Archive for the ‘Matthew 13’ Category

Harsh Realities   1 comment

Parable of the Sower

Above:  A Depiction of the Parable of the Sower, Which Precedes Matthew 13:10-17

Image in the Public Domain


The Collect:

Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your word.

By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy,

live according to it, and grow if faith and love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 42


The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 11:23-30

Psalm 92

Matthew 13:10-17


LORD, how great are your works!

your thoughts are very deep.

The dullard does not know,

nor does the fool understand,

that though the wicked grow like weeds,

and all the workers of iniquity flourish,

They flourish only to be destroyed for ever;

but you, O LORD, are exalted for evermore.

–Psalm 92:5-7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


The reading from Matthew 13:10-17 has parallels in Mark 4:10-12 and Luke 8:9-10 while quoting Isaiah 6:9-10.  (Actually, Matthew 13:10-17 quotes theSeptuagint, the Greek translation of the original Hebrew text, hence differences in renderings within the same English version.)  The Isaiah, Mark, and Luke texts seem to indicate speaking to people for the purpose of confusing them, not calling them to repentance and thereby preventing the wrath of God from coming to fruition.  Or do these texts speak of consequences as if they were purposes?

I take these as statements of reality, not of purpose, per the presentation in the Gospel of Matthew.  This fits well with the reading from Proverbs 11, which I summarize as

What comes around, goes around.

These are lessons about reality, as grim as that is much of the time.

Behind these verses [in Matthew] is the harsh fact that Jesus came into an alien age.  His teaching, to men of earthly motives, was a riddle.  What could awaken them?  Only his death!…The ultimate truth pierces us from the Cross.

The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VII (1951), page 411-412

May we prove perceptive, so that our hearts will not be dull and so that we will understand and turn, so that God will heal us.  May we succeed in this spiritual endeavor by grace.






Adapted from This Post:


Deuteronomy and Matthew, Part XIII: Loyalty and Identity   1 comment


Above:  Landscape with the Parable of the Sower, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 13:1-18 (October 15–Protestant Versification)

Deuteronomy 13:2-19 (October 15–Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Versification)

Deuteronomy 14:1-2, 22-23; 14:28-15:15 (October 16)

Deuteronomy 15:19-16:22 (October 17)

Psalm 123 (Morning–October 15)

Psalm 15 (Morning–October 16)

Psalm 36 (Morning–October 17)

Psalms 30 and 86 (Evening–October 15)

Psalms 48 and 4 (Evening–October 16)

Psalms 80 and 27 (Evening–October 17)

Matthew 13:1-23 (October 15)

Matthew 13:24-43 (October 16)

Matthew 13:44-58 (October 17)


Some Related Posts:

Deuteronomy 15:

Matthew 13:


Here is a summary of the contents of Deuteronomy 13:1-16:22:

  1. Execute any false prophet or dream-diviner.  (13:1-6/2-7)
  2. Execute anyone who entices another person to commit idolatry.  (13:6-11/7-12)
  3. Execute the inhabitants of idolatrous towns, burn those towns, and destroy all spoil.  Do not rebuild at any of those sites.  (13:12-18/13-19)
  4. Avoid mourning rituals associated with pagan peoples.  (14:1-2)
  5. Eat only ritually clean foods.  (14:3-21)
  6. Pay a tenth of your crops and livestock to God.  (14:22-26)
  7. Provide for the needy and the Levites.  (14:27-29)
  8. Provide debts and free slaves every seventh year.  (15:1-18)
  9. Sacrifice all male firstlings born into your flock to God, assuming that it is a proper physical specimen.  (15:19-23)
  10. Keep a detailed festival calendar and the accompanying instructions.  (16:1-17)
  11. Appoint magistrates who will govern honestly and justly, taking no bribes.  (16:18-20)
  12. Erect no posts, as in honor to Astarte.  (16:21-22)

I have mixed feelings about that material.  On one hand, I approve of the social justice imperative parts of it.  I find even the acceptance of any form of slavery offensive and the command to execute people intolerable.  I know that one theme of the Law of Moses is absolute loyalty to God, so idolatry equaled treason, but some commands seem barbaric to me.  So far as dietary laws are concerned, I note that I have never cared about them.  Proper refrigeration negates some health concerns, as does thorough cooking.  One analysis of the forbidden list says that those animals did not fit nearly into certain categories.  Assuming that the analysis is correct, what was the problem?  Besides, I like to eat ham and intend to continue to do so.

In Matthew 13 we read a series of mostly agricultural parables:  the sower and the seed, the darnel and the mustard seed, the treasure in the field, the merchant and the pearls, and the fish of mixed quality.  And, at the end of the chapter, people in Nazareth lack faith him.  Perhaps they know too much to realize even more.

From those parables I glean certain lessons:

  1. One should remain focused on God, not allowing anything or anyone to function as a distraction.
  2. The good and the bad will grow up together and come mixed together.  God will sort everything into the correct categories at the right time.  That task does not fall to us, mere mortals.
  3. Nothing is more important than seeking, finding, and keeping the Kingdom of God.

I detect much thematic overlap between that material and Deuteronomy 13:1-16:22, with the notable absence of commands about when to execute or destroy.  Yes, Matthew is more riveting reading than Deuteronomy.

I read the Law of Moses as a Gentile, specifically an Episcopalian who grew up a United Methodist.  The Law was like a household servant who raised children, St. Paul the Apostle tells us.  Now that Christ has arrived on the scene, I have only two commandments, not over 600.  So, as long as I am growing via grace into loving God fully and my neighbor as myself, that ham sandwich should not bother my conscience.  And I refuse to execute anyone, for I serve an executed and resurrected Lord and Savior.  To him I am loyal.  In him, not a law code, do I find my identity.








Adapted from this post:


God, the Potter   1 comment

Above:   Pottery

Image Source = Derek Jensen


God, the Potter

AUGUST 2, 2012


Jeremiah 18:1-6 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD:

Go down to the house of a potter, and there I will impart My words to you.

So I went down to the house of a potter, and found him working at a wheel.  And if the vessel he was making was spoiled, as happens to clay in the potter’s hands, he would make it into another vessel, such as the potter saw fit to make.

Then the word of the LORD came to me:

O House of Israel, can I not deal with you like this potter?

–says the LORD.

Just like clay in the hands of the potter, so are you in My hands, O House of Israel!

Psalm 146:1-5 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):


Praise the LORD, O my soul!

I will praise the LORD as long as I live;

I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

2 Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,

for there is not help in them.

When they breathe their last, they return to earth,

and in that day their thoughts perish.

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!

whose hope is in the LORD their God;

Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;

who keeps his promise for ever.

Matthew 13:47-53 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

[Jesus continued,]

Or the kingdom of Heaven is like a big net thrown into the sea collecting all kinds of fish.  When it is full, the fishermen haul it ashore and sit down and pick out the good ones for the barrels, but they throw away the bad.  This is how it will be at the end of this world.  The angels will go out and pick out the wicked from among the good and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be tears and bitter regret.

Have you grasped all this?

They replied,


Jesus returned,

You can see, then, how everyone who knows the Law and becomes a disciple of the kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who can produce from his store both the new and the old.

When Jesus had finished these parables he left the place, and came into his own country.


The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Here we have another analogy for God:  the potter.  Or, as the note in The Jewish Study Bible says,

God is the master craftsman while Israel is the inanimate clay!  (page 963)

If Israel (in this case, Judah, had repented–turned around or changed its mind–the potter would have remolded it, made something new out of the raw materials.  Yet none of that happened in time to prevent the fall of Judah.  That is the message of God and Jeremiah in this passage.

When we turn to Matthew 13:47-53, we read about the value of both the old and the new.  We (plural and singular) come to God with some background.  This background is not entirely worthless.  Even the worst, basest past can provide useful lessons.  Yet we must move forward, retaining the best of the old while adding the new which is worthwhile.

The union of these two passages tells us that, if we allow God to mold us, retaining that which is meritorious and adding the necessary new elements, we will, by grace, become something wonderful and suited for the service of God.  This is not Jesus-and-Meism, for we exist to be good salt and bright light for the common god and the glory of good.  Through good and righteous people a reformation of society can occur.  It has occurred more than once.  For example, racism (at least its explicit forms) used to be publicly acceptable.  People used to send postcards depicting lynchings through the U.S. mail.  Once upon a time, the suggestion that people, regardless of skin pigmentation, ought to be social and legal equals, met with widespread disapproval.  Interracial marriages were illegal in many U.S. states until the late 1960s.  Yet, in 2011, the situation has changed greatly, racism carries a severe stigma, and many racists feel compelled to resort to code speech.

And, when prevailing social attitudes change, so do the factors which shape the attitudes of the young.  For example, those who grow up in a society where unapologetic racism prevails are likely to think differently than do those raised to accept racial equality.  So yes, a person can make an important difference.

I wonder what will happen next, which old biases will fall away properly, only for love and equality to replace them.  Time will tell.





Adapted from this post:


Posted April 20, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Jeremiah 18, Matthew 13, Psalm 146

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The Freedom of the Sabbath   2 comments

Above: God Reposing on the Sabbath, From a Russian Bible (1696)


Leviticus 23:1-11, 26-38 (Richard Elliott Friedman):

And YHWH spoke to Moses, saying,

Speak to the children of Israel, and you shall say to them:  YHWH’s appointed times, my appointed times:  Six days work shall be done, and in a the seventh day is a Sabbath, a ceasing, a holy assembly.  You shall not do any work.  It is a Sabbath to YHWH in all your homes.

These are YHWH’s appointed times, holy assemblies that you shall proclaim at their appointed time:  In the first month, on the fourteenth of the month, ‘between the two evenings,’ is YHWH’s Passover.  And on the fifteenth day of this month is YHWH’s Festival of Unleavened Bread.  You shall eat unleavened bread seven days.  On the first day you shall have a holy assembly.  You shall not do any act of work.  And you shall bring forward an offering by fire to YHWH for seven days.  On the seventh day you shall have a holy assembly.  You shall not do any act of work.

And YHWH spoke to Moses, saying,

Speak to the children of Israel, and you shall say to them:  When you will come to the land that I am giving to you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest, and he shall elevate the sheaf in front of YHWH for acceptance for you.  The priest shall elevate it on the day after the Sabbath.

And YHWH spoke to Moses, saying,

Just:  On the tenth of this seventh month, it is the Day of Atonement.  You shall have a holy assembly, and you shall degrade yourselves.  And you shall bring forward an offering by fire to YHWH.  And you shall not do any work on this very day, because it is a day of atonement, to atone for you in front of YHWH, your God.  Because any person who will not be degraded on this very day will be cut off from his people.  And any person who will do any work in this very day:  I shall destroy that person from among his people.  You shall not do any work:  an eternal law through your generations in all your homes.  It is a Sabbath, a ceasing, for you, and you shall degrade yourselves:  on the ninth of the month in the evening, from evening to evening, you shall keep your Sabbath.

And YHWH spoke to Moses, saying,

Speak to the children of Israel, saying:  On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Booths, seven days, for YWHH.  On the first day is a holy assembly.  You shall not do any act of work.  For seven days  you shall bring forward an offering by fire to YHWH.  On the eighth day you shall have a holy assembly, and you shall bring forward an offering by fire to YHWH.  It is a convocation.  You shall not do any act of work.

These are YHWH’s appointed times, which you shall call holy assemblies, to bring forward an offering by fire to YHWH:  burnt offering and grain offering, sacrifice and libations, each day’s thing on its day, aside from YHWH’s Sabbaths and aside from your gifts and aside from all of your vows and aside from all of your contributions that you will give to YHWH.

Psalm 81:1-10 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Sing with joy to God our strength

and raise a loud shout to the God of Jacob.

2 Raise a song and sound the timbrel,

the merry harp, and the lyre.

Blow the ram’s-horn at the new moon,

and at the full moon, the day of our fast.

For this is a statute for Israel,

a law of the God of Jacob.

He laid it as a solemn charge upon Joseph,

when he came out of the land of Egypt.

6 I heard an unfamiliar voice saying,

“I eased his shoulder from the burden;

his hands were set free from bearing the load.”

7 You called on me in trouble, and I saved you;

I answered you from the secret place of thunder

and tested you at the waters of Meribah.

8 Hear, O my people, and I will admonish you:

O Israel, if you would but listen to me!

There shall be no strange god among you;

you shall not worship a foreign god.

10 I am the LORD your God,

who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said,

“Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

Matthew 13:53-58 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

When Jesus had finished these parables, he left the place, and came into his own country.  Here he taught the people in their own synagogue, till in their amazement they said,

Where does this man get this wisdom and these powers?  He’s only the carpenter’s son.  Isn’t Mary his mother, and aren’t James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brothers?   And aren’t all his sisters living here with us?  Where did he get all this?

And they were deeply offended with him.

But Jesus said to them,

No prophet goes unhonoured except in his own country and in his own home!

And he performed very few miracles there because of their lack of faith.


The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The Israelites, when slaves in Egypt, did not get a day off.  So the Sabbath indicated freedom.  The Sabbath was a gift.

Down time is also a physical necessity.  The body requires a certain amount of sleep, and a dearth thereof leads to unpleasant consequences, especially if this is a pattern.  So the Sabbath is also a recognition of the fact that we need down time during the week.  Not everyone can keep his tradition’s designated Sabbath.  Members of the clergy, for example, must take another day as their Sabbath.  But everybody needs one.

Within Judaism and Christianity factions have devised restrictive Sabbath rules.  Pharisees of the First Century C.E. frowned on Jesus healing on the Sabbath,  and on his Apostles gleaning on the Sabbath out of hunger.  But our Lord and Savior reminded them of three facts:  (1) It is lawful to perform a good deed on the Sabbath; (2) David and his men ate set-apart bread when they were hungry; and (3) Professional religious people at the Temple had to work on the Sabbath.  I think also of the Puritans of colonial New England, who frowned on people singing to themselves in public on Sunday.  It is wrong to transform the gift of the Sabbath into a burden.

So, recalling the reading from Matthew, I note that former neighbors were not the only people Jesus offended.  This was the fault of the offended parties, not Jesus, who was exactly the person he needed to be.

May you, O reader, be more nearly (more so over time) the person you need to be–for God, of course.  And, as part of this, may you find the Sabbath to be the gift God has intended.  Savor it.  Keep it.  Honor God in so doing.








Adapted from this post:


Judgment and Mercy, Part I   1 comment

Above:  Moses


Exodus 33:7-11; 34:5-10, 27-28 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And Moses would take the tent and pitch it outside of the camp, going far from the camp, and he called it the Tent of Meeting.  And it would be:  everyone seeking YHWH would to out to the Tent of Meeting, which was outside of the camp.  And it would be, when Moses would go out to the Tent, all the people would get up, and they would stand up, each one at the entrance of the tent, and they would look after Moses until he came to the Tent.  And it would be, when Moses came to the Tent, the column of cloud would come down, and it would stand at the entrance of the Tent, and He would speak with Moses.  And all the people would see the column of cloud standing at the entrance of the Tent, and all the people would get up and bow, each at the entrance of his tent.  And YHWH would speak to Moses face-to-face, the way a man speaks to his fellow man.  And he would come back to the camp.  And his attendant, Joshua, son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from inside the Tent.

And YHWH came down in a cloud and stood before him there, and he invoked the name YHWH.  And YHWH passed in front of him and called,

YHWH, YHWH, merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in kindness and faithfulness, keeping kindness for thousands, bearing crime and offense and sin; though not making one innocent; reckoning fathers’ crimes on children and on children’s cildren, on third generations and on fourth generations.

And Moses hurried and knelt on the ground and bowed, and he said,

If I’ve found favor in your eyes, my Lord, may my Lord go among us, because it is a stiff-necked people, and forgive our crime and our sin, and make us your legacy.

And He said,

Here, I am making a covenant.  Before all your people I’ll do wonders that haven’t been created in all the earth and among all the nations; and all the people whom you’re among will see YHWH’s deeds, because that which I’m doing with you is awesome….

And YHWH said to Moses,

Write these words to yourself, because I’ve made a covenant with you and with Israel based on these words.

And he was there with YHWH forty days and forty nights.  He did not eat bread, and he did not drink water.  And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

Psalm 103:5-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

5 He satisfies you with good things,

and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.

6 The LORD executes righteousness

and judgment for all who are oppressed.

7 He made his ways known to Moses

and his works to the children of Israel.

8 The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

9 He will not always accuse us,

nor will he keep his anger for ever.

10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

11 For as the heavens are as high above the earth,

so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.

12 As far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our sins from us.

13 As a father cares for his children,

so does the LORD care for those who fear him.

Matthew 13:36-43 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Later, he left the crowds and went indoors, where his disciples came and said,

Please explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.

Jesus replied,

The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.  The field is the whole world.  The good seed?  That is the sons of the kingdom, while the weeds are sons of the evil one of this world.  The enemy who sowed them is the devil.  The harvest is the end of this world.  The reapers are angels.

Just as weeds are gathered up and burned in the fire so will it happen at the end of the world.  The Son of Man will send out his angels and they will uproot from the kingdom everything that is spoiling it, and all those who live in defiance of its laws, and will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be tears and bitter regret.  Then the good will shine out like the sun in their Father’s kingdom.  The man who has ears should use them!


The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Sometimes I feel like a broken record, or at least Mojo Jojo from The Powerpuff Girls; I keep repeating myself.  I have an excellent reason for my repetition:  the texts keep saying the same things over and over again.  So here I am, again, writing that divine judgment and mercy are intertwined.

One point does bear elaboration before I proceed.  Consider Exodus 34:6-7, which speak of the passing down of sins through the generations.  Richard Elliott Friedman makes the following comment about it on page 291 of his Commentary on the Torah:

…Third, psychologically one can observe traits persevering through that many [four] generations.  I have personally observed ongoing dynamics within my family through four generations.   This does not mean that an individual’s bad deed will be duplicated by his or her children and grandchildren.  But it may recognize that such deeds have consequences, for better or worse (pride and embarrassment, stigmas, reactions, conscious or unconscious imitation), that persist through generations.

Consequences constitute the crux of the issue.  Deeds have consequences, and often divine punishment is merely permitting consequences to play out.  Much of the time this for disciplinary reasons, so that we will learn our lessons.  Responsible parents do not always shield their children from the consequences of bad actions.  This is for the good of the children.  Since the parental role (often paternal, but sometimes maternal, too) is one Biblical writers applied to God, this analogy works well.  Furthermore, forgiveness of sin does not erase the consequences of it.  Roman Catholic theology reflects a deep understanding of this fact, hence the teaching on Purgatory, which many people misunderstand.

The God of the Old Testament is merely a vengeful deity, contrary to the oft-repeated stereotype.  There is much mercy there, too, as the excerpts from Genesis indicate.  This is God, who loves the Israelites enough to liberate them.  They can never pay him back, but they can worship only him, demonstrate gratitude for provisions, and obey some commandments.  Is this too much to ask?  No!  But do they do that much?  No!  Why should God not be angry and disappointed?  But does God give up on them?  No!

This is God, who speaks to Moses personally in the leader’s own tent for a few chapters in Exodus (until Chapter 40).  But God continues to speak to Moses, who is faithful, and who even argues with him from time to time.  This is God, who demonstrates caring and much involvement with the Israelites, although mostly by dealing with Moses, who functions as an intermediary.

Yet, as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 13:36-43, there is still judgment for unrepentant.  And it will be terrifying.

My note of caution is to repent not out of fear of damnation, but out of love, respect, and awe for God and divine mercy.  A relationship built on terror of Hell is one with a father figure whom one thinks might be abusive.  That is a dysfunctional spiritual relationship.  No, may we love God, who loves us.  And may we bear fruits consistent with righteousness.  This is possible, by grace.








Adapted from this post:


Divine Judgment, Patience, and Extravagance   1 comment

Above: Moses, by Rembrandt van Rijn (1659)


Exodus 32:15-24, 30-34 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And Moses turned and went down from the mountain.  And the two tablets of witness were in his hand, tablets written from their two sides:  from this side and from this side they were written.  And the tablets:  they were God’s doing.  And the writing:  it was God’s writing, inscribed on the tablets.

And Joshua heard the sound of the people in its shouting, and he said to Moses,

A sound of war is in the camp.

Adoration of the Golden Calf, by Nicolas Poussin (1633-1634)

And he said,

It’s not a sound of singing of victory, and it’s not a sound of singing of defeat.  It’s just the sound of singing I hear!

And it was when he came close to the camp, and he saw the calf and dancing: and Moses’ anger flared, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them below the mountain.  And he took the calf that they had made, and he burned it in fire and ground it until it was thin, and he scattered it on the face of the water, and he made the children of Israel drink!

And Moses said to Aaron,

What did this people do to you, that you’ve brought a big sin on it?!

And Aaron said,

Let my lord’s anger not flare.  You know the people, that it’s in a bad state.  And they said to me, “Make gods for us who will go in front of us, because this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt; we don’t know what has become of him”  And I said to them, “Whoever has gold:  take it off.”  And they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and this calf came out!”

And it was on the next day, and Moses said to the people,

You’ve committed a big sin.  And now I’ll go up to YHWH.  Perhaps I may make atonement for your sin.

And Moses went back to YHWH and said,

Please, this people has committed a big sin and made gods of gold for themselves.  And now, if you will bear their sin–and if not, wipe me out with your scroll that you’ve written.

And YHWH said to Moses,

The one who has sinned against me, I’ll wipe him out from my scroll.  And now, go.  Lead the people to where I spoke to you.  Here, my angel will go ahead of you.  And, in the day that I will take account, I’ll account their sin to them.

Psalm 106:19-23 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

19 Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb

and worshiped a molten image;

20 And so they exchanged their Glory

for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.

21 They forgot God their Savior,

who had done great things in Egypt,

22 Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham,

and fearful things at the Red Sea.

23 So he would not have destroyed them,

had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach,

to turn away his wrath from consuming them.

Matthew 13:31-35 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then he put another parable before them,

The kingdom of Heaven is like a tiny grain of mustard-seed which a man took and sowed in his field.   As a seed it is the smallest of them all, but it grows to be the biggest of all plants.  It becomes a tree, big enough for birds to come and nest in its branches.

This is another of the parables he told them:

The kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, taken by a woman and put into three measures of flour until the whole had risen.

All these things Jesus spoke to the crowd in parables, and he did not speak to them at all without using parables–to fulfil the prophecy:

I will open my mouth in parables;

I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world.


The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


I have commented on the Parable of the Mustard Seed here:


The Hebrews committed idolatry for centuries.  Prophets railed against this practice; their testimonies reside in the pages of the Bible.  The sin was not worshiping other gods instead of YHWH; the sin was to worship other gods along side YHWH.  Recall one of the Ten Commandments:  Have no other gods before the face of YHWH.

The reading from Exodus is set after those whom God had freed from Egyptian slavery had dedicated themselves to God and Moses had received many commandments, including the Ten Commandments.  But old habits of thinking persist easily and die hard.  Hence there were an attempted coup d’etat of Moses by Aaron and the adoration of the golden calf.  Moses was angry, as was God.  Moses, by reducing the golden calf to golden dust, sprinkling the dust into water flowing from a mountain spring, and making the people drink it, both punished the idolaters and reminded them of YHWH, the source of the water in the desert.

Moses argued with God, interceding on behalf of the people.  He survived without the promise of judgment because his loyalties were with God.  So one can argue with God faithfully and not sin.  I like this vision of God, who is in clearly in charge, who does not brook idolatry, but who permits an honest argument.  This reflects great mercy.

Traditional Jewish theology understood yeast to be a sign of corruption.  Consider the following texts, if you will:

  1. Exodus 12:15-20; 23:18; 34:25
  2. Leviticus 2:11; 6:10

So using yeast as a positive image for the Kingdom of God was unexpected; it attracted attention.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus has already spoken of a very large weed, the mustard plant, in positive terms and used it an analogy for the Kingdom of God.  This yeast is quite productive, producing enough to feed 100-150 people.  The Kingdom will spread around the world, much like those pesky mustard plants.  Human agency cannot prevent any of this.

So divine grace is extravagant.  The Kingdom will go where it will.  And, although people sin, God is patient.  This fact, however, does not indicate a lack of judgment and punishment.  Judgment and mercy sit alongside each other.  May we rejoice in divine mercy, but not try God’s patience.  Instead, may we cooperate with God–and even argue faithfully with God from time to time.  Above all, may we be faithful.








Adapted from this post:


The Good and the Bad, Mixed Together   1 comment

Above:  Mixed Bag



Exodus 24:3-8 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And Moses came and told the people all of YHWH’s words and all the judgments.  And the people answered, one voice, and they said,

We’ll do all the things that YHWH has spoken.

And Moses wrote all of YHWH’s words.  And he got up early in the morning and built an altar below the mountain and twelve pillars for twelve tribes of Israel.  And he sent young men of the children of Israel, and they made peace offerings to YHWH:  bulls.  And Moses took half of the blood and set it in basins and threw half of the blood on the altar.  And he took the scroll of the covenant and read in the people’s ears.  And they said,

We’ll do everything that YHWH has spoken, and we’ll listen.

Psalm 51:11-16 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

11 Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

12 Cast me not away from your presence

and take not your holy Spirit from me.

13 Give me the joy of your saving help again

and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

14 I shall teach your ways to the wicked,

and sinners shall return to you.

15 Deliver me from death, O God,

and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness,

O God of my salvation.

16 Open my lips, O Lord,

and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

Matthew 13:24-30 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then he put another parable before them,

The kingdom of Heaven,

he said,

is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while his men were asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.  When the crop came up and began to ripen, the weeds appeared as well.  Then the owner’s servants came up to him and said, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field?  Where did all these weeds come from?” “Some enemy of mine has done this,” he replied.  ”Do you want us then to go out and pull them all up?” said the servants.  ”No” he returned, “if you pull up the weeds now, you would pull up the wheat with them.  Let them both grow together till the harvest.  And at harvest-time I shall tell the reapers, ‘Collect all the weeds first and tie them up in bundles ready to burn, but collect the wheat and store it in my barn.’”


The Collect:

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Follow the URL for my thoughts on the reading from Matthew.


Often people treat the Ten Commandments as if no other commandments follow them immediately.  But reading Exodus 21-23 contains a host of pronouncements the Book of Exodus says come from God.  I am dubious about this claim with regard to certain commandments, such as 21:17, which reads,

And anyone who curses his father and his mother shall be put to death.

This is just one of many death penalty offenses in Chapters 21-23.  Other commandments, such as 21:26, acknowledge the existence of slavery without condemning it.

On the other hand, there is 23:9, which reads,

And you shall not oppress an alien–since you know the alien’s soul, because you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

These chapters also contain great compassion.

How shall one distinguish among the good laws and the bad ones?  I propose a simple standard:  Agape.  This is the unconditional love God extends toward us.  Agape is the word for love in 1 Corinthians 13, which I quote from the Revised Standard Version:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends; as for prophesy, it will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophesy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man , I gave up childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.  So faith, hope, and love, abide,these three; but the greatest of these is love.

I cannot argue with that.

Love is the law of God.  May we do as God as instructed us; may we love ourselves as God loves us.  Then may we extend this love to all others, seeking the best for them.  By grace, may God’s best for everyone become reality.  And may rejoice in each other’s good fortune and be agents of God in bringing that to fruition, as opportunities to do so present themselves and we are able to participate.

This is the best way I know to differentiate within the mixed bag of commandments.  My guiding principle is to follow Jesus, for I am a Christian.  My history-oriented brain understands that death penalty offenses are numerous in societies with limited resources.  To feed an offender constitutes a drain on scarce supplies.  So I understand the death penalties in the Law of Moses in that context.  But, I ask, what about love and possibility of forgiveness and reform?  Are these not Jewish and Christian virtues?  Of course they are.  So I side with virtue.








Adapted from this post:


Great Wisdom, Combined With Troubling Insensitivity   1 comment

Above:  The Ten Commandments in Hebrew


Exodus 20:1-17 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And God spoke all these words, saying:

I am YHWH, your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt, from a house of slaves.

You shall have no other gods before my face.

You shall not make a statue or any form that is in the skies above, or that is in the earth below or that is in the water below the earth.  You shall not bow to them, and you shall not serve them.  Because I, YHWH, your God, am a jealous God, counting parents’ crime on children, on the third generation, and on the fourth generation of those who hate me, but practicing kindness thousands for those who observe my commandments.

You shall not bring up the name of YHWH your God, for a falsehood, because YHWH will not make one innocent, who will bring up His name for a falsehood.

Remember the Sabbath day, to make it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, and the seventh day is a Sabbath to YHWH, your God.  You shall not do any work, you and your son and your daughter, your servant and your maid and your animal and your alien who is in your gates.  Because for six days YHWH made the skies and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day.  On account of this, YHWH blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days will be extended on the land that YHWH, your God, is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not testify against your neighbor as a lying witness.

You shall not covet your neighbors’s house.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his servant or his maid or his ox or his ass or anything that your neighbor has.

Psalm 19:7-10 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

The law of the LORD is perfect and revives the soul;

the testimony of the LORD is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.

The statutes of the LORD are just and rejoice the heart;

the commandment of the LORD is clear and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the LORD is clean and endures for ever;

the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold,

more than much fine gold,

sweeter far than honey,

than honey in the comb.

Matthew 13:18-23 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

[Jesus continued,]

Now listen to the parable of the sower.  When a man hears the message of the kingdom and does not grasp it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.  This is like the seed sown by the road-side.  The seed sown on the stony patches represents the man who hears the message and eagerly accepts it.  But it has not taken root in him and does not last long–the moment trouble or persecution arises through the message he gives up his faith at once.  The seed sown among the thorns represents the man who hears the message, and then the worries of this life choke it to death and so it produces no ‘crop’ in his life.  But the seed sown on good soil is the man who both hears and understands the message.  His life shows a good crop, a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.


The Collect:

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


I write these words on the First Sunday After Epiphany, the Baptism of Our Lord, Year A.  This morning, in church, the liturgy entailed the reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant found on pages 304-305 in The Book of Common Prayer (1979).  One question stands out in my mind this day, in light of news of the January 8, 2011, shooting in Tucson, Arizona:

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

The reply is,

I will, with God’s help.

The Ten Commandments begin with YHWH saying that the Israelites shall have no other gods.  This statement does not deny the existence of other gods, for polytheism was nearly universal at the time.  It means that YHWH shall be the only deity for the Hebrews.  They did not obey this command for centuries, and successive prophets railed against the people due to their continued polytheism.

These commandments mean more than many people think.  The prohibition against swearing refers to attempts to manipulate God, for example, and the Sabbath is meant as a gift, not a burden.  The Hebrews did not get a day off when they were slaves in Egypt.  A free man or woman is one with a day off from work.

Obviously, murdering, bearing false witness, and stealing hurt others.  How much better would the U.S. economy be in January 2011 if many people had not coveted what belonged to another, if they had been content with a simpler lifestyle?  Also, within the previous week, I heard a news story about a man in Texas who served thirty years in prison on a charge of rape.  DNA evidence has proved his evidence.  The jury convicted him on the basis of erroneous eyewitness testimony.  In another case, a man in Tucson killed people, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl, yesterday, and shot a member of Congress in the head.

Yet the Ten Commandments catalog women and slaves–human beings all–as property, along with livestock and inanimate objects.  Many Antebellum U.S. advocates of slavery quoted the Ten Commandments to justify the damnable Peculiar Institution when using the Bible to make their case.  And I am sufficiently liberal to object to thinking of women as anything less than equal to men.

I challenge all of us–beginning with myself–to look around and ponder those we dislike, those with whom we disagree profoundly, and those we do not understand because they are so different from us.  Do we, in the words of the Prayer Book, respect their dignity?  This can be hard, especially when members of the Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, Kansas, protest funerals for people ranging from soldiers to Elizabeth Edwards, but even these individuals, who deny the dignity of the mourners and the deceased, have human dignity.

Earlier this day, when updating my GATHERED PRAYERS blog, I focused on basic human decency and grief with regard to the victims of the Tucson shootings.  Basic compassion has guided my response.  I do not care about being right or wrong, only about being kind.  So I typed in parts of the Prayer Book related to death.  The URLs are here:

May we love one another, and seek to live at peace with each other and God.

Pax vobiscum,








Adapted from this post:


Approaching God   1 comment

Above:  Near the Peak of Mount Sinai


With this post I rotate translations again.  The Torah readings come from Richard Elliott Friedman’s Commentary on the Torah with a New English Translation and the Hebrew Text (HarperCollins, 2001).  The New Testament lessons come from 1972 revised version of The New Testament in Modern English, by J. B. Phillips.  I recommend that any serious student of the Bible who reads English obtain and use a copy of each of these volumes.


Exodus 19:1-20 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

In the third month after the exodus of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt, on this day, they came to the wilderness of Sinai.  And they traveled from Rephidim and came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness.  And Israel camped there opposite the mountain.

And Moses had gone up to God.  And YHWH called to him from the mountain, saying,

This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and tell to the children of Israel:  “You’ve seen what I did to Egypt, and I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to me.  And now, if you’ll listen to my voice and observe my covenant, then you’ll be a treasure to me out of all the peoples, because all the earth is mine.  And you’ll be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation to me.”  These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel.

And Moses came and called the people’s elders and set before them all these words that YHWH had commanded him.  And all the people responded together, and they said,

We’ll do everything that YHWH has spoken.

And Moses brought back the the people’s words to YHWH.

And YHWH said to Moses,

Here, I am commanding you in a mass of cloud for the purpose that the people will hear when I am speaking with you, and they will believe in you as well forever.

And Moses told the people’s words to YHWH.  And YHWH said to Moses,

Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow; and they shall wash their clothes and be ready for the third day, because on the third day YHWH will come down on Mount Sinai before the eyes of all the people.  And you shall limit the people all around, saying, “Watch yourselves about going up in the mountain and touching its edge.  Anyone who touches the mountain shall be put to death.  A hand shall not touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot.  Whether animal or man, he shall not live.”  At the blowing of the horn they shall go up to the mountain.

And Moses went down from the mountain to the people.  And he consecrated the people, and they washed their clothes.  And he said to the people,

Be ready for three days.  Don’t come close to a woman.

And it was on the third day, when it was morning, and it was:  thunders and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain, and a sound of a horn, very strong.  And the entire people that was in the camp trembled.  And Moses brought out the people toward God from the camp, and they stood up at the bottom of the mountain.  And Mount Sinai was all smoke because YHWH came down on it in fire, and its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.  And the sound of the horn was getting much stronger.  Moses would speak, and God would answer him in a voice.  And YHWH came down on Mount Sinai, at the top of the mountain, and YHWH called to Moses at the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

Canticle 13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Song of the Three Young Men, 29-34, plus the Trinitarian formula

Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers;

you are worthy of praise; glory to you.

Glory to you for the radiance of your holy Name;

we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

Glory to you in the splendor of your temple;

on the throne of your majesty, glory to you.

Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim;

we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

Glory to you, beholding the depths;

in the high vault of heaven, glory to you.

Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;

we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.


Psalm 24:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it,

the world and all who dwell therein.

For it is who founded it upon the seas

and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.

“Who can ascend the hill of the LORD?

and who can stand in his holy place?”

“Those who have clean hands and a pure heart,

who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,

nor sworn by what is a fraud.

They shall receive a blessing from the LORD

and a just reward from the God of their salvation.”

Such is the generation of those who seek him,

of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.

Matthew 13:10-17 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

At this the disciples approached him and asked,

Why do you talk to them in parables?

Jesus replied,

Because you have been given the privilege of understanding the secrets of the kingdom of Heaven,” but they have not.  For when a man has something, more is given to him till he has plenty.  For if he has nothing even his nothing will be taken away from him.  This is why I speak to them in these parables; because they go through life with their eyes open, but see nothing, and with their ears open, but understand nothing of what they hear.  They are the living fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophesy which says:

By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand;

And seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive;

For this people’s heart is waxed gross,

And their ears are dull of hearing,

And their eyes have been closed;

Lest haply they should perceive with their eyes,

And hear with their heart,

And should turn again,

And I should heal them.

But how fortunate you are to have eyes that see and ears that hear! Believe me, a great many prophets and good men have longed to see what you are seeing and they never saw it.  Yes, and they have longed to hear what you are hearing and they never heard it.


The Collect:

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The reading from Exodus builds up to the giving of the Ten Commandments.  In preparation, the people receive instructions to live according to ritual purity, including abstinence from sexual relations for a few days.  They hear also that nobody ought to touch–even brush up against, on pain of death–the mountain upon which YHWH will descend.  The belief at the time held that God was so “other” that the people needed intermediaries, such as Moses.

The Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth eliminates the needs for intermediaries, not that I object to intercessions by saints on earth or in heaven.  People were not supposed to touch God’s holy mountain–on pain of death–but people could touch God incarnate, Jesus.  Indeed, many people did, and some of them had him over for dinner.  This is the understanding of God I prefer–God among the people and approachable by all.

Parables included references to circumstances many people could understand easily, but not all who heard the parables grasped them.  One needed to listen with the ears of a disciple to understand, and even the Twelve Apostles were confused much of the time.  Yet the message was there, presented plainly, for all with faithful attention to the details.

The greatest and most succinct of my theology resides in Hebrews 4:14-16, which I quote from the Revised Standard Version:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

This is how I approach God:  respectfully and honestly, holding back nothing, especially the unpleasant aspects of myself.  God knows about those anyhow.  I praise, intercede, and kvetch.  Never have I felt anything other than divine love and compassion.  I have approached God in the best of times, the worst of times, and all manner of circumstances in between.  My sense of the presence of God has saved my life on more than one occasion.  The holiness of God is most evident in divine approachability, not mysterious aloofness.

In the Name of God:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.








Adapted from this post:


What?????   1 comment

Above:  Sinai Desert


Exodus 16:1-5, 9-15, 19, 20 (An American Translation):

Setting out from Elim, the whole Israelite community came to the desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt.

Then the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the desert.

O that we would have died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of flesh and had plenty of food to eat,” the Israelites said to them; “for you you have brought us into this desert, to make this whole crowd die of famine.

Then the LORD said to Moses,

I am going to rain food out of the sky for you, but the people are to go out and gather only a day’s ration each day, in order that I may test them to see whether they will follow my instructions or not.  On every sixth day, however, when they measure what they bring home, it shall be twice as much as what they gather from day to day.

Then Moses said to Aaron,

Say to the whole Israelite community, “Present yourselves before the LORD; for he has heard your grumbling.”

When Aaron said this to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, whereupon the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.

Then the LORD said to Moses,

I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall have flesh to eat, and in the morning plenty of bread to satisfy you; and thus shall you know that I am the LORD your God.”

So it came about at evening that quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a fall of dew around the camp; when the fall of dew evaporated, there, on the surface of the desert, there was a fine scaly substance, as fine as hoar-frost on the ground!  When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another,

What is it?

–for they did not know what it was.

Then Moses said to them,

That is the bread which the LORD is giving you to eat….

Then Moses said to them,

No one is to leave any of them over until morning.

But they did not obey Moses; certain ones left some it over until morning, as it bred maggots and became foul.  So Moses became angry with them.

Psalm 78:18-29 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

18 They tested God in their hearts,

demanding food for their craving.

19 They railed against God and said,

“Can God set a table in the wilderness?”

20 True, he struck the rock, the waters gushed out, and the gullies overflowed;

but is he able to give bread

or to provide meat for his people?”

21 When the LORD heard this, he was full of wrath;

a fire was kindled against Jacob,

and his anger mounted against Israel;

22 For they had no faith in God,

nor did they put their trust in his saving power.

23 So he commanded the clouds above

and opened the doors of heaven.

24 He rained down manna upon them to eat

and gave them grain from heaven.

25 So mortals ate the bread of angels;

he provided for them food enough.

26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens

and led out the south wind by his might.

27 He rained down flesh upon them like dust

and winged birds like the sand of the sea.

28 He let it fall in the midst of their camp

and round about their dwellings.

29 So they ate and were well filled,

for he gave them what they craved.

Matthew 13:1-9 (An American Translation):

That same day Jesus went out of his house and was sitting on the seashore.  And such great crowds gathered about him that he got into a boat and sat down in it, while all the people stood on the shore.  And he told them many things in figures, and said to them,

A sower went to sow, and as he was sowing, some of the seed fell by the path and the birds came and ate it up, and some fell on rocky ground where there was not much soil and it sprang up at once, because the soil was not deep, but when the sun came up it was scorched and withered up, because it had no root.  And some of it fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it out.  And some fell on good soil, and yielded some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty-fold.  Let him who has ears listen!


The Collect:

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


A desert can be a forbidding place.  Saints have gone into them to test their spiritual mettle and their willingness to rely on God.  Some of the more famous people of this sort are John the Baptist, Antony of Egypt, John Climacus, and, of course, Jesus of Nazareth.

Realization and acceptance of one’s reliance on God, a virtue, can terrify us.  This is especially true if one’s culture places great value on self-reliance, thereby stigmatizing dependency.  Yet we are all God’s dependents, and self-reliance is an illusion.

With all this mind, let us consider the reading from Exodus.

About a month has passed since the Exodus.  The great Israelite throng is in the desert, and the period of praising God for deliverance from slavery has ended.  Walter Brueggemann, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, provides an excellent analysis.  The plenteous, piled-up food in Egypt was the bread of coercion distributed according to the will of the Pharaoh.  Yet the manna and quail in the desert come from God, and the distribution is equitable.  There is just one caveat:  No hoarding is allowed.

This is God’s economy:  There is enough for everyone to have enough, but not an excessive amount.  Really, how much does one person need?  This lesson contradicts much of Western society and politics, not to mention the basest varieties of capitalism.  Human economies experience booms and busts, and rely on inequality in distribution of food and other necessities.  This is sinful.  So I prefer God’s economy.

So, due to God’s mercy, a forbidding wilderness becomes a place where there is enough.  People will neither starve nor grow fat on what is available.  This is not so bad, is it?

I love puns.  So imagine my delight in reading that the Hebrew text for “What is it?” is identical to that for “It is manna.”  Professor Richard Elliott Friedman, in his Commentary on the Torah, likens this exchange in Exodus 16:15 to Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine.  The Bible contains much humor in the original languages and certain scenarios; may we not be so serious-minded that we cannot recognize this fact and enjoy the Scriptures in this way.

What was manna?  (Be prepared for a gross-out moment.)  It was almost certainly honey dew, the excretions of scale insects and plant lice who had injested sap of tamarisk trees then left “souvenirs” onto branches.  The “souvenirs” then crystalized and fell to the ground.  Bedouins use this as a sweetener, according to a note from The Jewish Study Bible.

There is a certain squeamishness about eating certain food, especially if one knows what it is.  On the other hand, ignorance is culinary bliss.  The Israelites had not seen manna before, so they did not know that it was solidified and crystalized insect excretions.  Yet it was enough, and it was good for the people.

The Israelites had begun to grumble really early, even immediately before the Exodus itself.  Then they continued.  They sound like the seed that fell among thorns in the Parable of the Sower; concerns choked off faith.  This might be my story or your tale, too.  May it not be so.  Rather, may as many people as possible be like the seed in fertile soil.









Adapted from this post:


Posted April 19, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Exodus 16, Matthew 13, Psalm 78

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