This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
How creation becomes a commodity: queue of customers on Everest
Proverbs 23:19-21, 23:29-24:2
20 Do not be among winebibbers, or among gluttonous eaters of meat;
21 for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe them with rags.
29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?
30 Those who linger late over wine, those who keep trying mixed wines.
31 Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly.
32 At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder.
33 Your eyes will see strange things, and your mind utter perverse things.
34 You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast.*
35 ‘They struck me’, you will say,* ‘but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake? I will seek another drink.
Most ancient cultures have drinking songs. It’s typical of Israel that it has left us this great hangover poem. As a citizen of one of the great self-destructive drinking cultures of the world (Scotland) and as a lover of red wine, I can’t ignore the realism of this passage. “Your eyes will see strange things, your mind wil utter perverse things”….yes, I remember something like that…..As for lying down in the midst of the sea, that’s a very accurate image of the heaving sensations experienced by the exhausted drinker.The wisdom here is not puritan or self-righteous. It just tells it like it is and says, “Of course, it’s bad for you.” And that’s all that needs to be said about undisciplined use of alcohol, “It’s bad for you.” With that in mind the Scottish Parliament has set a minimum price per unit of alcohol to remind people that this stuff may be bad for your pocket as well as your health. The robust common sense of the book of Proverbs stands the test of time.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
31 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’
The Parable of the Yeast
33 He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with* three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
The Use of Parables
34 Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing.35This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet:*
‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’*
For Jesus it was clear that the “rule of God” began small. That should have not come as news to Israel whose people after all believed that the one God of all the world had chosen to begin his effective rule with them. The Torah is the story of how the God of all humanity, defeated by the wickedness of his creatures, decides to put things right through just one small people out all the world. Jesus radicalises this faith: God chooses to begin his persuasive revolution amongst the outcasts of Jewsih society and perhaps even amongst the Gentiles. As the Son of God teaches people how to become children of God, the results may not look impressive, but it’s a true seed of God’s rule: in the future it will shelter many people, like the shrub that grows from the mustard seed. And if it’s small, it’s small like yeast that raises the whole lump of dough. Who knows what subterranean effervescence it’s causing already? Within the scope of these images lies an even more radical one: “unless a seed falls int te ground and dies it cannot bear fruit.” Because the rule of God works by persuasion and not force it will have to become unimaginably small in the death and crucifixion of Jesus, before it can grow. This theology of smallness is utterly opposed to all religious imposition such as the militant orthodoxy of “Christian” Serbia or the frequent attempts over the centuries to spread Islam by force.
Jesus indicates that this strange wisdom comes from the prophets and wise people of Israel. He quotes from Pslam 78 which is in itself a meditation on God’s choice of Israel and his discovery that few of them are up to the job of representing his rule. In the wreckage of Israel’s divine calling, one Israelite takes up the burden of God’s rule:
“Amused in someone’s kitchen, asleep in someone’s boat
attuned to what the ancients exposed, proclaimed and wrote,
A saviour without safety, a tradesman without tools,
has come to tip the balance with fishermen and fools.”
(From “Inspired by love and anger” a hymn by John Bell & Graeme Maule. Wild Goose Worship)