral
traditions many centuries older.  Scholars believe that the experience of
Jacob's dream at Bethel served as a link between two source narratives, the
first part of the Jacob-Esau story (Gen. 25 and 27) and the Jacob-Laban
story (Gen. 29-31).  It confirms Jacob as the ancestor of the nation and
thus serves as a symbol of the renewed covenant relationship between Yahweh
and Israel.


PSALM 139:1-12,23-24          If the story of Jacob's dream conveyed the
theological message that God could be present to anyone at anytime
anywhere, this psalm reiterates that message in great poetry.  The poem
begins with an expression of the individual worshiper's deep, but intensely
frightening consciousness of God's awareness of one's actions at all times
(vss. 1-5).  This causes the worshipper to flee from the divine presence, a
flight that inevitably fails.


ROMANS 8:12-25                Paul frequently used the term *flesh* to
describe *human nature*, meaning nothing more or less than our physical and
mortal existence.  In this passage Paul struggled to describe how the moral
and spiritual can become the dominant factor in human behavior in this
present mortal life and prepare the believer for eternal, spiritual life
with God beyond death.


MATTHEW 13:24-30,36-43        The parable reveals something about the
hostile environment which the early church encountered.  As a parable about
the kingdom of heaven, it should looked at from God's point of view, not
that of the apostolic church or the church today.  Its originally simple
purpose warned that the circumstances in which the church was to grow might
not be ideal, but the outcome would be determined in the end when God
finally brought history to an end and established the kingdom. 


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS

GENESIS 28:10-19a   The Old Testament scriptures tell the story of Israel's
historic covenant relationship with God.  It is a story of divine
revelation and human response.  Frequently dreams serve as the medium for
divine revelation.  This vehicle of learning the divine will can be found
in all the literature of the ancient Middle East.  The dreams of priests
and kings had special significance.  The OT, however, has no clear example
of this kind of revelation being sought intentionally.  Usually, the
revelation comes at divine initiative as it does for Jacob in this
instance.  In the NT, Matthew alone makes use of this means of
communicating God's will to Joseph concerning the birth of Jesus.  Modern
dream psychology aside, there are few instances of dreams as a dependable
means of communication between God and humans apart from the biblical
story.  Invariably, biblical dream narratives have a theological purpose.

As with all the patriarchal narratives, the Jacob cycle is a composite of
several sources behind which lay oral traditions many centuries older.
Scholars believe that the Bethel pericope served as a link between two
source narratives, the first part of the Jacob-Esau story (Gen. 25 and 27)
and the Jacob-Laban story (Gen. 29-31).  It confirms Jacob as the ancestor
of the nation and thus serves as a symbol of the renewed covenant
relationship between Yahweh and Israel.

The whole Jacob cycle tells of adventures filled with conflict and deceit.
This clever liar does not exhibit the virtues of a great hero.  In some
situations, he deserves to be forsaken and left to fend for himself in
whatever danger befalls him.  This passage shows, however, that despite his
character flaws, God still works through him to accomplish a greater
purpose than the selfish interests of the man.  Though often hidden in the
turmoil of the man's life, God's guiding hand still governs the nation's
history through him. 

This presents the modern interpreter with a clear message to proclaim. 
Just as Jacob represents a whole tribe from which Israel later developed a
national identity, the events of this man's life represent a much larger
canvass on which the Lord of history reveals a redemptive purpose much
greater than any hero, tribe or nation.  This point comes through in the
climax of the story when Jacob realized that God was with him, set up his
stone pillow as an altar and renamed the place Bethel, "the house of God."
The place became a sacred worship centre for countless generations to come.


PSALM 139:1-12,23-24  If the story of Jacob's dream conveyed the
theological message that God could be present to anyone at anytime
anywhere, this psalm reiterates that message in great poetry.  The poem
begins with an expression of the individual worshiper's deep, but intensely
frightening consciousness of God's being aware of one's actions at all
times (vss. 1-5).  This causes the worshiper to flee from divine
observation, a flight that inevitably fails (vss.7-12). 

The reading breaks off at this point, perhaps because the poetry is less
compelling.  Vss. 13-18 exhibit some textual difficulties which scholars
vigorously debate.  Vss. 17-18 return to the inspirational theme of the
earlier lines.  In vss. 19-22, however, the poem descends into vengeful
hostility to enemies.  Scholars suggest that this part may come from some
other source.  Finally, the psalmist confesses a willingness to be examined
by God so that every wickedness may be removed and his footsteps placed
firmly on the way of life everlasting.

The reading presents several opportunities for vivid thematic preaching. 
It challenges us with the question as to how much we are known by the God
who created and has redeemed us.  And what are the implications for daily
living of being known by God and being ever in God's presence?  Is this
what Jesus' meant by "the kingdom of God is within (or among) you?" 

The psalm recalls the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden hiding in
the bushes after having disobeyed God.  It also presages the gospel stories
of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son in Luke 15.  The
poet, Francis Thompson, picked up on this theme in his renowned lyrical
poem, *The Hound of Heaven*.  No one can escape the gracious mercy of the
God who wills to redeem as well as to create.


ROMANS 8:12-25   One is tempted to think that Paul, a Jew of the diaspora,
had a distinctively Hellenistic view of human nature; and that Christianity
has been burdened ever since with this dualistic separation of flesh and
spirit.  On the other hand, such an approach tends toward a literal
interpretation of Pauline thought as determinative for Christian
anthropology.  It would be better if we regarded his separation of flesh
and spirit metaphorically which may well have been his actual position.
Paul frequently used the term *flesh* to describe *human nature*, meaning
nothing more or less than our physical and mortal existence.

In this passage Paul struggled to describe how the moral and spiritual can
become the dominant factor in human behavior in this present mortal life
and prepare the believer for eternal, spiritual life with God beyond death.
Hence the categories of Hellenistic dualism may have served him well, but
did not blind him to spiritual realities or the benefits available through
faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.  In this instance, *living
according to the flesh* meant living with those habits of mind and body one
had before one met Christ who changed everything for the believer.  He knew
intimately what that was like!

In vss. 12-13 we learn that the core of our human problem is our pursuit of
this life and all its pleasures.  These end so quickly in physical and
spiritual death.  Life led by the Spirit of God does not end with death.
Permanent, eternal spiritual life is the inheritance of the children of
God.  Paul elaborates on this heritage in contrasting metaphors: slaves who
cannot inherit and children who do.  He then moves to the amazing claim
that the Spirit makes us conscious of the fact that we are the children of
God and "joint heirs with Christ" (vss. 15-17).

Here Paul departs form his Jewish religious heritage so clearly defined in
the Wisdom literature and psalms where the reward of the righteous is
usually thought of as a long and pleasant life.  The inheritance of
Christians does not lead to a life of ease and benificence, but to a
challenging life of struggle and suffering.  Paul knew what he was talking
about for after his conversion his experience has been just that.  Yet his
faith convinced him that a far more glorious life was about to revealed
(vs.18).  He imagined that Christ would soon return to bring creation to
its God-designed conclusion instead of the futile, flesh-bound existence to
which the faithless condemn themselves.  The groans of suffering which even
the faithful share are the birth pangs of this new and glorious life (vs.
22-23). Many do not seize the opportunity for spiritual life.

The final two verse of this passage (vss. 24-25) contain a special emphasis
on *hope* (Greek = *elpis, elpizein*).  Paul begins with the surprising
statement that "we are saved by hope."  This is the reading of the KJV,
although the RSV, NRSV and NEB give slightly different translations. 
Scholars have found that the early manuscripts vary considerably at this
point.  William Barclay, who followed the KJV in his translation, wrote
that "*elpis, hope*, is one of the three great pillars of the Christian
faith.  It is on *hope*, along with faith and love, that the whole
Christian faith is founded (1 Cor. 13:13).  *Hope* is characteristically
the Christian virtue and it is something which for the non-Christian is
impossible (Eph. 2:12).  Only the Christian can be an optimist regarding
the world.  Only the Christian can cope with life. And only the Christian
can regard death with serenity and equanimity." (*New Testament Words*, 73.
Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974.)


MATTHEW 13:24-30,36-43   Here again we run into the problem of a parable
with an allegorical interpretation which seems not to be from Jesus
himself.  More than likely the allegory (vss. 36-43) is an accretion from
"Matthew" or a later scribe from the 2nd century using a typically
Hellenistic approach to the remembered tradition.  The parable itself also
shows that its present text may have been altered under the influence of
the allegory.

The story reveals something about the hostile environment which the early
church encountered.  As a parable about the kingdom of heaven, it has to be
looked at from God's point of view, not that of the apostolic church or the
church today.  It originally had an eschatological purpose.  That the wheat
and the weeds were to be left to grow together until separated at the
harvest meant that the circumstances in which the church was to grow might
not be ideal, but the outcome would be determined in the end when God
finally brought history to an end and established the kingdom. 

This could not have satisfied the community for which Matthew or a later
redactor wrote.  They lived in exceedingly difficult times when the church,
"the children of the kingdom," (cf. Paul's phrase in Rom. 8:14ff) was
threatened by severe persecution by "the children of the evil one" (vs.38). 
By that time belief in angels and the devil, taken over from late Judaism,
had become part of the church's normal thinking.  Angels were seen as
divinely mandated warriors ("the heavenly host" of Luke 2:13 cf. Matt.
26:53 "twelve legions of angels").  The Jewish concept of the Son of Man
had been sublimated to NT messianic Christology.  As a Jew of the lst
century, Jesus probably believed the traditional angelology and demonology
of his time.  Scholars heatedly debate whether or not he was responsible
for much of the NT's understanding of who he was as "Son of Man" or "Son of
God".  Perhaps Reginald H. Fuller, formerly of Virginia Theological
Seminary, Alexandria, VA, has drawn the most accurate conclusion: "(Jesus)
was more concerned with what God was doing in him than who he was,
especially in any metaphysical sense.  But what God was doing through him
in his earthly ministry provided the raw materials for the christological
evaluation of Jesus after the Easter event." (*The Oxford Companion to the
Bible*, 361. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.)

                         
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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