Sentence: All things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28)
God of mercy,
you have blessed us beyond our dreams;
you have set before us promises and perils
beyond our understanding
help us to struggle and pray
that the perils may be averted
and your promises fulfilled. Amen.
1 Kings 3:5-12
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
1 Kings 3:5-12
Solomon has the world and its opportunities set before him but in his time and context there are three sought after possibilities, wealth, long life, or wisdom. He chooses the last and God is pleased to grant that to him.
In the gospel reading today, the kingdom of God offers a new way of life in which riches play no part and there may not be a long life, but true wisdom in the light of the coming of Jesus demands entry to the kingdom rather than its rejection.
Back to this reading: Solomon seeks wisdom in order to govern his country well. There must be something to say from this observation about the state of our world and about the choices we will make at our forthcoming NZ election!
The psalmist shows a deep, passionate, intelligent appreciation for God's law through these verses. It is not just that God's 'decrees are wonderful' as decrees which govern life (129), they have power to do more for those who love God's law.
'The unfolding of your words gives light' (130a) and 'imparts understanding to the simple' (130b). Through reading and keeping God's law, the psalmist recognises that he is more able to understand the world and what is going on within it. The law provides wisdom and insight.
Realistically, the psalmist recognises that the words of the law do not by themselves empower him to keep the law: so he entreats God to help him to live rightly (133-135).
This passage is a good complement to Matthew 13:51-52.
Recalling last week's passage and comment, we remind ourselves that Paul is sequencing his way through several, related themes in this chapter, though always with an eye on the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer.
Here the themes are:
- prayer aided by the Spirit (26-27)
- the fulfilment of God's good purposes for those who love God (28-30) which anticipates the next and last section of the chapter in which Paul proclaims the unshakeable and unbreakable love of God
- God is on the side of God's people, not against them, demonstrated by 'not withhold[ing] his own Son' (31-32)
- there is no charge of sin against God's elect (33-34)
- nothing, absolutely nothing, not earthly powers nor heavenly ones, neither the fiercest opposition nor death itself can 'separate us from the love of Christ' (35-39).
This is a carefully worked out yet poetically expressed ending to this first part of Romans. The gospel indeed saves people and does more in the sense that it guarantees the salvation of people who respond to God's love for them in Christ with love for God through Christ, empowered by the Spirit of God who comes to dwell in believers.
Finally, and briefly, if we look back to verses 19-24, we find Paul talking about the whole of creation, its present "eager longing for the revealing of the children of God," 19, (while in a state of "bondage to decay", 21) and its anticipation of the future when "creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (22), which, in turn, is linked to our own situation:
"and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies" (23).
Thus, when, at the beginning of this Sunday's passage we read,
"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness ... " (26),
we are brought to an encounter with the awesome "universalism" of the salvation of God in and through the crucified and risen Christ.
God is as much at work by the Holy Spirit in the whole of creation as in each of us as individual creatures!
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
With this passage we complete the parables taught by Jesus as conveyed in this chapter of Matthew.
In each of the five parables 'the kingdom of heaven is like' something: mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a fine pearl, a net with all kinds of fish.
Our challenge, without interpretations provided for the parables (save that the interpretation in 13:36-43 would appear tobe applied to 13:47-50), is to understand what it means that the kingdom is 'like' something.
Without proposing that the following is an exhaustive set of interpretations, Jesus appears to be saying that the kingdom of heaven is:
- a growing phenomenon which starts small and becomes very large (mustard seed)
- a powerful influence working through the whole world (yeast)
- something utterly worth being part of and belonging to (hidden treasure, fine pearl)
- a bit messy because it grows and develops in such a way that both evil and righteous people are caught up in its life (fishing net).
Can we say with the disciples that we understand 'all this' (51)?
The passage finishes on a beautifully poetic note about scribes trained for the kingdom (52) who are also 'like' something - like a master of a house who brings out of his treasure what is old and what is new. But what does this mean? Who are 'scribes' in the kingdom (since we do not encounter these particular kingdom officials anywhere else in the gospels)?
A key word here is 'trained' which in the Greek also means 'discipled'. Potentially 'scribes' could be all disciples, or scribes trained in the Law of Moses who are now discipled into the kingdom; or it could be one scribe in particular, Matthew who composes this gospel.
Either way, there is a strong hint here, as we recall Matthew 5:17-20, that Jesus is valuing continuity with all that is good in the past of Israel as well as asserting the value of what is now being taught through the parables of Jesus.