Reflection by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 19 July 2020.
• First Reading: Genesis 28: 10-19a (Jacob’s flight – dream of ladder to heaven at Bethel)
• Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23 (Lord, You have searched me out and known me)
• Epistle: Romans 8: 12-25 (Live not according to the flesh but the Spirit. All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God)
• Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 (Parable of good seed and weeds)
One of the most alarming aspects of the pandemic is that it is invisible and silent. It is the hint of infection lurking in the very air that we breathe which for many makes the prospect of even doing the shopping a venture into the unknown. And this applies when the streets and shops themselves are completely familiar to us.
Just how serious this hidden fear is and how endangered we are is perhaps for others to discuss. But it is there and the very existence of the threat makes many think twice, hesitate, move reluctantly.
The spring and summer flowers, the warmer weather, the joy of friendship and the love of learning will for many lose their appeal.
But then our lessons are also about real or hidden fears. For Jacob the threat of violence from his brother Esau was real enough and he took flight. Esau was a hunter, accustomed to tracking his prey and then killing it. This was not a man that Jacob wanted to encounter any time soon.
And it is in this sense of fear and exhaustion that he was reduced to sleeping in the open and at the mercy of any other predators that may be about.
Yet it was in this very place of fear and dread that God met him. When he was self-sufficient and secure, when there was food on the table and a loving home (well, fairly loving), perhaps he had no need for God.
Now things had changed and he was at the mercy of hidden and silent threats.
And so God met him and did so by affirming a promise. First, He introduced Himself: ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham … and the God of Isaac.’
Next, He confirmed His promise to Abraham and Isaac. Then He offered Jacob His presence and comfort.
Note: there was no condemnation, no tut-tutting, not even a demand that Jacob should worship and obey Him. God’s offer to Jacob was unconditional – but He wanted Jacob to be part of His purposes and not contrary to them.
The choice was for Jacob to make – and he made it readily enough. This was the point of his personal commitment in faith to God. Yes, the Lord had visited him and yes, things said and promises made. Jacob had, in the midst of a profound personal crisis, allowed God into his life, and that would be for keeps.
For Paul, there was also a tension, this time between the things of the Spirit and the things of the flesh.
I have always found the suggestion that the flesh consists only of the appetites and demands of the body to be highly limiting, and that the ‘flesh’ also applies to the self. This is the self that demands, the self that craves recognition, power, control, status, to be front and centre in the pursuit of all that life has to offer and to be willing to sacrifice the interests of all others to them.
This is the flesh that makes self the centre of the universe and a petty deity at home and in the family, at work and in the streets of the city.
This is the flesh that consumes and devours all others and then rationalizes its actions afterwards.
And this is the flesh that Paul says is opposed to the Spirit, the presence and the voice of God that meets us where we are in order to draw us more deeply into our relationship with God and our trust in Him, especially when we are at our most vulnerable and exposed.
To live in the Spirit is to trust God ahead of self. It is to live in a new kind of dimension of hope, founded on the promises and provision of God rather than our own unaided efforts.
For Jesus the picture is of a field, sown with good seed.
But there is a rival in play, not interested in the field or in the crop that it could and should yield.
The aim is to compromise the field and to spoil the crop with weeds. The damage would not be seen until the wheat and weeds had grown up, but it would be deep-rooted. The danger of uprooting the weeds was in uprooting the wheat as well and only at harvest time could a judgment be made on which to harvest and which to burn.
Again the uncertainty of the situation would demand faith and patience. There was no question that the weeds would have to be dealt with, but this would be for the Lord of the harvest to determine.
For the body of disciples, it would also demand faith, patience and discernment. They would recognise the fruits of the Spirit as they came forth, and these fruits would include faith in and commitment to the things that God had done for them in Jesus Christ which none other could do.
But they would have to face times of difficulty and opposition, even persecution. They would encounter false or distorted teaching, and they would see the ease with which many might be tested by the alternative attractions in society, especially when their faith was unfashionable and the alternatives were so beguiling.
For all of us, the task and the test will be to focus on the things of our faith, as opposed to the fears and anxieties that surround us.
We do not have to be defined by the terrors of the night or the pestilence of the day. We do not have to be imprisoned by our fears, even when we know that we can take reasonable precautions.
But when God made promises to Jacob, He has also made promises to us, which are sealed in the blood of Jesus Christ and not in our own emotions or anxieties.