Scandalous Promises

I’ll be honest – I didn’t have a clue how to go about understanding this week’s readings. There are multiple parables about everything from mustard seeds to rotten fish and burning lakes – and that’s just in the Gospel. The Genesis text is about a tricky man who gets tricked into marrying the wrong sister, the Romans text gets into predestination, and the Psalm is all “Praise God! She’s got a good memory!”

I wanted to do a good job, so I dug in resolutely. I made a web of ideas, wrote a bunch of notes, and had more than one conversation with folks who know so much more than me. And eventually I worked out three solid points and a pretty good idea of what the Gospel text was all about.

a squibbly-squabbly, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey timeline of the Kingdom of God

As I wrestled with the text, I figured that something had to be going on in the work of the Kingdom–in the time it takes seeds to grow, yeasts to multiply, fields to be bought, pearls to be found, and nets to be drawn in—something wonderful and mystical that somehow turns the world on its head.

In Jewish culture, mustard “trees” were considered weeds, yeast was often equated with corruption, and pearls came from unclean shellfish. I’m not sure at all what the disciples thought, but buying property without disclosing its true worth to the seller just sounds shady. In each case, Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven in terms that would have sounded rather scandalous to his listeners.

Somehow God takes what we can only see as scandalous and turns it into something good, even very good. And maybe God doesn’t so much turn it into something good as reveal that it was actually good all along.

God does the same thing in the Genesis story of Jacob and his double marriage. Any good Jew reading that story would know that Jacob–who is destined to become Israel, the father of a nation—is dooming himself to a childless life by marrying two sisters (see Leviticus 20:21, where it says if a man marries his sister-in-law, then neither of them will ever have children).

God is moved by the plight of Leah. She is not loved well by her father, her husband, or her sister. Her one chance for love was in childbearing, and her family conspired to ruin even that chance. It is only through the mysterious and miraculous work of God that she experiences love.
Leah, and then each of Jacob’s wives in turn, is enabled to bear children and thereby fulfill God’s promise. This scandalous marriage is revealed to be good, the means through which God will eventually save all humankind.

God does this same revealing work in the Church. When the Jews are scandalized by the inclusion of the Gentiles, Paul says, “Look! God has shown that God is with us! And if God is with us, then how can anyone be against any of us?” Just before this week’s passage Paul says, “The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters” (Romans 8:19, CEB).

Friends – we are still waiting in breathless anticipation to see who God will reveal to be God’s sons and daughters. We hope and we pray, but Paul tells us that we don’t even know what for. God, who searches our hearts, and the Spirit, who intercedes for us, and Christ, who died for us and was raised and is even now interceding, are all hoping and praying for us. But what is God praying for?

I think the psalm is the key.

My pastor, @fatherbreeze, said this past Sunday that one old and venerable way of interpreting the Psalms is to read them as the prayers of Jesus – and not just the past prayers of a Jesus long dead and risen and ascended, but as the present and ongoing prayers of a living, feeling, heart-beating, interceding Jesus.

So I’ll tell you again: the psalm is the key. If we don’t know what to pray for, then where better to start than with the very prayer book of the living, breathing, praying God?

And in this prayer book of God, we find that God is reminding us of her faithfulness. God is reminding us that we can boast about her, that we can sing her praises, that we can rejoice in her strength. Why? Because God remembers her promises, and she is faithful to fulfill them. And nothing, neither death nor life, neither angels nor rulers, neither present things nor future things, neither powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, neither scandalous marriages nor corrupting yeast, neither beautiful eyes nor a rotten fish, neither Gentiles nor Jews, neither woman nor man, neither slave nor free, neither black nor white, neither documents nor the lack thereof, NOTHING can stop God from fulfilling her promises to her people.

And lest we forget what those promises are, we need look no further than the table. Whether daily or annually or somewhere in between, we are all reminded of God’s promise to us when we receive God’s body and blood, and mingle it with our own.

And should we wonder, like so many before us, just who is a child of God? who gets to receive those promises? who will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven? May we be willing to wait with breathless anticipation for God to reveal her ever-faithful, ever-scandalous answer.

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