Today in the Spirit: Proper 11A

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In our walk with Jesus in the same way in which he walked (1 John 2:6) through the liturgical year, we continue (following Matthew in Year A) into the most prolific period of our Lord’s earthly ministry. The appointed Collect petitions the Father God that “we” (the whole church) might imitate Jesus in his ministry, “showing mercy and pity” and “trusting in his promises,” that we may enjoy “heavenly treasures.” In the Gospel reading appointed for Year A in Matthew 13:24-30,34-43 we hear Jesus’ presentation and interpretation of what is called by the disciples in Matthew the parable of the weeds in the fields. The assigned first reading is from Wisdom of Solomon 12:13,16-19 in the Apocrypha. It is chosen for its clear presentation of implications of Jesus’s parable concerning the mercy of God in the present age prior to final judgment, and concerning the behavior of believers toward the unbelieving world: Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind (19). The assigned Psalm 86 has “David,” the man in the Spirit, praying for mercy and strength while insolent men who are permitted to walk in the world by a merciful God, rise up against him. The Epistle reading in Romans 8:18-25 continues us on our journey in this part of Year A through the magnificent center of Paul’s letter to the Romans, but with teaching that happens to fit perfectly with the Gospel reading. Paul’s words, For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God (19) might easily have been inspired by Jesus’ language in the parable found in Matthew 13: Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (43).     

The Collect

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Sovereign in Strength, You Judge with Mildness (Wisdom 12:13,16-19)

For neither is there any god besides you, whose care is for all people,
  to whom you should prove that you have not judged unjustly;…
For your strength is the source of righteousness,
  and your sovereignty over all causes you to spare all.
For you show your strength when people doubt the completeness of your power,
  and you rebuke any insolence among those who know it.
Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness,
  and with great forbearance you govern us;
  for you have power to act whenever you choose.
Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind,
  and you have filled your children with good hope,
  because you give repentance for sins (NRSV).

On a Sunday in which Jesus’ teaching on the wheat and weeds may leave us uncomfortable with the idea of needing to persevere in a world in which evil and good are near neighbors, worshipers receive this message from the deuterocanonical book Wisdom of Solomon on the sovereignty of God. Here not only are we reminded that God is sovereign (for you have power to act whenever you choose), but also assured that God’s perfect sovereignty cannot fail to promulgate the good: 1) [you] care for all people; 2) [it is] alien to your power to condemn anyone who does not deserve to be punished; 3) your sovereignty over all causes you to spare all; and 4) you judge with mildness. There are many places in canonical Scripture that carry a similar message but few that pack this many advertisements of God’s active goodness of intentions and outcomes so tightly in one place. Devotionally, hearing this text before the parable of the wheat and the weeds, we rest more easily with the reality assigned to us of good and evil sparring against one another for the resources which will cause us to grow. What is more, the last verse informs us that living in a world where we are exposed to the kindness of God in the face of evil, we ourselves learn to be kind: Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind. Bishop Ignatius of Antioch in a letter to the Ephesians (around 125 AD) makes this very point with reference to our parable: “By our patience let us show we are their [enemies within the church] brothers, intent on imitating the Lord, seeing which of us can be the more wrong, robbed, and despised. Thus no devil’s weed will be found among you; but thoroughly pure and self-controlled, you will remain body and soul united to Jesus Christ.” Extreme language to be sure, but hitting the target. 

Today, Holy Spirit, overcome my fear of living in a world of good and evil, and more than that teach me to be continuously more kind and so further add to the provision of your overflowing kindness in a world on its way to final judgment.

For to You O Lord I Lift Up My Soul (Psalm 86)

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy. 
Preserve my life, for I am godly;
    save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God. 
Be gracious to me, O Lord,
    for to you do I cry all the day. 
Gladden the soul of your servant,
    for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. 
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
    abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. 
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
    listen to my plea for grace. 
In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
    for you answer me (1-7).

Our assigned psalm this week is a song of petition, the cry (using images in the Gospel parable) that any wheat-like servant of God in the world might make growing up alongside his weed-like enemies. But I wonder if your prayers under duress carry a similar ring to this one; I know mine often do not. See how “David” in the Spirit moves so quickly and seamlessly from stating his own weak position (I am poor and needy) and his plea for help (Preserve my life) to faith in the character and promises of God (For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you). And this leads to assurance in him that his prayers will be heard (I call upon you, for you answer me). I wonder if observing this movement in the psalm might assist us with that difficult teaching of Jesus in Mark 11 about prayer: Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (11:24). Surely David’s song models for us a way forward toward faith in prayer.

Come Holy Spirit today, and transform my manner of praying to be like what I see in this psalm. 

We Wait for It with Patience (Romans 8:18-25)

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (23-25).

During the “ordinary” period of the liturgical year, the assignment of Epistle readings takes us in a sequential fashion through parts of the NT epistles. Sometimes the NT readings touch on the main themes of the Gospel reading; sometimes they do not. For this Sunday, Paul’s teaching in Romans fits like a glove with Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds. The implication of the parable is that we (the sons [and daughters] of the kingdom, Matthew 13:38) must live unsteadily alongside the sons [and daughters] of the evil one (see Matthew 13:38f). Paul says that in that uncomfortable situation, while we believers groan within ourselves as we wait for God to make us his children (GNT), we wait with patience. By patience, Paul means the spiritual provision of patience as in the fruit of patience (or forbearance NIV). Living in the world I find that I am naturally patient to a degree, but it doesn’t take much–a sudden interruption to my schedule, a word of criticism from a person in the church–to move me off the mark. It is there I need godly assistance, and Paul assures us in this reading that the Spirit will deliver. In the language of promise Paul teaches hope will yield supernatural patience

Need extra patience just now in your rubbing up against the weeds in the field–even the weeds growing up along the wheat inside yourself? Today, in the Spirit, trust in Jesus’ provision of patience through the Spirit to see you through to the day of the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Shine Like the Sun in the Kingdom of the Father (Matthew 13:24-30,34-43)

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear (36-43).

My other devotions this week have focused on the implications in this parable of the sons of the kingdom (Christians) being left to exist alongside the sons of the evil one (non-Christians) until the end. But we need to be clear: the stated meaning of the parable is not at all about all that leads up to the end but to the end itself. What the one who has ears is meant to hear is that for believers the future is glorious, eternal, shining and restful–that the righteous will one day shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father. That clearly stated image of the end is meant to more than cover any fear we might imagine for ourselves about the present. This parable is about the fact that the enemy’s sowing his weeds in the world has no lasting outcome and does nothing to thwart the purposes of the Father God for his creation. The jewels of his creation, people with a heart turned to the Creator, will thrive. Here is a supporting passage from Daniel that may very well have been in the mind of Jesus as he told this parable again and again during the years of ministry:[An angel to Daniel]:

And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase (Daniel 12:3-4).

Today, Holy Spirit, hearing my Lord’s parable, count me among those with ears to hear and those in whom knowledge shall increase concerning the future, our future, of shining in the presence of the Father forever and ever. 

Today in the Spirit

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Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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