Bible Study: Proper 12 (A) – 2011
July 24, 2011
1 Kings 3:5-12
Desire is important. Not the sort of desire we might have for cars or money or sex or fame, but the deepest desires and longings of our hearts. Our inmost desires can clue us into what God truly desires for us. Desires can help us understand who we are becoming and what we are supposed to do with our lives – what we want, more than anything, to be.
Solomon’s vocation was pretty clear (he may have even, as the son of the David, desired it). But what else did he desire? Who was he? What sort of king did he want to be? Today’s reading shows us a person who was able to understand himself and his own desires well enough to know that he wanted to wield his authority with a concern for equity and justice. And he did not hesitate to ask God for that ability.
- Do we know what we most deeply desire? Are we able, like Solomon, to hear God’s voice encouraging us to ask for this?
Notions of complete obedience to laws and regulations – even the statutes of God – can be daunting, especially when we do not have the psalmist’s experience of “panting” for them.
This psalm can cause conflict for many modern-day Christians, with our vast amounts of scientific and historical knowledge. As soon as the Psalmist says, “When your word goes forth it gives light; it gives understanding to the simple,” we want to remind him of the importance of modern education to bring understanding, the moral issues with calling parts of the Bible “the Word of God,” or the dangers of accepting everything that someone might say about what God wants or wills.
The challenge for us today is to hold these well-founded concerns in tension with the revelation and tradition that has been delivered to us through the Church and the Scriptures.
“Rescue me from those who oppress me, and I will keep your commandments.”
Bargaining with God. Conditional obedience and love. I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.
- What do sentiments like this tell us about God’s relationship to God’s children? Is the Psalmist suggesting that she won’t keep God’s commandments if she isn’t rescued (or simply that she won’t be alive to be able to keep God’s commandments)? Are we to think, based on this passage as well as similar stories in the Bible (ex: Gen. 18:23-33, Ex. 32:7-14), that bartering is an acceptable (or even effective) practice when interacting with God?
Intercession is a powerful form of prayer. When our loved ones ask us to pray for them, we engage in a conversation with God about them. In doing so, we ask God to listen to our compassionate hearts for these persons.
St. Paul reminds us that, in the very same way, the Spirit intercedes before God on our behalf. When we are overwhelmed, tired, frustrated, bored, or in some other way weak, the Advocate speaks to God, asking God to consider God’s own compassionate heart for us. In the mystery of the communion of the Trinity, God speaks to Godself, remembering anew God’s heart for us.
When we follow the Spirit’s example of intercessory prayer, we participate even more fully in the communal life of the Triune God.
- When we pray for others, are we able to envision our petition as a conversation with God about someone who is mutually cherished? How might this affect our prayers? Are we able to remind ourselves that our prayers for others are interwoven with the Spirit’s own intercessions for them? How might this affect our prayers?
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Familiarity can breed contempt.
For many Christians who have grown up in church, the parables of Jesus are some of the most recognizable texts from the Bible. The mustard seed, the lost sheep, the prodigal son – these are all very well-known, and all of the gospels have many of these in common. Because of this familiarity, we may believe, like the disciples in today’s reading, that we “get it” – we understand what Jesus is saying.
But do we?
- The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed. Do we recognize that the death and transformation of the seed is necessary for the growth of the tree? Or that the ground must be cracked and broken to allow the tree to well up from within?
- The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast. Do we know that this fungal microorganism reproduces asexually, expanding uncontrollably? Or that it is a central ingredient in not only bread, but also alcohol (bringing to mind the Elements of the Eucharist)?
- The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. Do we know who hid the treasure? Or appreciate the strength, effort and toil that digging up that treasure requires?
- The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of pearls. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net, catching good and bad fish alike. “Have you understood all this?” Can our answer, as was the disciples, be “Yes”?
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