Hard to clamber up into the pulpit these days and speak into the pain and chaos ...
15th Ordinary Sunday 13/7/14
Readings: Genesis 25:19-34; Rom. 8:1-11; Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
The news this week has been deeply troubling. The Middle East seems to teeter on the edge of disintegration as the so-called Islamic state fragments Syria and Iraq - which each have troubles enough already - and locks Sunni into conflict with their Shia brethren. To the South East, on the Gaza strip, conflict between Israel and Palestine escalates. What began with the murder of three Jewish boys and the cruel revenge killing of one Muslim boy, has played a dreadful part in triggering this spiral of violence. There was a brief moment, I think just before the Gaza front ‘exploded’, when humanity and decency met across the divide – and I refer to the phone call of Mr Netanyahu to the Father of the dead Muslim boy, to give his condolences and vow to hunt for the murders and bring them to justice. I suggest that was a moment when the bond of common humanity was present and, however fleetingly, crossed the divisions between these two peoples who both have such deep claims on the same land.
Thinking about families and close relationships and the conflicts that often appear, the story of Esau and Jacob, their family rivalry and division, resonates with us. They are such different personality-types: we could imagine Esau as promising material for an All Black forward, large, strong, practical, useful about the place (he keeps the meat safe full) and not too troubled by sensitivity or imagination – of course his Dad loves him! Then there is Jacob, so different from Esau! He presents as a schemer and opportunist, even an entrepreneur: he exploits Esau’s impulsiveness of the moment to get the rights that belonged to the first-born. We have all the ingredients for a promising family drama or a revenge tragedy: the seeds of a grievance and the man of action v. the thinker; the man who lives in the moment, ‘give it to me now’ v. the long-term strategist. In the confusion of the human story – the muddle of history – the issues of who is right or who is wrong, who is the better, is not clear or even for us to judge. What matters is that always present, within the current of history, the divine purpose moves: and of these two it is Jacob who will be used by God.
Paul grasped what it means to live within the purpose of God; what it means to navigate, choose, between what pertains to life and what will take you to a dead end. The choice may not always be clear and a poor choice may lie concealed within what seems trivial – such as an impulsive word and a bowl of lentil soup! He reminds the Christians in Rome that ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.’
And so we see the story of the sower, throwing the seed extravagantly abroad across the furrows, ways and wastelands of the world and we catch a glimpse of our world, the sphere within which we all act and how we are confronted with choice and opportunity. (I will not consider the so-called explanation of the parable provided in verses 18-23 and attributed to Jesus. That tends to foreclose on how we read and engage the parable. I prefer to stick with the parable as we hear it delivered and that we then engage its strangeness and let it speak to us.) In Matthew this parable is a gateway to all the parables that then follow it and it confronts us with the mystery of what we may describe as the divine economy – the justice of God and our freedom to receive ‘the word of the kingdom’(v.19). One notices that seed is sown indiscriminately but is only productive where there is good soil: so even in the world of the parable we sense inequality; fruitfulness is variable and a good response will be more difficult for some than for others. Esau, constituted as he was, seems fated to make a poor choice. Of course the Esau within us may cry ‘unfair! Always the world, the human condition, seems unfair: we do not inhabit a ‘level-playing field’. We must choose life or death amidst testing and unequal circumstances. The parable cautions us to pay attention to what is going on here – ‘Let anyone with ears listen’!
Of course we change over time: we cannot speak of ourselves as if we are static or our circumstances unchanging. So, notice how within this parable there is depth and room to accommodate the changes in our lives. For instance, thinking metaphorically, we may remember times when we ourselves have been ‘rocky ground’, ‘shallow soil’ or ‘choked by thorns’; we have all known times when we have been unresponsive to ‘the word of the kingdom’ – whether it be because of a hardness of heart, lack of imagination or our sheer preoccupation with the difficulties of life. And still we must choose life or death amidst changing circumstances and the parable still cautions us to pay attention – ‘Let anyone with ears listen’!
Which is why we are here this morning: we come to this Eucharist to hear ‘the word of the kingdom’ to us. To receive the grace to live in a way so open and receptive to God that we will make the choices that lead to life and not to death. Also, we come to pray for those leaders in Gaza and Tel Aviv – and elsewhere in the world – that they may make wise choices, choosing life, not death.