Tuesday, July 18, 2017

PENTECOST VII 2017 (Proper 11)

Jacob's Ladder - Marc Chagall
The Old Testament lesson for this Sunday recounts one of the most compelling and significant episodes in the history of Israel’s relationship with God – Jacob’s dream as he sleeps in a remote spot, his head resting on a stone. When he awakens from the dream he declares "Surely the LORD is in this place-- and I did not know it!"  The possibility that we should be standing at “the gate of heaven” and yet be unaware of the fact, is the underlying motif of Jesus’ parables of the sower. The first of these, which provided the Gospel for last week, alerts us to the spiritual dangers of indifference, passing enthusiasm and worldly projects. This week's rather different application of the image, shows the ‘good seed’ of the Gospel confronting not merely human weakness, but the active agency of Satan.

The Sower and the Devil --Albin Egger-Lienz
'Satan' sounds like one of those 'pre-modern' ideas that modern ways of thinking have  abandoned.  Yet our news media are filled with actions and events that regularly seem to show forces of evil taking possession of human hearts and minds, and driving them to levels of wickedness and cruelty far beyond mere selfishness or indifference. The most problematic instances are those in which truly evil systems of religious persecution, racial discrimination and mass incarceration are staffed and sustained by people who are neither terrorists nor gangsters, but ordinary citizens educating their children, caring about friends and family, and maintaining the pattern of everyday life. Here, we might say, we find the decent and the devilish living side by side -- precisely the phenomenon that Jesus' parable depicts.

So whether we use the language of Satan or not, the world in which we find ourselves does indeed seem to have evil ‘tares’ growing alongside divinely planted ‘wheat’. An important part of the parable, though, is that these are inextricably intertwined, and will remain so until God brings the harvest in. This alerts us to another danger. One of Satan’s favored strategies lies in exploiting our inclination to leap to judgment and sort out the world ourselves, often by strengthening the powers of police and judiciary, or by employing advanced technology and military might. But, Paul, who in this week’s Epistle is also addressing a world that is  waiting "to be set free from its bondage", tells the Romans that Christians must "hope for what we do not see”, and consequently “wait for it with patience”. Waiting of this kind is the real test of faith in God.

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