7th after Pentecost: July 16, 2023
As we listen to the stories in today’s readings, you might think, “Oh! Okay, I know these stories. I am familiar with both scripture passages.” My guess is that you have heard these stories at least more than once. I too heard them many times in my younger years from different preachers. As I reflected on today’s scriptures, I heard somewhat different voices in the times and places we are living and I hope that you find some time to share your thoughts or reflections with the rest of us as I do now.
Let us imagine the hungry young man, Esau, who has just come back from the field where he was hunting and his brother Jacob who is cooking a stew at home. As Esau asks Jacob for a bowl of his stew, Jacob proposes a deal. “Sell me your birthright, and then I will give you a bowl of stew.” Esau was so hungry he could spare no thought about his future and agree with his brother’s deal.
I used to hear that the impatient and dumb Esau could not think of his birthright but only about his hunger and the immediate satisfaction he was looking forward to. But clever Jacob gets his father’s blessing and financial support by trickery. This is one of the earliest ancestors’ stories of Israel in which we find a revelation of God. It is not and was never meant to be a record of historical fact; instead, it is seen as a product of the traditional communal memory of the Canaan Israelites.
Let us reflect on the history of Canada. Most of us probably were taught that Canadian history began with the explorers’ discovery of this land. But, of course, they did not find an empty land. The territory which came to be called Canada already had people who had lived here since at least the ice age. When the first Canadians, the Indigenous peoples, had contact with the European explorers and settlers, they began to trade fish and furs for cheap goods from France and England. As time passed the original people, like Esau, lost their birthright of care for this land and were pushed to the margins of this society and history. We used to be told that they were not smart, were underdeveloped and needed help with their many problems.
Even though the story of Esau and Jacob is not a historical fact, this Biblical story expresses a truth of human nature and the character of God through which we may reflect on our own history and relationship with God and other people in our midst. We may reflect on how, like Jacob, we who have food, wealth and power offer some of our possessions to those who have little in the way of controlling another person or people. It happens between individuals, groups and even nations.
In today’s other scripture passage in Matthew, the farmer seems not to exercise much caution about where he sows but scatters the seeds around with abandon. They fly in all directions and land everywhere – on the hard path, over rocky ground and into the thorn bushes as well as on good, rich soil. The farmer sows the seeds extravagantly, as widely as he can, oblivious to the risks. To be sure, the farmer takes some losses – birds snatch the seed off the path, the sun scorches the young plants springing up in the shallow, rocky soil, and tender sprouts are no match for the choking thorns – but never mind. Despite some wasted effort, the farmer achieves a bumper crop, a thirtyfold, a sixtyfold and a hundredfold.
We too keep on sowing the seeds; seeds of love, justice, human rights, and equality hoping and dreaming of a plentiful harvest. However, after spreading the seed the outcome is not in our hands anymore. We cannot control the life of any one of the sprouts and young plants. We do care for our fields and gardens as best we know and can, but the seeds have their own lives. Also, we can take another point of view. If we look not only with human eyes, we see that the seeds which the birds eat or the sprouts which wither and die are not necessarily wasted. Even if we human sowers do not have a harvest from the seeds, they may feed the birds or grow somewhere for someone else or some animal whom we do not know to harvest; at the least, it may be composted into rich soil for some other seed.
God asks us to share our stew with the hungry without any conditions and to sow God’s seeds without blaming the soil. We believe that God cares for the hungry as well as for us who have food, that God cares for the poor soil and uprooted seed as well as for the good soil and new growth in a garden. Living in the spirit of God frees us to care without condition, to give and not to count the cost and to live with God’s abundant love. Let us live in God’s spirit. Amen.