12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b

Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

The liturgical calendar is made up of all of the “major” seasons of the church year – and “ordinary time.” It is the stretch between Pentecost and Advent, with a few special Sundays sprinkled in here and there. And the early church leaders structured this “ordinary time” as a time for studying key stories and lessons in the scriptures. It is the “green growing season,” a time for learning new things, thinking new thoughts, examining old understandings. It’s prolonged…with lots of room for wandering through our beliefs and our faith.

And so this week, we found ourselves swimming around in continued contemplation about “expectation.” Do our Expectations shape outcomes? What happens when we give up Expectation? Are we disappointed? Surprised? At peace? It seems that we seek patterns and assign expectation based on what we’ve seen happen in similar situations.

We don’t just have expectations for ourselves. We have them for those around us, and sometimes, even though they are unspoken, we somehow Expect others to know what we want of them. And to add another layer of difficulty, those around us have their own unspoken expectations of us they expect we will fulfill! It is amazing we stay in relationship at all sometimes!

The text from Genesis follows Jacob as he returns to his kin. Remember that Jacob has had a vision and has heard God promise him the land that he had seen. Now he has continued on the journey, seeking out his mother’s brother, Laban. He first finds Laban’s daughter, Rachel, keeping Laban’s flock. Both Rachel and Laban greet Jacob with enthusiasm. Kinship means a lot in this ancient culture. Of course, we can’t overlook the fact that Jacob finds Rachel attractive. Leah is described across various versions as “lovely,” “weak,” or “soft,” while Rachel is described as graceful and beautiful. The description is similar to that of Sarai and of Rebekah.

Jacob asks to take Rachel as a wife, and at first, Laban seems happy to support the idea. But when the chosen night comes (7 years later), Laban slips a veiled Leah into Jacob’s arms instead. When Jacob discovers the truth (too late – he’s consummated this relationship), Laban reminds him that it would be inappropriate to give the younger before the first born. Let’s think about Jacob’s past. He stole his older brother’s birthright and tricked his blind father to receive his blessing. And he’s incensed that Laban has pulled a fast one. But he doesn’t give up (we’re learning this about Jacob). He works another seven years so that he can take Rachel as a wife (read on past the selected text – the justice he is dealt through these women and their reproduction is kind of comical and the result is ultimately the tribes of Israel.)

The psalmist is praising a God who has been faithful to the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Because these believers were faithful in return, God has blessed Israel. (Now do we expect, based on some of their behaviors, these men to receive God’s blessing? Maybe yes – maybe no. They certainly had their share of shady deals.)

The selected text from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome has a couple of oft-quoted nuggets built into it. It’s good stuff. Essentially, Paul asserts that God knows the goodness in a person and is responsive to that goodness through the work of the Spirit. It is God’s understanding of our individual human nature that enables the Spirit to be present for us. And if all of this good is working behind the scenes, what can happen that is not God’s doing? So…we have expectations and they aren’t met. Is that God’s doing? And for what reason? It doesn’t seem like it can all really be for good, can it?

In the passage from Matthew we see Jesus attempting to bridge some of the gap of unspoken expectations. He is talking to a group of followers about the Kingdom of God. Notice, he does not explicitly say, “The Kingdom of God IS: ________”. He says, “The Kingdom of God is like….” and then he gives several examples. He knows is a large group some people will understand seeds, some will understand yeast, and some will understand treasure. Not everyone hears with the same set of experiences. And we can be sure not everyone walked away from this scene with the same image or understanding of the Kingdom of God. Also notice the connection that is here with the story of Jacob and his waiting…the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed…that one must wait on before it grows to maturity…the kingdom of God is like yeast…that one must be patient with to allow it to do its work…the kingdom of God is like a person who sells everything to acquire his treasure…it takes a while to sell all of your possessions and to acquire a piece of land. It seems that the kingdom of God might require some patience and perseverance and some ability to subvert one’s own timeline and expectations. Hmmmm…

Life for us has been a puzzling series of events, of forks in the road where neither path seemed to be the right one. And yet, we keep moving and we keep developing a sense of who we are and what we are called to do in this place. Our Expectations have been shattered, met, or exceeded by turn. And life goes on.

-How do you / we allow for our life working out in ways we do not expect?
-Are there ways you have had to wait for “the answer” to be revealed to you (like Jacob, or the farmer, or the baker)?
-Are you committed to God’s conclusions, or are you committed to your own?

"Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it." - the Talmud

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