From a fascinating look into gender roles and marriage in the ancient world to a series of parables about great things coming from small beginnings, today’s readings from scripture open up many avenues for conversation.
First the story of Jacob and his two wives Rachel and Leah is enough to remind us that the claims of some Christians and Jews about ‘traditional marriage’ being always and forever the same are not supported by the biblical narrative.
Marriage as an institution clearly is, like other human inventions, always evolving and adapting to changing social circumstances and deepening human knowledge about sexuality. And also within this story is yet another example of family dynamics, rivalry and jealousies abound, and Jacob, who tricked his brother out of his birthright is tricked by his father in law Laban into choosing not only Rachel to whom he was attracted but also Leah the other daughter, Jacob’s other wife.
Through this brief story we learn about the complexity of the Biblical narrative: God’s favoured folk are not just the righteous and good living but also the scoundrels and tricksters—God works through many different kinds of people.
And that is really the point of Jesus’ parables about mustard seeds and yeast and pearls and nets—God’s at work in the world but God’s project is long term and not always perceptible from a human point of view. Small beginnings lead to great outcomes. God’s work, like the pearl of great price is like the treasure hidden in the field—it is of incomparable value and hidden—worthy of our deepest and fullest devotion.
So what is the work that God is calling us toward? How can the often twisted circumstances of our lives be the location for God’s activity? What are the mustard seeds –the small things in our lives or in the world that are to grow into the expression of the empire of God? Where is God hidden in our lives? How much we value the good news that we have received and how important is it within the priorities of our lives?
Jesus’ string of parables ends with one of my favourite sayings from our Lord:
“Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
I’ve always loved that particular turn of phrase because it opens a window, for me, into what spirituality is and can be. Too often, those who think about the life of the spirit want to make it an either or choice—either it’s only an ancient tried and true way or it’s only a new expression of wisdom. Yet for Jesus it is a both and—a new and old, a hybrid of ancient wisdom and new insight.
At this Cathedral church and in this St. Brigids congregation, we seek to honour this creative combination of new and old. As the St. Brigids website puts it, ‘the road to the future leads through the past.’: the old and the new, the ancient and the innovative, the wisdom of the centuries and the evolving wisdom of the present moment.
Now in this time, in this place we open ourselves once again to the ancient and ever new promptings of the Spirit through scripture and sacrament in community.