This discussion is the opinion of Bert Cobb and is not necessarily the opinion of anyone else. Do not interpret these reflections to mean anything other than what Bert Cobb thinks and feels. They are for the exhortation, encouragement, and edification of the Saints and may be used freely for that purpose.
The Lectionary Readings for the week:
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
This week’s discussion could have been much longer but I truncated it for the sake of those of us with short attention spans. You may want to read it several times to grasp the depth of the theology and insights that I have presented. “It is NOT I but, Christ who lives IN me.” That scripture hits home in this discussion. These passages link the present life with eternity in tangible ways. I hope you find it edifying and encouraging. We ARE what we BELIEVE.
Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country– giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.
“What goes around comes around”. Jacob had to learn what many of us have to learn: dishonesty, such as defrauding your father as Jacob did, will come back to bite us. It is only “natural consequences”. Laban knew a sucker when he saw one. Leah had pretty eyes but Rachel was stacked like a… Laban “used” Jacob’s lust for Rachel (Rachel was graceful and beautiful, hotcha, hotcha) to get a hired hand to work for “free” for fourteen years. Nothing of value is “free”? Jacob should have taken the money and run? “Gonadal thinking” has been the cause of much loss, pain and discomfort in our lives. Laban used the excuse of “This is not done in our country-giving the younger before the firstborn” as his “reason” for the deception. I wonder why Jacob did not have another “dream” to warn him of Laban’s treachery if “dreams” are so valuable in his life’s history. Did Jacob have a warning “dream” but chose to ignore it? That would be a “neater” story. Did Jacob’s mind flash back to the events of his deception of Esau? Did he feel like God was “getting even”? Did he blame God, Laban or himself? Which would I have blamed? Later in our study of Genesis we will learn what these events caused in the life of Israel and the “people of God”. Without Leah and Zilpah, there would have been no “twelve tribes of Israel”. (Leah was the mother of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. Zilpah was the mother of Gad and Asher.) So, God used the treachery of Jacob and Laban to fulfill his will? God can change our feeble efforts and our disappointing “failures” to make history into what is HIS WILL. To me, life would be a lot easier if God’s will was PLAINER, wouldn’t it? That’s why we study: to learn and discern the will of God for our lives.
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
When put into the “big picture” and compared and contrasted with the story of Jacob, this psalm got my attention. The psalmist is reminding the “children of Abraham and Jacob” to remember that God had promised them the “land of Canaan” as their “allotted inheritance”. Does God keep his promises? Once the something is given, does it remain theirs/ours or can we lose our inheritance? Talk to the Amalekites, The Syrians, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Lebanese, the Philistines or the Palestinians about that and you will have a different opinion SCREAMED in response. The argument about ownership continues to this very day. Does God’s “inheritance” depend on our stewardship of that inheritance? Can God take it “back”? If history is any indicator, ownership of inheritance is negotiable. It is sort of like “use it or lose it”? Do we lose opportunities that we don’t take advantage of? God gives us life yet “takes it back”. Is that reneging on a deal? What about salvation? Did God “allow” Esau to “lose his inheritance” because he did not “appreciate it”? IF “nothing can separate us from the love of God”, then, can we lose our “salvation” if we don’t “appreciate” it? Do we treat God’s love, our lives and our salvation as “unappreciated gifts”? Can we “lose” our “inheritance”? IF “possession is nine-tenths of the ‘law’, what is the other tenth”? What do you think? Concerning “inheritance”, the only “will” we need be concerned about is “God’s WILL”. Discuss this among yourselves. I’ll get back to you on this one.
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(The discussion of these few verses could occupy our discussion for several weeks. Please excuse my only hitting the “high points”. The reader must use this discussion as only a framework to do deeper inquiry as individual students of scripture. I am not writing the entirety of my thoughts in this diatribe. I, too, have many more questions than answers.) I am constantly amazed by what I seem to “read for the first time” in studying these passages. For the first time, I actually SAW that the passage says that God knows “what is the mind of the SPIRIT”. So, what God SEES, is it the “mind of the Spirit” or the “mind of the saints”? Does the Spirit intercede as the arbiter of what God “sees”? Is the Spirit like grandparents in that we are “seen as the Spirit desires us to be” or are we “seen for who we really are” and presented to God in the best possible light? To be a grandparent is to learn the true meaning of “love” and “grace”. The “gift of the Spirit” is so very important because the Spirit is what presents our needs to God? The Spirit knows what we need even before God? We do not know how to pray as we OUGHT? What’s the point, Paul? Ah, there it is: “the Spirit intercedes for the saints ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF GOD.” So, the final decision of “getting” what we ask for depends on the WILL OF GOD even when presented by the Spirit? We think “short term” while God thinks “long term”. Is that why I don’t always get what I pray for? We must have faith that God “knows what is best for all concerned”? What happens if I don’t have the “Spirit”? Does God not hear the prayers of those who do not have the “Spirit”? How do I know if I have the “Spirit”? The FRUIT of the in-dwelling Spirit reveals its presence? No “fruit” equals “no Spirit”? Apparently, the Romans had these same questions. We can tell this from Paul’s answer to their inferred questions. Paul says, “We KNOW that all things work together for good for those who love God, what are called ACCORDING TO HIS PURPOSE”. Notice the two conditions imposed on the outcome of our prayers: loving God and being “called according to His purposes”. Does that change our understanding of why our prayers don’t rise above the ceiling?
Paul was trained in the Jewish tradition of arguing from the general to the specific. Paul asks lots of rhetorical questions. He attempts to answer the questions of the Romans even before they ask. We/they ask, “What can mess up this relationship” or “then, why are we being killed for believing in God?” His answer, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” is one of the most heart-felt answers given by Paul in his many epistles. Do I feel “insulated” from the world by God or is my belief in God only buying “fire insurance”? Does my faith change things in this world or only in eternity? Paul says it changes both. Our faith in the unconditional love of God, the presence of the Spirit and our acceptance of Christ as his Son changes things for us in this life and in eternity. Paul believed it and LIVED like he believed it. Do I?
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Jesus put before the crowds another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
The past few weeks have reminded me of when I took a Bible course in college called “The Parables of Jesus”. I wish now that I had the foresight to attend and be attentive. Education is often wasted on the young. Missed opportunities are most precious in hindsight. The Lectionary collators have stepped in it once again. I suggest that the reader fill in the gaps by reading the passages in between the quoted texts. This was “rapid fire” parables with similar themes and messages. This is one of the few times when the audience said “yes” to the question “Have you understood all this?” Well, apparently they heard something that escapes me. Let me chew on this “big bite” for a while. Here I pause to “chew” with my “mouth full”.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed: Small things become big things depending on the faith of the person who plants. A mustard seed is not the smallest seed but it does make an impressive plant from a small seed. Something should only be critiqued after it has matured. It is about the “fruits” issue mentioned previously. Faith plus God can produce things greater than we might expect. Why are we so surprised when great things come of small beginnings? Is it our lack of faith?
The Parable of the Yeast: This parable is also about the power of the Gospel to change its surroundings. Any baker can tell you about the results of using yeast to make bread rise. If the yeast is “dead”, nothing happens and the bread is “flat”. What use is “dead” yeast? Am I “live” yeast that can improve and add value to my surroundings? This parable is also about the power of God to change things with unseen hands.
The Parable of the Field of Treasure: Real estate agents should glom onto this parable with gusto. It is about “comparables”, a word near and dear to real estate tycoons. It is about “appraisals” of Heavenly “real estate”. IF we knew, or believed, that what we might “buy” contained treasure of value greater than the selling price, we would give up a lot to possess it. Human nature is human nature. What hidden value is there in the Kingdom of Heaven that makes it worth whatever I might give up to possess it? What is being “in the Kingdom of Heaven” worth to me? If I do not see “real personal value”, why would I want to possess it? Finding treasure, even in the Kingdom, may require some “digging”. Just as in our world, the dictum of Heaven’s real estate is location, location, location.
The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price: This parable is about priorities. It is also about possession and judging comparative “value”. What do I think is so valuable that I would give all that I possess to attain? Is salvation or eternity with God worth all that I possess? Is being in the will of God worth all I possess? It is about “counting the cost” and faith that I can “possess” everything that God has in store for me. It is God’s version of “Deal or No Deal”.
The Parable of the Net: This parable teaches the same general principle as the Parable of the Weeds we discussed last week. At some point, God (it actually says the Angels will do the separating) will separate the “faithful servants” from the “unfaithful servants” based upon their usefulness and “value” to the Kingdom? The point is: the option to chose or reject an individual is UP TO GOD’S judgment. It is not my “job” to attempt to separate the two groups based on my judgment of usefulness or “value”. God sees things that I do not. “Judge NOT that you be NOT judged.” God KNOWS the heart of the person. “Often the ugliest of oysters contains a pearl” and we miss a lot of “pearls”. My “job” is to be the most fruitful and useful servant in the Kingdom that I can be and allow God’s love, grace and mercy to allow my selection as a “good fish”.
“Have you understood all this?” These similes use things we know of the world and human nature to teach us truths about the Kingdom and the nature of God. What have we learned? Have we learned that we cannot “buy” our way into the Kingdom? Have we learned that God will choose who will be the ultimate “owner”? Have we learned something new about ourselves? What do you make of the statement: “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”? This sentence is reflexive of Paul’s advice to Timothy: “Show yourself unto God, a workman who does not need to be afraid, rightly divining the word of truth.” I think it means that, with the new meaning and understanding that we have of the Kingdom, we should understand the value of what we “possess”. From our “bag of understanding” we should boldly witness to what we already knew and understood (what is old) as well as what we have learned recently (what is new). That’s my opinion but, I could be wrong.
In all these scriptures for the week, God is attempting to teach us about His nature and our relationship to Him through the experiences and opportunities of those who have lived previously. What can we teach those who come after us? Am I “in the will”? What will be my “inheritance”? Jacob worked seven years to get pretty-eyed Leah and another seven years to get the babe, Rachel. In the end, like Jacob, all that matters is whether or not I am in “the will of God.” We are “joint heirs” with Jesus and the ultimate family reunion awaits us when the “will” will be probated. I pray that I am not a “weed”, a “goat” or a “bad fish”.
By BERT COBBEmail | Print