7th Sunday after Trinity

20 July 2017

1 Kings 3.5-12; Psalm 119.129-136; Romans 8.26-end; Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52

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Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: graft in our hearts the love of your name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

LAST week’s Gospel reading concentrated on the parable of the weeds and the wheat and its explanation (Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43). This week’s reading focuses on five shorter parables on the subject of the Kingdom of God.

Why the stories of the mustard seed and the yeast (Matthew 13.31-33) should fall between the two parts of the parable of the weeds and the wheat is hard to explain. Both deal with the potential for growth that can lie hidden in seemingly insignificant things. This, Jesus says, is how the Kingdom works, and, while it is probably reading too much into their position to say that the Gospel-writer has cleverly hidden them in a larger story, as an emblem of the principle of the tiny powerhouse in the larger entity, the stories that follow do, indeed, deal with hidden and rare things.

First comes the joyful discovery of the man who stumbles over treasure buried in a field, and sells all he owns to buy the land (Matthew 13.44). This is followed by the snapshot of the merchant who finally comes across the rare pearl he has been looking for, and also sells his possessions to acquire it (Matthew 13.45-46).

Both treasure and pearl are lovely images of the Kingdom, and, even in the age of Twitter, it is astonishing that the writer has captured the single-mindedness that should be part of the desire for the Kingdom in 26 and 31 words respectively.

The final parable in the sequence resembles the wheat and the weeds in two respects: it comprises a story that differentiates between good and bad (Matthew 13.47-48), and an interpretation that turns these things into a picture of the final judgement (13.49-50). Some commentators take the story to be authentic to Jesus, and the explanation to be the work of the Gospel-writer, who is offering reassurance to an early community of Christians.

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That Jesus should ask whether the disciples have understood what they have heard (Matthew 13.51) makes more sense if the meaning of the parables has not already been analysed. His final remark encapsulates its own parable (Matthew 13.52).

Taking the analogy of a wealthy householder, who owns heirlooms and new items of value, he reminds the disciples that the tradition in which they stand is both precious and evolving. They may not be receiving the classical training of the scribes, but they are being trained for the Kingdom as they travel with him. From his method, they will learn “how to remint the scriptural tradition and the expectations flowing from it with images adapted to the surprising nature of the kingdom” (Brendan Byrne, Lifting the Burden, Liturgical Press, 2004).

In the final part of the eighth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, readers are taken on an interior journey. Paul has been discussing the complete change of orientation towards the world which comes with the gift of the Spirit. He has described not just human beings, but the whole creation, groaning inwardly — although not without hope — as they wait for salvation (Romans 8.19-25).

Now he introduces the answering voice of the Spirit, who compassionately directs those who try to pray but do not know how to pray. It may be that Paul is describing the gift of tongues, but there is no reason to think that he means anything other than what he says. Instead of taking over, the Spirit works gently, interceding with “sighs too deep for words”, and subtly translating the groans of believers into a language closer to God’s than to ours (Romans 8.26-27).

This new way of communicating is part of the new creation that Paul has already imagined (Romans 8.18-25). His conviction that God’s purpose has always been salvation, and that calling humanity to be justified and glorified is its outworking, is so strong that he writes in the past rather than the future tense. In the will of God, these things have already happened, and it remains for the human order to catch up (Romans 8.28-30).

Meanwhile, it is possible to call confidently on that promised inheritance. The final part of the chapter is a tour de force. If the letter was intended to be read aloud, the audience must have wondered how anything could follow the declaration that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.39).

The remaining eight chapters show Paul tackling the implications of salvation, the width of its embrace, and the obligations placed on those who belong to a new creation.

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