People who use sacred texts have often found ways of selecting passages appropriate to their needs. Disciples of Confucius used a complex system of hexagrams, chosen by lot, to find images and comments suitable to their time, place and situation. In classical and medieval times, the writings of Virgil and Homer were used in a similar way. Sometimes the Bible was accessed by lot or dice or random procedures. The Church responded to the need to select appropriate wisdom from the Bible, by the daily lectionary, a selection of readings for every day in the year, which was originally used in monasteries, but has for some time been used in daily mass in the Catholic Church, and for private devotion in others. Obviously the choice of passages reflects a theology and the Christian calendar, but it also has an arbitrary element. It asks the reader, “Can this wisdom be applied to your soul, your community, your place, today?” This blog follows the daily readings and hopes to uncover some wisdom.
Reading 1, 2 Samuel 7:4-17
4 But that very night, the word of the Lord came to Nathan:
5 ‘Go and tell my servant David, “The Lord says this: Are you to build me a temple for me to live in?
6 I have never lived in a house from the day when I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until today, but have kept travelling with a tent for shelter.
7 In all my travels with all the Israelites, did I say to any of the judges of Israel, whom I had commanded to shepherd my people Israel: Why do you not build me a cedar-wood temple?”
8 This is what you must say to my servant David, “The Lord of hosts says this: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my people Israel;
9 I have been with you wherever you went; I have got rid of all your enemies for you. I am going to make your fame as great as the fame of the greatest on earth.
10 I am going to provide a place for my people Israel; I shall plant them there, and there they will live and never be disturbed again; nor will they be oppressed by the wicked any more, as they were in former times
11 ever since the time when I instituted judges to govern my people Israel; and I shall grant you rest from all your enemies. The Lord furthermore tells you that he will make you a “house”.
12 And when your days are over and you fall asleep with your ancestors, I shall appoint your heir, your own son to succeed you (and I shall make his sovereignty secure.
13 He will build a temple for my name) and I shall make his royal throne secure for ever.
14 I shall be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does wrong, I shall punish him with a rod such as men use, with blows such as mankind gives.
15 But my faithful love will never be withdrawn from him as I withdrew it from Saul, whom I removed from before you.
16 Your dynasty and your sovereignty will ever stand firm before me and your throne be for ever secure.” ‘
17 Nathan related all these words and this whole revelation to David.
This so-called Nathan Prophecy was of course edited by scribes who lived in the 4th-1st Centuries BCE but it reflects events in the reign of King David around 1000 BCE. It says two things at least
- God does not dwell in buildings. Of course, we say, that’s a primitive superstition. But try reminding some church people of that when they’re being asked to leave their building and go to another! God’s self-witness is that he’s not a domesticated God, he can’t be tied to one place. He’s a travelling God, more at home with Gypsies than with Bungalow Bill. He dwells in people and not in cathedrals, however grand, or in shrines however sacred. In fact, this is a very difficult God on whom to base a religion.
- God plants peoples and establishes the “houses” of their kings. Or as we might say: God guides the growth of societies and their governments. The motive behind temple building is to secure the favour of God for people and kings, but God gives assurance that He will provide land for his people and critical love for its rulers. And all this without a temple to secure his favour! (Probably the bit in brackets about Solomon building a temple is not part of the original prophecy).
Gospel, Mark 4:1-20
1 Again he began to teach them by the lakeside, but such a huge crowd gathered round him that he got into a boat on the water and sat there. The whole crowd were at the lakeside on land.
2 He taught them many things in parables, and in the course of his teaching he said to them,
3 ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow.
4 Now it happened that, as he sowed, some of the seed fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate it up.
5 Some seed fell on rocky ground where it found little soil and at once sprang up, because there was no depth of earth;
6 and when the sun came up it was scorched and, not having any roots, it withered away.
7 Some seed fell into thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it produced no crop.
8 And some seeds fell into rich soil, grew tall and strong, and produced a good crop; the yield was thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold.’
This parable has been messed up in the minds of Christians by the explanation which follows. Although the explanation purports to come from Jesus, it clearly doesn’t, as it shows ignorance about the farming practice of Palestine. Why does this sower scatter seed all over the place? Is he stupid or careless? No. In Palestine the seed was sown, THEN the ground was ploughed, all the ground AND the seed, or at least the seed that hadn’t been taken by birds in the interim. The sower is just an ordinary sower, scattering seed on ground that is ready for the plough. The explanation might be called the parable of the “soils”, whereas Jesus told the parable of the “sower”.
It tells us that in heaven it is always springtime. Whatever our time may be, whatever the circumstances of the world, God goes out to sow, in the freshness of a new morning. Yes of course, some seed is wasted, but God, like the human sower, is confident that some will grow well. Where growth happens, the yield is marvellous-that’s how nature works. Indeed Jesus mission was like this, a confident scattering of the seeds (and seed-persons) of the kingdom, trusting in growth.
We are often so concerned with the sins and the failures, the breakdowns of family or community life, the waste and pollution of the world, that we stop being aware of the Sower and his springtime. We have also become so used to thinking of ourselves as soil, that we cannot imagine ourselves as seeds which are being sown.
At this moment, what is God sowing?