Genesis 21:8-21 • Jeremiah 20:7-13 • Psalm 69:7-18 • Romans 6:1b-11 • Matthew 10:24-39
First, let me proclaim that this is an odd and frustrating passage. At first read (probably at second, third, and fourth read) this can seem like a very disjointed, and completely unconnected series of comments and statements. Context is essential in reading, and comprehending, this passage.
Don’t let the oddness, or strangeness, of this passage cause you to quickly dismiss it – it is a good, probably great, passage that is not only extremely applicable to all aspects of our life/faith, it is especially pertinent to our current circumstances and situation.
First, if you have been following the passage primer for the last couple of weeks, especially last week, you are aware of the context. In particular, if you caught the message this past Sunday (‘Being Loud’, 06.14.20) you are ready, just start there. If you were not able to catch that message you may watch, or even read, click here.
Before you read, take a moment, prior to reading this passage, to consider what we found in the Matthew 9:35-10:24. Remember the shocking experience of Jesus as he was confronted by the pain and suffering of the human experience. Let that moment, in the life of Christ, be your starting point as you read this passage.
Matthew, in writing this gospel, does not attempt to sugarcoat or soften the reality of pain and suffering. He is very upfront about warning of the difficulties that will likely take place when you make a decision to live ‘out loud,’ to let your life show what you stand on and stand for.
This primer will not seek to explain or interpret this passage from Matthew, we will be looking particularly at this this Sunday. Still, with the context you know, read this passage, consider and contemplate why Matthew is sharing this and how it applies to Jesus experience with hurting people.
Sarah is possibly the poster child for Fear and Insecurity. She was abandoned by her husband, in a strange land, twice, as he sought to protect his own life. She gave her husband to another woman when she leaned into her fears and accepted the paranoia that Abraham would abandon her yet again if she did not bear him a son. In our passage for this week, Sarah’s plan was successful, however, so too has God’s promise to give Abraham and Sarah a son. Now there are two sons, and two women, and a countless array of new reasons for Sarah to be paranoid and fearful – a virtual crescendo of insecurity.
When we are consumed by insecurities, doubts, and fear – this baggage cannot help but negatively influence our thoughts, decisions, and reactions.
Actually, it we are going to be honest, Sarah came into this story carrying the baggage of every woman up to this moment in history. Think about this, since Eve, in the garden, there has been no other female noted for anything except childbearing. We even have documentation of the bedroom timeline when son producing women, who came after Eve and before Sarah, fulfilled their obligation to procreate. So, Sarah enters this moment in history on the shoulders of the forbidden fruit eating Eve, the only can reproduce, usually named, women in between, and now her….the woman who is to be the mother of many descendants, a ancestor of many nations, and a blessings to all the people of the earth. On top of all that baggage, now she is responsible for this new threat of another woman and a priority heir, that would be blessed over her own son, Isaac.
The truth is that Sarah, in insisting that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away, is proclaiming that their these two humans have no value. The reality is that in sending them away, she is sending them to their death. It takes a lot of baggage and pain to see another human being as being of no worth or value. Such is the danger in resentment and suffering where are self-preservation mindset leads us to fail to see the value and dignity of others.
It is easy to judge Sarah, and even to condemn her demands that Hagar and Isaac be sent away – until you are able to put your feet into her shoes. This may be the reason that God is consistently patient with Sarah. When she denies, in a response to God, laughing about having a son at her age, that she laughed – God still gives her a son. Now, when she is abusive to Hagar and Ishmael, God does not correct her, he comforts her. At the same time, God continues to work and comfort Hagar and Ishmael as well.
It is possible, that the story of this baggage carrying woman, is a lesson for us all about our own failures in humanity as well as an insight into God’s consistent/persistent love motivated faithful relationship with humanity.
One more thing to think on……The promise to Abraham was that he would be a ‘blessing’ to all the nations of the world. Now we have this son, Ishmael, who was not born according to the promise, his birth was the result of Sarah and Abraham’s lack of trust and patience. However, as Hagar is sent way, along with her son Ishmael, we hear God promise blessing on/to Ishmael and all of his descendants. God is fulfilling his promise to all nations even as it would see his original plan was hijacked momentarily along the way, but sinful humans.
One other thing to ponder – the name Ishmael means ‘God will hear’, and/or ‘God heard, now look back at Genesis 21:16-17.
No one is forgotten.
Jeremiah carries on the thread we see in our readings for this week – the thread of pain and misery, baggage and exhaustion, insecurity and fear.
A basic summary reading of this passage is that the prophet Jeremiah is giving God a ‘good old chewing out.’ The basic context, for Jeremiah’s life up to this point, is forty plus years of proclaiming God’s message and, in return receiving nothing but rejection, ridicule, and retaliation – and this is from those he considers friends. The reason for this misery, according to Jeremiah, is the fact that God has only given him messages of doom and gloom.
Remember from our many looks at Jeremiah over the past twelve months, this is the prophet that spent the entirety of his life warning the inhabitants of Judea and Jerusalem of the need to return to God. In return, the people rejected his message and listened, instead, to the false prophets of the politicians and religious leaders. Jeremiah was rejected, scorned, and even arrested as he relayed the message from God to the people.
What makes his outrage at God even more more interesting is the words and images that he uses to describe complaints. Jeremiah describes God has having ‘seduced’ him into being a prophet – that he manipulated him in the same manner a man seduces a woman sexually. In addition to this he refers to God as having been a foe throughout Jeremiah’s life of being a prophet. The manner in which Jeremiah confronts is gutsy, and many would consider risky, but it also is the thoughts of many when life does not go how we think it should.
In the end, Jeremiah, has changed his thought process. He remembers that God is always with him and faithfully along side of him. In the midst of his honest outrage he begins to see clearly and returns to take another ‘miserable’ message to the people. He also notes that there is a burning within him to give God’s message to all that is even deeper than his soul – his proclamation could actually be described a burning that went down to the soles of his feet.
British pastor Charles H. Spurgeon, who is often called the Prince of Preachers, looked at Psalm 69 from two different perspectives. He saw two different perspective of the passage to be presented to one audience where all would apply both equally. One approach was to look at the lament on personal pain as being a very real identifier of all people, everyone has moments in life where we feel this pain. The other perspective is of the one who has caused this pain to another. Where as one approach will gain a quick ‘me too’ reply and the other a defensive ‘I’ve never!’ response.
Although Psalm 69 is attributed to King David, the words could easily have penned by Jeremiah or even to Sarah.
‘Participation with Christ’ is a theme, or heart, of the apostle Pauls’ message to the new testament church. It could be due to the face that he had such a dramatic conversion which, when picked apart, was the natural outcome of a sincere and passionate seeker. Paul, undoubtedly, could look at his entire life and see how God had guided him all the way to his realization, and acceptance, of the person and work of Jesus. His perspective, therefore, was that the work of God in our life is a constant act of participation with God in our life. We constantly face the choice to follow Jesus, or to go our own way.
It is no surprise, then, that this participatory philosophy leads Paul to see our relationship with Jesus as being an ‘all in’ choice. If we are a part of the life and resurrection of Christ we also share in his death.
In this passage, as in his other writings, Paul see sin as being an ‘all in’ as well. He compares sin to enslavement where the acts of sin, and the turning from God, becomes our master. This enslavement keeps us from sharing in the life and resurrection of Christ. So, a sharing in the death of Jesus is essential in order that we, can die to the sinful ways of life, we can turn away from the sin and back to God.
The participatory aspect, in regard to sharing in the life and resurrection with Jesus, is that as more and more live out a life that has died to sin, we are able to more and more understand the truth of resurrection and life. We can only live for sin or Christ, our journey has to be in one of these two direction (serving only one of these two masters).