Reflection by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 12 July 2020.
• First Reading: Genesis 25: 19-34 (Births of Esau and Jacob – their rivalry – Esau sells Jacob his birthright)
• Psalm 119: 105-112 (Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path)
• Epistle: Romans 8: 1-11 (The law of the Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death)
• Gospel: Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23 (Parable of the sower)
They would come in a pack, led of course by a ringleader. The target would be solitary, too slow to respond and too weak to retaliate. Any confidence had long since dissolved, so he would have that hunted look about him.
The retinue was necessary in order to provide an audience for the taunting to come. No fun if there is nobody to give tacit support. Well, less fun, anyway.
Easy meat. It would not be necessary to use physical harm although there are places where this is definitely on the menu and the more pleasurable for it.
No, all that was necessary was to humiliate, isolate and intimidate. Keep the target off-balance, uncertain and above all anxious and afraid. Definitely uncertain.
But the places where this was happening would be led by cultures that tolerated it – possibly acquiesced in it. You know the sort of thing – ‘Boys will be boys’ or ‘Well, you have to be tough to survive.’ ‘Make a man of him.’ And so on – all the self-serving rationalizations if fact.
Then we come to the rivalry of Esau and Jacob. Esau, a man of the hunt, favoured by his father, Isaac. Jacob, a man for the fields, a tiller of the soil. Not much adventure there. Easy prey for an overbearing brother, even an elder brother by a matter of minutes. But still boss.
And so on the one occasion when he had Esau at his mercy, Jacob exercised his advantage. Poor Esau did not even know what he was renouncing – but Jacob knew all right. ‘Tricksy’ as JRR Tolkien put it.
In the psalms, the writer also tells of the sense of confusion and of being off balance. His faith sees things differently however, as he trusts God for his life.
He sees the lantern to his feet – the next steps that he has to take. And he has the light upon his path – the final destination. He knows where he will end up.
What he does not have is what is in between. He cannot speculate on what is in the middle distance. In faith, he does not need to know. All he has to do is to trust. And that is part – but only part – of the life of faith.
When Paul wrote to the church in Rome he was looking at something else.
The first thing that he was opposing was the sense of condemnation. The sense to total weakness and unworthiness, inadequacy in the face of all the demands of the religious and moral speculators who would contrive more and more ridiculous demands to impose on others.
It was there in Jesus’ time as He confronted the religious authorities, and it is here in our own as a godless culture contorts itself into more and more extreme forms of virtue-signaling.
But Paul says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Jesus has already taken the blame, and His kind of right-living is something far more wholesome and far more livable than anything that the in-crowd can demand.
That is the point – we are made new in Him in order to grow more fully into Him. He will give us the sense of order, or priorities, of proportion. A new kind of life.
To live in Jesus Christ is to live in and according to the Spirit. It means that the self does not have to be front and centre, it does not have to justify itself, it does not have to impose itself on others.
The self is given its identity by Jesus who has come so that we might have life and life in its fullness.
To define oneself in terms of the ability to undermine others, the ability to have others on call to satisfy any and every whim, to measure oneself by one’s potential to harm or destroy is to live a life that is ultimately futile.
To live by and for self throughout life is to find at the end of it that there is nothing else. It is to face an eternity of isolation, for if self is the measure of all things then only the self can fulfil itself. That is all there is: nothing else, and no-one else.
I can think of no better description of life separated from the kingdom of God.
But Jesus’ parable of the sower or the seed or the soil leads us into something else. Jesus accepts that the seed is there for all to receive. The question is how they receive it, and what use they make of it.
Some will dismiss it out of hand; others will receive it like a fair-weather friend. Others will be too taken up with the demands and the distractions of the day.
But others will receive it, absorb it, nurture it, and at the right time it will sprout, at first hidden, but then with greater confidence producing a stem and a fruit.
Even the most intimidated and the most bruised of lives and hearts can still be fruitful. They do not have to be loud, aggressive or domineering.
Part of Jesus’ victory was in His humility, and part of His strength was in His determination not to hit back. He did not need to for God would vindicate Him – and did.