Proper 12A

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This page is part of the Lectionary series within the Living with Jesus Now project.


Contents

Lectionary

  • Genesis 21:8–21 and Psalm 86:1–10, 16–17
  • Romans 6:1b–11
  • Matthew 10:24–39




Introduction

This week we begin a new series of readings:

  • for the next 9 weeks the first reading will come from Genesis
  • for the next 10 weeks the second reading will come from Romans
  • from now until Christ the King on 23 November, the Gospel readings will all be from Matthew

In some ways these are familiar texts, so the challenge is to look beyond that familiarity in our quest for information about the past and wisdom for the present.

The video recordings from lecturers on the Synoptic Gospels, and especially the Gospel of Matthew, earlier this year may be interest. Go to my video page and scroll down to the relevant set of videos.


First Reading: Abraham expels Hagar and Ishmael

This is a strange and disturbing reading. It is never easy to read this passage in church, and it is especially odd to choose it for the first in a series of readings from Genesis as we move back into ordinary time after the great fifty days of Easter. Given next week's reading from Genesis 22, where Abraham is willing to sacrifice his other son (Isaac) as an act of devotion to God, this gets increasingly problematic.

At the heart of this story is the remarkable affirmation that Ishmael and his descendants are blessed by God. In a tradition that too-often privileges Jews and Christians, this is a minority witness to the divine presence and blessing among other communities.

Yet this small gem comes in the wrapping of a story of betrayal and suspicion.

In the back story that will not have been read in church, an ageing and childless Sarah has arranged for Abraham to have sex with one of her own servant girls (Hagar) so that Sarah could adopt the child as her own. This is not simply surrogate parenting, but a social system in which the slaves of the patriarch are at his disposal. The master can enjoy them and their bodies, their labour and their affections. The servant girl who becomes pregnant with the master's child is not given the status of a second wife or even a concubine. Instead, as time passes and Sarah herself bears a son for Abraham (note the sexist language embedded in this tale), rivalry between the two women with unequal power in the household deepens. Sarah demands that the "other woman" be driven out from the camp.

So much for biblical family values?

As it happens, the two boys are the only people who really act with integrity in this story and the one that will follow next. Ishmael is a teenager by this point in the story, while Isaac has just been weaned. The older boy is playing with his young half-brother.

Jealousy intervenes. The boys will not grow up with the blessings of a sibling in their life. Other people's hatred and fear will drive them apart.

While Abraham will show no emotion in Genesis 22 when commanded to kill his "only" son, Isaac, here he is grieved by Sarah's demand. Still, after reassurance by God, Abraham goes along with his wife's cruel plan and drives his firstborn son and the boy's mother out into the wildness.

No good can come to a vulnerable woman and child in such dire straits, unless God intervenes ...

Such a tale surely deserves a place of shame among the "texts of terror" in the Bible. We cannot acquiesce as Paul (in Gal 4:29) accuses Ishmael of persecuting Isaac, and demeans Hagar as a slave mother bearing children destined for slavery. The promise is neither a privilege to evade compassion nor an excuse to exploit those with lesser status. What do we think we hear the Spirit saying to the churches as we proclaim this strange story in our congregations this weekend? Kyrie eleison ...


Second Reading: Buried with Christ in baptism

The lectionary parachutes us into chapter six of Romans and we find ourselves awash with baptism symbolism. However, these are not themes of renewal and revival as fresh waters bring life to a barren land, but rather images of death and resurrection. Our "old self" has to be crucified with Christ so that a new person can emerge from the self-immolation.

One can only hope that no fragile souls find their way into our congregations this coming Sunday.

Images of abuse and self-harm seem to have too great a profile in our sacred texts this weekend.

The scribes and Pharisees of contemporary Christianity will doubtless craft sermons that speak of sharing the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection. But there comes a time when the people of God need alternative texts to read in our gatherings.


Gospel: The cost of discipleship

The reading from Matthew 10 hardly relieves the doom and gloom of this week's lectionary:

  • If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
  • Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
  • ... whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
  • Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth ...
  • Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me...
  • ... and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
  • Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Without reverting to comfortable expressions of religion that Dietrich Bonheoffer rightly condemned as "cheap grace", it seems appropriate to ask why we have such a dark set of texts for this weekend.

Is the God whose compassion is the beating heart at the centre of the Universe really calling us to be so deeply estranged from everyone around us? Are we to take (and give) the kind of mutual recrimination we see Jesus dishing out in Matthew 23? Are we to seek division rather than reconciliation? Have the peacemakers of the Beatitudes been demobilised by the warrior god of tribal religion? Are we to despise the gift of life and prefer death?

Like the other two readings this week, this passage is going to require careful theological engagement from anyone called to lead the liturgy or preach the word.


Jesus Database




Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt's web site

Other recommended sites include:



Music Suggestions

See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre:

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