When Ordinary Time Is Anything But | Sojourners

When Ordinary Time Is Anything But

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle A.
Illustration by Ellen Weinstein

ORDINARY TIME RARELY is. These texts in July fall in “ordinary” time on the Christian liturgical calendar, that time after the holy days of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. I often think about the irony of this time being designated “ordinary,” since rarely is it ordinary or mundane. There usually is something going on in the world that demands our attention or causes us concern. Certainly, that is true in this season of the coronavirus. So “ordinary,” as we know it, is hardly an apt term.

The term “ordinary,” which comes from the “ordinal” numerals by which the weeks are counted, reflects that we are not in the season of “high holy” days, except for an occasional recognition of a saint or significant moment in history for the church writ large. Ordinary time is just under half of the Sundays on the calendar. It is the time when Christians recount the stories of their faith, across the biblical canon, in order to strengthen their commitments to discipleship and to study and reflect on what it means to be the people of God, both in one’s own life and in the community’s formation.

These Sundays in July capture the day-to-day nature of our faith. The parables in Matthew give us glimpses of God’s reign, tantalizing us. Paul’s letters remind us that sometimes we really struggle to become who God created us to be. The texts call us into curiosity, into covenant, into commitment, and into community. It is an extraordinary challenge.

July 5

Discerning Our Way

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

AT FIRST BLUSH, the Hebrew Bible texts for this week are all about finding and celebrating one’s mate for life. Abraham’s servant (Genesis 24:34) goes to find a wife for Isaac among Abraham’s kindred. Since the servant doesn’t know who they are, he must come to some way to discern. How will he know? He prays for success. He prays that the woman he finds will be willing to leave her family. And, like the bride in Psalm 45, Rebekah does indeed return with him. Here we read the end of the trip, but Genesis 24 begins with the servant’s angst about how to know.

How to know. These stories show us at least one way to know: Pray and look for signs. But looking for signs does not always work. Maybe it worked here because the servant did not ask for himself, but for Abraham’s sake. Maybe were he looking for himself, his own desires might get in the way. Perhaps that is what Romans 7 points toward. We are burdened with human nature that struggles to do the right thing, to find what the right thing is to do. Paul says, “nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh” (verse 18). These words could be jarring to us. They are to me. I want to believe that we are fundamentally good at discernment, that our “flesh” (Paul’s word for our selfish nature) doesn’t drive our desires. But if I am honest, I must confess that it does.

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