|The Sower (Van Gogh, 1888)|
1st Reading (Track 1): Genesis 25:19-34
The next generation is born, although not without God’s intervention. In actuality, the priority of God’s mysterious purposes dominates this reading. The inheritance right of the first-born son was an established practice in ancient Near Eastern society (and continued, until quite recently the dominant worldwide practice). But the God of Abraham is no respecter of our social conventions. We are not told why God preferred Jacob, and, as far as the text goes, we do not need to know. Yet this choice of “the younger” will be a frequent occurrence throughout the Bible.
25:19 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” 24 When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. 27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30 Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31 Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Psalm 119:105-112 (Track 1)
Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms at 176 total verses. It is an acrostic poem with every eight verses beginning with subsequent letters of the Hebrew alphabet It is a psalm from the wisdom tradition, extolling wise obedience to the law (which is named in some way in every verse).
105 Your word is a lantern to my feet *
and a light upon my path.
106 I have sworn and am determined *
to keep your righteous judgments.
107 I am deeply troubled; *
preserve my life, O Lord, according to your word.
108 Accept, O Lord, the willing tribute of my lips, *
and teach me your judgments.
109 My life is always in my hand, *
yet I do not forget your law.
110 The wicked have set a trap for me, *
but I have not strayed from your commandments.
111 Your decrees are my inheritance for ever; *
truly, they are the joy of my heart.
112 I have applied my heart to fulfill your statutes *
for ever and to the end.
1st Reading (Track 2): Isaiah 55:10-13
This passage from Isaiah places “the word” in the extravagance of creation. The first part of this chapter has made the claim that the purposes of God are both free from and sovereign over the purposes of humankind. Now the whole creation testifies to the wondrous purposes and promises of God. The promise is a joyous homecoming to those who seem stuck in exile.
55:10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 12 For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-14 (Track 2)
Psalm 65 extols God as both creator and redeemer, here in reverse order. Verses 1-5 praise God as redeemer, and 6-14 as creator. It is God alone who provides both so extravagantly, which is so evident in this psalm.
[1 You are to be praised, O God, in Zion; *
to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.
2 To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come, *
because of their transgressions.
3 Our sins are stronger than we are, *
but you will blot them out.
4 Happy are they whom you choose
and draw to your courts to dwell there! *
they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,
by the holiness of your temple.
5 Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness,
O God of our salvation, *
O Hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the seas that are far away.
6 You make fast the mountains by your power; *
they are girded about with might.
7 You still the roaring of the seas, *
the roaring of their waves,
and the clamor of the peoples.
8 Those who dwell at the ends of the earth will tremble at your
marvelous signs; *
you make the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy.]
9 You visit the earth and water it abundantly;
you make it very plenteous; *
the river of God is full of water.
10 You prepare the grain, *
for so you provide for the earth.
11 I You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges; *
with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase.
12 You crown the year with your goodness, *
and your paths overflow with plenty.
13 May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing, *
and the hills be clothed with joy.
14 May the meadows cover themselves with flocks,
and the valleys cloak themselves with grain; *
let them shout for joy and sing.
2nd Reading: Romans 8:1-11
The first verse of this chapter is a climax to Paul’s argument in the first seven chapters. The “therefore” looms large; it is a proclamation of freedom for those who embrace the “Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” Chapter 8 is Paul’s most significant proclamation of the life of the Spirit. “The flesh” for Paul is not so much our literal bodies as it is a metaphor of our tendency to sin. One way of understanding “flesh vs. Spirit” in this passage is to equate it with “slavery vs. freedom.”
8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
The parable of the sower seems easy to understand (particularly since Jesus “explains” it), but we are probably too quick to see it as instruction on how we are to sow the seed of the Gospel. Rather, it is a story about how God sows the word, or, we might say, plants the kingdom. Our job is not so much to do the sowing as it is to find the seed that has already been sown with the following realities: the seed is sown everywhere, indiscriminately; the seed is, well, seed, in that it is not easy to find; yet it also does its work, even in difficult situations; it requires our response in order to bear fruit.
13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen! 18 Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2017 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.