The Common Good
July 2005

Watching for Seeds and Pearls

by Robert Roth | July 2005

Watching for Seeds and Pearls

When the faithful welcome the breaking of God’s word into relationships, politics, and economics, hope arrives. Adopted as God’s sons and daughters, people begin to make the reign of God their greatest loyalty.

Our lectionary readings offer transcendent visions, but always in the service of where we are - incarnational theology. Isaac finds Rebekah. Jacob unites with Rachel. The pearl is found, the mustard seed takes root, and the 5,000 feast.

This month, divine messengers visit Jacob at night, once in a dream and once as he journeys, wrestling Jacob to a draw yet blessing him with a new name - Israel (Genesis 28 and 32). God intervenes in Paul’s life, demonstrating that as creation is redeemed, so too are the early Christians adopted as God’s children, just like the people of Israel (Romans 8 and 9).

There is nowhere we can go where God will not visit, bless, and reunite us. When Jesus comes, he loves and blesses the multitude. Social divisions and ongoing injustices in our time may be among the greatest heresies in the face of a kingdom-of-God theology.

Pause and consider: African Americans had a 10.8 percent unemployment rate last year, compared to 4.7 percent for their white counterparts. In 1960, black men earned only 50 cents for every dollar earned by white men; by the year 2000, the figure had only improved to 64 cents on the dollar. Will God’s divine messengers stop by?

July 3
The Dance of Blessing
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45:10-17; Romans 7:15-25; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Responding to a hierarchical temple and an elitist religious life, Jesus calls for a life-giving spirituality that can laugh, cry, and dance. Jesus is more than a law-giving preacher of commandments and golden rules; he gives (and lives) a way that is celebratory in its servanthood and gladly generous in its sacrifices. Attuned to the tragedies already carried by much of humanity, his way offers gracious good news: "[M]y yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:30).

Paul projects this dance of blessing when he delights "in the law of God in my inmost self" (Romans 7:22). Inwardly, Paul’s "law of the mind" does battle with his selfish desires "of the flesh." His resolution? He delights in God’s Spirit and gives thanks. So, too, Rebekah knew this delight in the blessing she received from her mother and brother upon her decision to go with Isaac and become his wife: "May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads" (Genesis 24:60).

A delighted, dancing response to a generous God ought not produce a faith that is so bent on controlling ourselves that we must crusade against others to subdue an unruly world. There is another way, says Jesus: "Take my yoke...learn...for I am gentle" (Matthew 11:29). Dance on - it will change the world.

July 10
Take It to Heart
Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

In February, President Bush requested more than $80 billion in additional funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (raising the total for those wars and the "war on terror" to more than $300 billion, and the projected 2015 debt to $4 trillion). This request arrived in Congress a short time after the president asked for $1 billion in aid for tsunami victims in Indonesia. A month later, Congress approved the $80 billion.

How might keeping this real-world awareness in mind enliven reflection on this week’s passages? Examine this budget legislation before what Paul calls laws of "sin and death" with minds of "life and peace" (Romans 8:2, 6). Does this spending emerge from what the psalmist calls "righteous ordinances" (Psalm 119:106)?

From the sacred laws of God, we anticipate intensely life-giving outcomes - if we take them to heart. "Your decrees," sings the psalmist, "are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart" (Psalm 119:111). Jesus reveals the alternative rule that is God’s dominion through the gospel parable of the sower: The word of the kingdom is best sown in the heart (Matthew 13:19).

Seeds planted in good soil symbolize "one who hears." The consequence? Bearing fruit worthy of God’s providential rule. Will that fruit take the form of bullets - or bread?

July 17
Down to Earth
Genesis 28:10-19; Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

The angels ascending and descending Jacob’s ladder make for a meaningful self-guided meditation. Close your eyes, center with slower breathing, and imagine those heavenly beings visiting the human family. Images will slowly emerge. What are they bringing to a hurting world? What are they carrying back for the Holy One to heal or redeem?

Sit in meditation with a sentence first meant for Jacob and another two first shared for the original praxis of the psalmist. Reclaim them as gifts for this day:

"Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go..." (Genesis 28:15).

"Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?" (Psalm 139:7).

Imagine again those angels on their ladder. Place the ladder from heaven down in Degollado, in the hills of central Mexico. Watch the angels visit the family of Pfc. Jesús Fonseca, 19, who died in the Iraq war in the United States Army. Jesús is one of at least 22 Mexican citizens who have died in a U.S. uniform in the first two years of the war. May the angels visit Jesús’ people; surely the angels already surround him.

July 24
Value the Small
Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11, 45; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

‘God’s great deeds," like those for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Psalm 105, inspire - but do they instill vision or hope in 2005? Or does that come about when the "Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words" (Romans 8:26)?

A sighing Paul says neither "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" (Romans 8:39). Us? Again, Paul speaks of a loving God who stays close to the whole human family.

Picturing the Holy Spirit present with each individual, we can begin to face the magnitude of human slavery today. Researchers estimate that about 27 million people are enslaved around the world. Nothing can separate these precious people from the love of God, Paul? So how will that love be made real? How will liberation flower?

Matthew’s gospel portrays the kingdom of God coming from little beginnings destined to be great transformations: a mustard seed in a field, a bit of yeast in the flour, treasure hidden in a field, a found pearl of enormous value.

Peacemakers and justice-builders watch for the seed and the pearl, start small, and work for great things. Daring to take on slavery today, we won’t see "God’s great deeds" just yet. Value the small - the kingdom is coming.

July 31
Loaves, Fishes, and Mega-Stores
Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21

Many things that happen to one happen to all. Jacob wrestles with an angel. He - and ultimately the people - receive the name Israel. Jesus has compassion for a hungry crowd. Jesus alone breaks and blesses the bread, but 5,000 - "besides women and children" - eat until they are full (Matthew 14:21).

Ethical Christians discern each decision and action. They ask how solitary behaviors impact maybe hundreds or thousands of others. They intentionally seek ways of doing good to impact the multitude.

Jesus’ action with the loaves and fishes was not intended to impress others with his transformative powers. He acted so that all would have plenty of food. In that spirit, consider the massive Wal-Mart corporation. How does each decision affect the multitude, right where they live?

Wal-Mart generated $288 billion in revenue last year and $10.3 billion in profit, up 16 percent from the previous year. They hope to add 350 stores this year to their current 3,703. The average Wal-Mart wage is $9.68 per hour, and only half of its workers receive health insurance from the company.

The psalmist says, "Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry" (Psalm 17:1). That all might have what they need, we continue the journey with Jesus: "When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them..." (Matthew 14:14).

Robert Roth is a writer and social activist who lives in East Lansing, Michigan.

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