Revised Common Lectionary: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
Narrative Lectionary: Parables of the Kingdom, Matthew 13:24-43 (Psalm 84:1-7)
As part of Moses’s final instructions to the Israelites before they enter the promised land, knowing he will not go with them, Moses reminds the people they have a choice to make. The prophet and leader lays it out for them in Deuteronomy 30:15-20. God has been faithful, but will they be faithful to God? If they follow God’s ways and keep to the commandments and instruction given them, it shall go well with them. However, if they choose to follow other gods and are led astray, they will not make it long. Moses implores them to choose life, to choose the way of God, so they might survive as a community and remember how God was faithful to their ancestors. God’s faithfulness will endure with them.
Psalm 119:1-8 begins as a blessing and reminder to those who seek God and keep God’s commandments. In verses 5-8, the psalmist turns to their own personal petition, that they might keep to God’s ways, and that God would not forsake them. They long to be faithful and to praise God, and pray that they might stay true to God’s ways.
The Epistle readings for this season after the Epiphany have followed the letter of 1 Corinthians, concluding this series with 3:1-9. Paul explains that when he visited and wrote prior to this letter, he couldn’t go in depth with them because they were not spiritually mature, and they’re still not ready. Their arguments and preferences for partiality show they have not grown, and they are still stuck in the ways of this world. They are not acting as children of God. It doesn’t matter what their human teachers do, neither Paul nor Apollos can grow faith. They can plant and nurture, but it is God who does the growth. Paul, Apollos and others are merely God’s servants, helping God to do the building and growing of the people into faith.
Jesus continues to teach in the Sermon on the Mount in 5:21-37. In this selection, Jesus gives several examples of what the law says, but, like a good rabbi of his day, he expands on those examples to give a deeper instruction on how we ought to live. In 5:21-26, Jesus uses the example of “do not murder” to show that all of us need to work on resolving our conflicts well before they get to that point, and work toward reconciliation with one another before coming to prayer. Verses 27-32 speak of the covenant of marriage and fidelity, speaking of both adultery and divorce as what God does not desires for us. In terms of adultery, we must work on ourselves to be faithful, we cannot blame the other. In terms of divorce, Jesus was speaking in a specific cultural context of the time, especially where women often had no say in the matter and were treated as property. The truth we can hear in today’s terms is that God does not desire for us to experience the pain of divorce. God would rather we work on ourselves first to avoid that pain. This does not mean divorce isn’t necessary at times to avoid more pain and to bring healing. Verses 33-37 teach of honesty and truth. In this example, Jesus shares that though they were taught “do not swear falsely and fulfill your vows,” they ought to instead just be honest from the beginning, faithful to the truth. Their yes should mean yes, their no should mean no. There is no need to swear or vow when one is consistently honest and true. Jesus desires that his disciples be good, faithful, and honest, without resorting to having to prove that they are those ways. They live with integrity, work on their anger and desires that might lead them astray into broken relationships, and instead, live in faithfulness with one another.
The Narrative Lectionary shifts further ahead in Matthew’s account of the Gospel to the Parables of the Kingdom in 13:24-43. The parable of the weeds among the wheat bookends this section, with the parable in 24-30 and the explanation coming in 36-43. Though the intention of the farmer was to plant wheat, someone else has planted weeds. The weeds cannot be pulled until harvest time, or they will uproot the wheat. Once again, fire is used by the writer of Matthew as a purifying fire, removing the hold of evil, the desires of the world we have made. However, Jesus is more concerned with the righteous, that though it is difficult to live into God’s ways now, they are the ones who will make it through. In verses 31-33, Jesus tells two more parables about the kingdom of heaven. The first is the parable of the mustard seed. Jesus exaggerates, because the mustard seed is not the smallest, nor can it grow into a tree, but a mustard plant is invasive. Just like blackberries in the Pacific Northwest, no one goes and plants a mustard seed or a blackberry seed. But the kingdom of God is subversive, and can grow anywhere, and once it takes root it cannot be uprooted. Birds will find it and make it their home. The second parable is the yeast. Once again Jesus exaggerates, because it is a massive amount of flour contained in a bushel, but once the yeast is in there, it will slowly transform the dough and leaven it. It takes time, but it will endure. Verses 34-35 explain that Jesus used parables to teach, as a way of showing what God has hidden in the world—like a mustard seed. Parables are stories with multiple layers of meanings, and when we continue to struggle and search within them, we will find a greater understanding of God, the work of God in this world, and the building up of God’s kin-dom on earth as it is in heaven.
The supplementary verses for the Narrative Lectionary are Psalm 84:1-7, which speaks of the beauty of the temple, where God dwells, a place where birds even have found a home in the courtyard of God. Those who reside with God—whether in the temple or in their hearts—are truly happy, as they experience the fullness of God. Paired with the parables of the kingdom, this psalm shows that it is the desire to dwell with God that makes God’s presence known, and creation knows this, too.
Living into God’s kingdom, or kin-dom, God’s beloved community on earth as it is in heaven, requires an inner transformation. Commandments and teachings can be followed passively, like in the church in Corinth, which was more concerned about status and privilege and power, or they can be a guide to an inner change, which Jesus speaks of, and Moses called the people into accountability for. The commandments are a guide for us to look at our own heart. Do not commit adultery is much more about where our heart is and how our desires lead us than just a rule to follow. How we deal with our own anger and disappointments, how we live with integrity—this will keep us from murder, adultery, stealing, and all other sorts of wrongs.
This inner transformation is also what Jesus teaches through the parables. The reign of God on earth is subversive, and easily missed, but God has intentionally planted seeds for us to nurture. God is intentionally at work in creation and all around us to work for good. But it is easy to ignore and get sidetracked by the world we created, a world where wealth, power, and notoriety are the measures of success. Where we hoard possessions and power, and others suffer. The weeds block the nutrients to the wheat. While we have often interpreted the weeds as evil people and wheat as good people, we all have dealt with the weeds that disrupt our lives. The weeds that take over when we’re not paying attention, because we’re distracted by the world. Rather, we can view this parable with our lives as the field. Are we carefully nurturing wheat, or are we allowing the weeds of the world to take over our life? Are we growing to allow creation to also rejoice, or are we stifling God’s work?
Call to Worship
God has set before us the way of life,
May we grow into the beloved community.
God gave us the commandments, ordinances, and statues,
May we live into God’s ways of justice.
God sent Jesus, teaching us the fullness of God’s love,
May we love our neighbor as ourselves.
God continues to speak to us through the Holy Spirit,
May we choose the way, the truth, and the life of Christ;
May we draw closer to God in this time of worship.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Wondrous God, Instructor of Life, we confess that we have forgotten the lessons we learned as children; how to play, how to laugh, how to love freely, how to share, how to let others know when we need comfort and healing, how to forgive, and how to continue learning. We confess we have been terrible disciples at times. You sent us Your Son Jesus to teach us, but we have failed to internalize his teachings and do not understand the parables. We instead memorize verses out of context and have used Scripture as a weapon to justify and divide and cause great harm. Forgive us, O God, for failing again and again. Call us into accountability and help prepare us to learn anew Your lessons of love, compassion, and forgiveness, first with ourselves, and with one another. Teach us with wisdom how we may grow into Your beloved community and share the good news in all we do and speak. In our Great Teacher’s name, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (from Deuteronomy 30:16)
“If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in God’s ways, and observing God’s commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you.” We know that all we must do is turn back to God. Repent, and know the fullness of God’s love is with you, now and always. Love, and you will know God’s love. Forgive, and you will know God’s forgiveness in your heart. Share the Good News in all you do, and it shall go well with you. Go in peace and serve our Christ. Amen.
In this time between seasonal markings, in the time when our daylight is shifting again, O God, may we remember that Your steadfast love endures forever. When sometimes our lives can become monotonous, when the daily schedules repeat, or when difficulties such as Covid and other severe illness continue to interrupt our lives in a way that seems never ending, when hardships fall one after another—may You surprise us, like a mustard seed. May Your scripture open to us a new understanding. May the kindness and compassion of a neighbor or stranger remind us of Your goodness. May some small piece of good news break open our hearts when we despair. May we find You in the little things, and may we know that we will get through this time, though it is difficult now. May we trust in You. May we also be reminded, O God who listens and takes notice, to reach out to others when we are struggling. May we be reminded of the pastors, teachers, parents, social workers, mental health professionals, and others who are here for us. May we know that we are never truly alone, and You will help guide us. Help us to seek You, and to seek one another, especially in times of need. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.