Lectionary passages for July 20, 2014 Isaiah 44:6-8, Psalm 86:11-17, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
(Sorry for missing out on the July 13 blog! We were at the Mennonite Church Assembly in Winnipeg and I was busy writing for the Canadian Mennonite. I decided to take a blog break!)
The Edmonton Journal this morning was full of news about the situation in Israel and Gaza. The cease fire proposed by Egypt, the rejection by Hamas, the continuing threat of a ground assault by Israel, a lop-sided listing of casualties, an article about life "as usual" for Israelis-and of course-very little about what life "as usual" is in Gaza.
I read the lectionary passages with this situation in mind.
The heading for Isaiah 44 (in my NRSV Bible) is "God's Blessing on Israel". We have to be careful here to give the right meaning to the name Israel. It is not the particular nation state as formalized in 1948. Israel is the name given to Jacob after he wrestled with God. (Genesis 32:28, 35:10). The Israelites of the Old Testament are the descendants of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are all part of the Abrahamic faiths. (Aside: I got to walk the streets of old Jerusalem in April 2008. I saw depictions of Jewish stars, St. George, and the Dome of the rock carved into the ancient stones of the marketplace. They were together, neighbours to each other-all with legitimate ancient roots in this place.) When Isaiah 44 speaks of God's blessings to the descendants of Israel, it refers to all people who follow God. Verse 5 includes those who call on the Lord's name, those who go by the name of Jacob, and those who are "adopted" in. This is an inclusive list of the chosen! The other bit to remember is that the nation state of Israel is secular. Although it is a "Jewish" state, this identity is more cultural than religious for many people. It is a hugely diverse society! To put the blame for conflict on religious differences between Israel and Palestine is a red herring and perhaps a too convenient scapegoat for those who wish to divert attention from themselves. Religious differences within Israel are as vast as anything outside of it. The issues boil down to power and politics, just like anywhere else, except with more history!
The heading for Psalm 86 is for "Help against Enemies," something both sides to the conflict are asking for! Verse 11 asks God to teach the ways of truth. I read the newspaper with a cynical eye, whose truth is it? Where is God's truth? The violence and suffering going on is clearly wrong, so how can it change? In 2008, our group met many Palestinians and Israelis who were making efforts to work for peace, making efforts to get to know each other, and were speaking out against violence. Like kids in the sand, however, it's much more time consuming to build a castle than to destroy it. The conflict goes on and generations of people seem unable to make progress, proving that might doesn't make right-but we're not good at anything else.
Romans says that all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. That is inclusive of a huge variety of people, but of course, there are many who are not led by the Spirit. The idea that the whole creation is groaning and waiting for redemption is apt. There really are no words to adequately describe the suffering and frustration and humanity has proven unequal to the task. God is needed, but how do the people find the hope and patience Romans talks about? Sighs too deep for words sums it up pretty well.
The parables in Matthew, the weeds among the wheat, the mustard seed, and the yeast, all speak to the reason hope is still possible. The servants can't go among the wheat to pull weeds, because they damage too much of it. (Hmmm, sounds like human attempts to eliminate the problems with more destruction!) They have to simply wait and let God do the judging at harvest time. The other parables remind us that the tiny seeds of hope are hidden in all sorts of situations. Just because we can't see it, doesn't mean it's not there. There are so many good people, Israelis, Palestinians, Arab, Christians, Muslims, Jews...all trying in small ways to stop the violence and build peace. How can their efforts be watered and warmed so seeds will grow and bread will rise?