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Saturday, July 23, 2011

12.A After Pentecost/Ordinary Time

"Though nothing can be given as a price for this salvation, yet much must be given up for the sake of it."

From Matthew Henry's Commentary.

Matthew 13:44-52
Items from the Staffordshire Hoard discovered in a field in 2009.
44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.47“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind;48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.51“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.”52And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”



Prayer
Good and generous God, fountain of all wisdom, in Christ you have revealed your kingdom to us, a treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great price.  Grant us your Spirit's gift of discernment, that we may learn to distinguish aright between the passing wealth of this present world and the enduring value of your kingdom.  Then make us swift to renounce all else to acquire the treasure you alone can bestow.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts
We continue with our parable teaching of Jesus this week.  It it good to remember that Matthew's Gospel account tells us of a number of Jesus' parables.

13.24-30 The weeds and wheat
13.44-6 The hidden treasure and the pearl of great price
13.47-50 The net
13.23-35 The unfaithful servant
20.1-16 The workers in the vineyard
21.29-32 The two sons
22.1-14 The marriage supper
25.1-13 The ten virgins
25.31-46 The last judgment
Together these are about the kingdom of God, and they helps us understand the urgency of following, the cost of following, the importance of not being divided along the way, and the need for preparedness.  The kingdom of God is at hand. We must be ready and we must be willing to make our journey not concerned about the cost nor our traveling partners!

This Sunday we read three of these: Hidden Treasure; Pearl of Great Price; and The Drag Net

Each begins in a similar manner: “The kingdom of Heaven is like.…” One of the interesting things is that none of this Sunday's material appears in any of the other Gospels; so this is a special Sunday that gives the preacher an opportunity to really grasp the Matthean Gospel message of kingdom and kingdom community.

The first image that Jesus gives us is that finding the kingdom of Heaven is like finding a treasure hidden in a field, for the sake of which one will sell everything. Treasure was often hidden in fields.  We might remember the find in England called the Staffordshire Hoard. Found in 2009 you can read and watch the story by following the link above.  The treasure included 1500 pieces of Anglo Saxon treasure.  Unlike treasure buried in a tomb the scholars believe this treasure was buried for safe keeping.

We note that this parable presupposes that the kingdom is hidden, that it is not yet revealed to everyone. This fits well with the thrust of the rest of the chapter. The Kingdom of God is breaking forth and not everyone either sees it or is able to live within it yet.  Not unlike previous parables the revelation of Jesus and God's kingdom is not perfectly clear to all…it can only be perceived by those with ears to hear and eyes to see.  We think immediately of Jesus as he returns to his home town:
54 He came to his home town and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power?55Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?56And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?’57And they took offence at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house.’58And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.
The next parable is the one most often called the Pearl of Great Price.  The rawness of these three parable is so very like what most scholars believe would have been Jesus' teaching style.  Many presuppose that this is exactly how Jesus would have talked and would have taught those who followed him.  Not unlike the the parable of the treasure hidden in a field the meaning is similar.
Unlike the previous parable though we are challenged to ask the question: why does a merchant purchase a pearl?  Merchants purchase items to resell them.  So we have a spin on the hidden treasure. The hidden treasure is for the pleasure of the finder. The pearl’s pleasure is in its sale.  We might say that the pearl becomes symbolically connected with the Gospel itself and the discipleship of giving away the grace received.
The last parable in our teaching is The Parable of The Drag-Net.  Perhaps like the wheat and the weeds we are being reminded once again that in the end the wicked and the righteous will be separated out.  I don't think that the preacher can get around the message here that Jesus, and likely his followers, saw a very tragic end of those who reject the Messiah.  This was rooted in their history and in the prophetic teachings they received.  This too is our understanding.  We believe as a church that there will be judgment in the end. The argument about who is saved and who is not is as old as the scriptures themselves.  Recently this argument has been ignited by the writings of N. T. Wright and Rob Bell.  Certainly we have our catholic faith which tells us there is judgement.  We have our own desire that tells us that we hope everyone is saved; in part because we worry about our own salvation and life lived.
It seems to me though that not unlike the message of the sower and the weeds we must ask ourselves about the net itself. Is our mission work like the drag net? Are we so working and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we are encircling and bringing in such a bounty that there will be many saints and sinners caught by the kingdom of God and the Gospel we proclaim.  Certainly Jesus will do the sorting out (not us!) but is our net big enough? Are we strong enough to live as saints and sinners, as sinners and saints, shoulder to shoulder with a diverse community.  We might remember the other stories of nets in the Gospel...  Is our mission broad enough so that our net is about to break?
You see the parable of the drag net includes a Greek word: genos.  Before the parable is explained Jesus says: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind." (Every KIND, every genos.)  This word was most often used to mean race, nation, or tribe.  I would offer that before you spend a lot of time preaching about judgement the church as a whole could use a good dose of preaching on mission and that the parable of the drag net challenges us to be a church in mission.  Let us as a church mirror the culture around us in our diversity of race and language. Let each church represent the people in the neighborhoods around them.  Let each diocese be challenged to represent the people (in all their diversity) of the geography in which they have been planted.
The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.

Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question

Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.

2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.

3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.

4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.

5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.

6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.

7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"

8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.

9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father..."

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