Sunday 2 July 2023
Year A: 4th Sunday after Trinity (Proper 8)
Liturgical colour: Green
- Genesis 22:1-14
- Psalm 13:1-6
- Romans 6:12-23
- Matthew 10:40-42
We are now well into what the church calls ‘Ordinary Time’. This refers to the part of the church calendar that falls outside of Christmastide and Eastertide. The name is confusing though. It doesn’t mean commonplace or uninteresting! The word ordinary comes from the Latin word ordinalis, which simply means numbered. So, this Sunday is the 4th Sunday after Trinity. The Sunday lectionary uses ordinary time to read through the synoptic (synoptic means look a bit similar) gospels over three years, Matthew (Year A and the current one), Mark (Year B) and Luke (Year C). At this time of year there are two choices or ‘tracks’ for the Old Testament reading. The first follows major stories and themes, and the second tries to pair the Old Testament readings with the New Testament ones. It is best to keep to one track or the other otherwise it gets really confusing! Not all churches follow the lectionary, but instead use ordinary time to teach on themes or other books of the bible.
It strikes me that the Track A OT reading and the one from Romans would both be a real challenge if heard by a newcomer to church without any context or background.
The first tells the story of Abraham who heard God command him to take his son Isaac to a certain place and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. At the last minute, Abraham hears God again and he substitutes a nearby Ram. Words used around this passage often include ‘testing’, obedience’ and ‘fear of God’. They certainly give the atheists plenty of ammunition in their criticisms of ‘angry monster’ worship! A different perspective may be that the story explains why the Israelites DIDN’T practice child sacrifice, as many of their neighbours probably did.
The passage from Romans is also open to misinterpretation. Again, words can be misleading. Especially verses 12-14 where Paul talks about sin and mortal bodies, and not presenting our members as instruments, or weapons, of wickedness.
This has unsurprisingly been interpreted as being about sex, which is included, but there is more to it than that. Member comes from the Greek μελος (melos). It is the same root as melody, and indicates and includes all parts working together, as in choral song. This reflects the ancient understanding of the body not as a bunch of independent ‘bits’ somehow stuck together, but as a whole acting and reacting in harmony.
The passage is in fact, a really beautiful message about how we have new life in Christ and are no longer bound to sin but free to live healthily in love and harmony within ourselves and with others. It is also a warning not to disrupt that harmony. In this way it is linked to the 1 Corinthians passage about the church being the body of Christ; all needed and working together without dominance or denial.
Sometimes a different translation can help us see a passage afresh. This is how The Message Bible translates the final few verses:
20-21 As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.
22-23 But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.
The take-home message for Abraham was God will provide. (That is what he names the place.) It can sometimes seem that we are struggling to do what doesn’t feel right in the first place! However, difficult though it may be to understand the divine through our human ways of thinking, as Abraham, we try to be faithful and obedient and trust that God will provide, even if it might surprise us in the end. And for the Romans passage? In the meantime, it is best if we work together in harmony as a church community, with each doing their best to follow the calling of God at this particular time of their lives. This might be vocation to prayer, to care for family or friends, or to work (paid or voluntary), or to something to do with the church’s mission and ministry. All necessary and all needed.