Pentecost 9A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for July 30, 2023 (Pentecost 9A)

First Reading (Track One): Genesis 29:15-28

Sunday’s Track One first reading hits us with one eye-popping surprise after another.

Parable of the hidden treasure

Parable of the hidden treasure (c.1630), painting, possibly by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669) or Gerrit Dou (1613-1675). Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. (Click image to enlarge.)

First, tricky Jacob gets tricked in his turn by Laban, who puts him to work for seven years to earn Laban’s daughter Rachel as his bride. But Laban switches in his older daughter, Leah, much to Jacob’s consternation. Then, not only does Jacob eventually marry Rachel, too, but Rachel’s and Leah’s maids! So much for “biblical marriage”! It’s difficult for us in modern times to understand Scripture’s seemingly casual acceptance of arranged, polygamous marriages, with the women given no opportunity to participate or object. Perhaps it’s best to view these ancestral legends as products of their own time and culture, that yet in their own way celebrate God’s faithfulness in ensuring that Abraham’s children will populate all nations.

First Reading (Track Two): 1 Kings 3:5-12

Known in tradition for his great wisdom, King Solomon may be most often remembered by the story – just a few verses after this one – of how he revealed the real mother in two women’s dispute over a baby by proposing to cut the infant in half. Here we meet Solomon – the son of King David and Bathsheba – as the young, new king, uncertain and uneasy. Dreaming of God asking what he would like to be given, Solomon chose not long life, riches or power, but only wisdom to govern the people well. Pleased by this choice, God grants Solomon a discerning mind greater than any other king that came before or will come after him.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 105:1-11, 45b

This resounding hymn of praise to God and God’s works celebrates the promise that we have seen come to pass in our recent first readings: God made an everlasting covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a covenant that we will later see worked out with Moses and the people at Mount Sinai. God promises that their children will inherit the Promised Land for a thousand generations, in response to their covenant to faithfully follow God’s teaching and obey God’s laws.

Alternate Psalm (Track One): Psalm 128

This short alternative Psalm echoes similar ideas as the Psalm 105 portion without explicitly mentioning the ancestral covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In similar fashion, though, in quick cadences it celebrates the joy and the rewards that come to those who follow in God’s way: the fruits of their labor, the happiness and prosperity that they will enjoy. Thanks to God’s blessings from Zion, they will be rewarded with secure homes and long and prosperous lives.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 119:129-136

With its 176 verses, this is the longest of all the Psalms. From end to end it tells the Psalmist’s love and praise for God’s Law, God’s covenant with the people. The word “Law” here is the Hebrew “Torah,” the first five books of the Bible. Torah is understood as God’s teaching, God’s expression of God’s desire for us to live in good relationship with God and each other. These verses celebrate the love of Torah in almost sensuous terms of breathless longing. God’s statutes are so wonderful, we are told, that the Psalmist sheds streams of tears at the harsh recognition that some people fail to follow their teaching.

Second Reading: Romans 8:26-39

For several weeks we have heard excerpts from Paul’s extended argument contrasting life in the flesh against life in the spirit. This portion of the letter to the Romans reaches its conclusion in a burst of poetic words: If God is for us, who is against us? God’s abiding faithfulness was made manifest through God’s gift of God’s own son. If God gave him up for all of us, nothing in all creation – not hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword – can separate us from the love of God through Jesus.

Gospel: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Tell us, Jesus: What exactly is the kingdom of heaven like? Jesus offers brief, thought-provoking glimpses in five quick parables. Each in some way imagines a kingdom that begins with something so tiny or hidden that it can hardly be seen, but that quickly grows in power and might. It’s a tiny mustard seed that grows into a mighty tree. It’s the yeast that mysteriously makes bread rise. It’s like buried treasure or an expensive pearl that got lost but was found again; It’s like an empty net dropped into the ocean that comes up loaded with fish. And then Jesus concludes on a warning note: Just as the fishers sort the good fish from the bad, at the end of the age angels will separate the evil from the righteous and throw the evil into the furnace of fire amid weeping and gnashing of teeth.

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