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Bible Study: Proper 10 (A) – 2014
July 13, 2014
Our narrative opens with Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage. After many prayers, Rebekah, who was barren, miraculously conceives twins who “struggle together within her.” In great pain, Rebekah inquires of the Lord why she should be subjected to such suffering. The Lord reveals to Rebekah that she is carrying within her womb the founders of two nations and that the younger twin would one day rule over the older.
We are told that the first twin to be born was named Esau (representing the Edomite’s) and that the second twin emerged from the womb gripping his brother’s heel. He was named Jacob, meaning “one who supplants.” Jacob’s name would later be changed to Israel.
The boys grew to be very different men. Not only did they look very different, but they acted differently as well. They represented two very different lifestyles, which were in conflict. Esau was a skillful hunter, while Jacob was a shepherd. Esau’s livelihood depended upon a wilderness inhabited with game, while Jacob’s livelihood required pastureland for his flocks. Shepherding would naturally yield a far more consistent source of food for a growing population, therefore, it is possible that pastureland had begun to encroach on hunting lands. Perhaps this is why Esau returns home from hunting one day, unsuccessful and famished.
When Esau asks for some of the stew Jacob is cooking, Jacob demands that Esau first sell him his birthright, which was his inheritance as firstborn son. Esau, on the point of starvation, asks what good this birthright would do him if he died of hunger. If it was the case that the game, which was vital to Esau’s livelihood, was becoming scarce due to the increase in pastureland, this land that Esau stood to inherit no longer held any value for him. Esau agrees to sell Jacob his birthright in exchange for a meal.
Jacob and Esau were twins. They were different in so many ways, and yet they shared the same parents. The same can be said of the two nations they came to represent. They were different in many ways, and yet God was the God of both.
- God is the God of all. God sees us all as brothers and sisters. Many times we know this in our heads, but it can sometimes be difficult to feel it in our hearts! When have you struggled to feel that God was also the God of someone very unlike you? What might help you to feel more like a brother or sister to someone quite different from yourself?
- This story is about more than two brothers who are very different. It is about the struggle that occurs when the needs and desires of two dissimilar lifestyles come into conflict. Where have you observed this in the world today? How might there be harmony between them without one overpowering the other?
- No doubt there are people in your family who live very different lifestyles from your own. Do you sometimes wish they would live a lifestyle more like yours? Conversely, do you sometimes envy their lifestyles? How might you honor your own without being critical of others’, or wishing you lived more like they live?
Psalm 119: 105-112
In these lines, the psalmist professes a deep faith in the Lord and the righteousness of God’s law. He does not view these laws as oppressive, but the means by which God might provide humans with a just, orderly and safe society. Humankind cannot thrive where injustice, chaos and violence reign. The psalmist describes God’s laws as a “light to my feet,” “my heritage forever” and the “joy of my heart.” Humans cannot thrive where injustice, chaos and violence reign. God’s decrees are not a burden for the psalmist, but the means by which God might lighten the sometimes heavy load of being human. Yet it is the psalmist’s experience that others act maliciously toward him. He is “severely afflicted” because “the wicked have laid a snare” for him, intending it would seem to kill him. He asks God to “give me life!” The psalmist declares that, regardless of the cruelty shown to him by others, he will uphold the oath he has sworn to the Lord and “observe” God’s “righteous ordinances” “forever, to the end.”
There are many places in the world where violence, injustice and chaos rob people of their sense of security and their futures. Try using the themes expressed in these lines to write a prayer for those suffering under repressive governments and systems.
- Have you ever experienced injustice or a malicious act by another? How has this experience diminished or strengthened your faith? What aspects of your faith were helpful in dealing with this situation? What things were not so helpful?
- What precepts of your faith are a “light” to your feet, guide your way, give you stability when the world around you seems to be in chaos?
Paul proclaims Christ’s victory over sin and death. Through Christ’s obedience he has spared us condemnation for what we were unable to achieve ourselves. According to Paul, our inability to keep the Law of Moses weakened the Law to the point of it being unable to offer salvation, leaving us subject to sin and death.
According to Paul, God sent Jesus to do for us what the Law could not because of our own shortcomings, not because the law was in any way inadequate. Jesus conquered our sin, and through this victory, freed us from its power so that God’s purpose might be fulfilled for everyone who walks “according to the Spirit.”
Paul tells us that to set our minds on “things of the flesh,” that is, our own destructive desires, can only result in death. However, to set our minds on the Spirit is “life and peace.” Paul reminds us that we are in the Spirit because the Spirit of God dwells in us. Therefore, even if our bodies are “dead because of sin,” our spirits are still alive because of Christ’s Spirit, which dwells within us as righteousness. It is only possible for us to be in “the Spirit of Christ” because the “Spirit of Christ” is us. Paul adds that because Christ is raised from the dead, that is, because he is immortal, his immortal life is in everyone in whom his Spirit dwells.
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel as though Paul is handing me pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I need to get all the pieces in the right places before I can see the big picture. I think the picture Paul wants us to see might look something like this: God gave us some rules to live by in order to provide us with a safe, just society, keeping us in good relationship with God and one another.
Yet because of human weakness, we were unable to obey these laws. In fact, our disobedience amounted to misuse of the Law and made things even worse. The Law could not then fulfill God’s purpose. It did not give life, but death. In order for God’s purpose to be fulfilled, therefore, God sent Jesus Christ who would achieve what the Law, because of our own sinfulness, could not.
According to Paul, Jesus does not replace the Law, but fulfills its purpose – just as a doctor does not replace a medical textbook, but fulfills its purpose. A medical textbook can describe symptoms and recommend treatment, but if it is misunderstood or misused, it can do more damage than good. A doctor can actually save lives; he or she fulfills the purpose of the textbook by understanding it and using that knowledge to heal others. I believe this is the picture that appears when we assemble all the pieces Paul has given us.
- What does it mean to you to have the Spirit of Christ “in” you? What does it mean to you to live “in” Christ?
- Scripture is often misunderstood and misused, and therefore unable to fulfill God’s purpose. How does the “Holy Spirit” overcome this?
- How has your understanding of scripture changed over time? How has this change impacted your life “in” Christ?
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
In Chapter 13 of Matthew we can imagine Jesus standing in a boat a little off shore but still within earshot of the crowds. On the beach, they eagerly await his message. What were they hoping to hear? Whatever it was, Jesus tells them in his parable that the message he will deliver will take root in very few of them.
In Jesus’ parable of the sower, the “seed” represents the Kingdom of God. Jesus is represented as the sower, and people as various locations where seeds may fall. When the sower drops a seed on a path, it is exposed and quickly snatched up by a bird. When he drops a seed on rocky ground, it begins to sprout, but without depth of soil soon withers. A seed dropped among the thorns is soon choked and dies. But a seed dropped on fertile ground yields a bountiful harvest.
Jesus proclaims, “Let anyone with ears listen!” Well, it seems further explanation was necessary.
A little later in the gospel, we hear a slightly expanded version of the parable. Jesus explains that the seed sewn on the path, which is snatched away by a bird, depicts how the “evil one” may snatch the Kingdom from one’s heart if one does not properly understand it. The person who is like rocky ground receives the word with joy, but without proper roots, his or her faith cannot withstand the challenges of life. The person who is like a thorny bed yields nothing because the cares of the world are more important than God’s Kingdom. But the seeds that are sewn in good soil, that is, in people who have understanding, produce a tremendous yield.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been all four of these places at various times in my life! I’ve been the path, when I was so wrapped up in where I wanted to go that I never even attempted to understand what God was putting right in front of me. I’ve been the rocky ground, when I neglected to nourish the things that were most important in my life so that they withered and sometimes died. At other times I’ve allowed my daily anxieties, like thorns, to choke out the truly wonderful things God has given me. And yet God, with loving persistence, never ceases to broadcast his unlimited bounty of seeds! God knows that there will be times when I am a rich loam and a seed takes root and grows.
- How have you been a well-trodden path, rocky ground, a bed of thorns, and good soil? What were the circumstances in your life at those times? What might have made a difference in how receptive you were to Christ’s Word?
- What makes “good soil”? Do you believe people are just born with it, or can good soil be developed?
- How does it make you feel when others appear to be rocky ground or beds of thorns? Do you become frustrated? How can we faithfully proclaim the gospel without being pushy?
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This page is available in: Español