3rd Sunday after Trinity

23 June 2017

Jeremiah 28.5-9; Psalm 89.1-4, 15-18 (or 89.8-18); Romans 6.12-end; Matthew 10.40-end

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Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts whereby we call you Father: give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

JESUS concludes his instructions to the disciples who are about to be sent out with the good news of the Kingdom, as he began: with hospitality (Matthew 10.11-15, 40-42). This time, the emphasis is not on the punishment to be visited on those who reject his emissaries, but on the rewards that will be given to those who welcome them.

The generosity that he speaks of is, at one level, an ordinary human response to need, epitomised in the cup of cold water for a weary traveller (Matthew 10.42). The overwhelming public response to the recent tragedies in London and Manchester has shown us, once again, that the ordinary gesture is never to be undervalued.

Towards the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus returns to the subject of welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and caring for the sick and those in prison (Matthew 25.31-46). These things count for eternity as if they had been done for him, even if they seem insignificant to those who perform them.

There is also something else to be said about generosity: it involves the discernment that recognises and honours the part played by, and the example of, another person. It sees the righteous person as righteous, and honours the prophet as a prophet (Matthew 10.40-41). Underlying this discernment are real concerns. They are described in more detail in the Didache, a very early set of teachings thought by many scholars to belong to the second half of the first century.

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This date would make it contemporary with the Gospel of Matthew, and perhaps even a source (Alan Garrow, The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence on the Didache, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Supplement 254, 2004). In addition to directions for the performance of baptism and the celebration of the eucharist, there are chapters on visiting prophets.

Anyone who stayed more than two days, demanded elaborate meals, contradicted the teaching given already to the community, and asked for money was not to be trusted (Didache 11). On the other hand, those who came in the name of the Lord were to be welcomed immediately, and tested afterwards (Didache 12).

Matthew’s Jesus places the burden of recognition on the households that the disciples will visit. The unspoken burden is on the disciples themselves not to betray the high expectations placed on them.

True and false prophecy are concerns for Jeremiah, as he faces down the prophet Hananiah before a large crowd of priests and people in the temple (Jeremiah 28.5-9). The lectionary gives just a fragment of a larger and rather dramatic scene, which is worth reading in order to imagine the setting of Jeremiah’s words (Jeremiah 27-28).

Hananiah has just delivered good news about the return of the vessels taken from the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, and the repatriation of Jeconiah and other Judaean exiles who went with him (Jeremiah 28.1-4). Jeremiah’s task is to introduce realism, and to point out that the message of trustworthy prophets in the past has not been comfortable. Its subject-matter has been “war, famine, and pestilence” (Jeremiah 28.8). Only when actual peace follows the prophecy of peace will it be certain that the message has come from the Lord (Jeremiah 28.9).

But the discerning interpretation of prophecy, Kathleen O’Connor warns, is not an end in itself. What is at stake is the “community’s survival” under the conditions which its own neglect of God’s warnings have imposed on it, and this will be secured only by “correct discernment of and obedience to true prophecy” (“Jeremiah” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, edited by John Barton and John Muddiman, Oxford University Press, 2001).

Paul’s use of slavery and subjection as metaphors for the human entanglement in sin would have been readily accessible to the audience of Roman Christians who received his letter (Romans 6.5-7). They had been freed from this by baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6.4), but this did not entitle them to assume that the liberating gift of grace allowed them to behave exactly as they pleased (Romans 6.15).

They had not stopped being obedient: they had only transferred their obedience from sin to righteousness. They were still slaves, but now enslaved to God (Romans 6.17-19). That acknowledgement is kept alive daily in the patterns of Christian prayer.

The second collect at morning prayer in the Book of Common Prayer is an outstanding example: “O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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