26 July 2020

How do images that seek
to imagine the Kingdom
of God challenge us?

‘I’m interested in what it would be like to be you … There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind’ … street art in Centaur Street, Carlow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sunday 26 July 2020

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VII)

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer (MP 2): Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick

11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2): Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick

Readings: Genesis 29: 15-28; Psalm 105: 1-11, 45b; Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

How could Jacob tell Leah from Rachel? … a billboard for the planned Sephardic Museum in the former Jewish Quarter of Málaga (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Lessons in good parenting teach parents never to compare their sons or daughters with other children. It is a sure way of giving children the impression that they never match the expectations of their parents.

‘Why can’t you achieve more, like your big brother?’

‘Why can’t you behave yourself, like your little sister?’

Many of us can remember how we dreaded hearing these judgmental questions.

As adults, we learn in a different way how comparisons are never adequate. Shakespeare asks in the opening line of Sonnet 18: ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ And immediately he answers himself: ‘Thou art more lovely and more temperate.’

When we are tempted to compare ourselves, favourably or unfavourably, with others, it is good to be reminded of the old adage not to judge anyone until we have walked a mile in their shoes.

Comparisons never match the beauty of any person or place. And yet, in language, we need metaphors, similes and allegories.

It is worth noticing the different comparisons, parallels, metaphors, similes and allegories in today’s readings.

In the first reading (Genesis 29: 15-28), Jacob is outwitted by Laban and is deceived into thinking that Leah is Rachel.

After meeting God in a vision at Bethel in last week’s reading, Jacob has travelled on to Haran in search of a wife from his own clan. He meets Rachel, and her father Laban, who is related to Jacob, takes him into his household and gives him a living.

After Jacob has been staying with Laban’s family for a month, Laban asks Jacob what wages he expects. Laban has two daughters, Leah and Rachel: Leah has lovely eyes, while Rachel is ‘graceful and beautiful,’ and Jacob is besotted with Rachel.

Jacob offers to work freely for seven years for Laban in return for a promise that he can then marry Rachel. The former Chief Rabbi, Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, points out that ‘the number seven is always significant and always indicates holiness, as in the seventh day, Shabbat; the seventh month … with its Days of Awe … the seventh year … and the fiftieth year, the Jubilee, which follows seven cycles of seven years.’ He says that the number seven became ‘the symbol of the holy,’ a symbol that ‘God exists beyond time and space.’

Because of his hope and because of his love for Rachel, the seven years pass quickly for Jacob and seem ‘but a few days.’

But we should recall how Jacob once deceived his father Isaac and his brother Esau. He was not at all like his big, hairy brother. Now Laban deceives Jacob – a deceit that was possible because a bride wore a veil at her wedding. Leah is not all at all like her younger sister Rachel.

Isaac was deceived into honouring ‘the younger before the firstborn’ when it came to the struggle between Esau and Jacob. Now Laban deceives Jacob into honouring the firstborn before the younger, and successfully contrives to marry his elder daughter Leah to Jacob.

Jacob, who once appeared to shirk work when compared with Esau, is now forced to work longer than expected: another seven days added on to the seven years.

We are prepared for something more holy that is about to unfold, and the stories of the Patriarchs leads to the stories of the children of Israel.

As children of Jacob, the Psalmist invites us in Psalm 105 to see God in his works.

In the New Testament reading, which we did not read this morning (Romans 8: 26-39), the Apostle Paul tells us that those who love God are ‘the image of his Son.’ The word he uses, εἰκών (eikon, image), is used regularly by Saint Paul to say that Christ is the ‘image’ of God: we are not mere comparisons with God, or like God, but through Christ we have become images of God.

Then, in the Gospel reading, Christ offers a number of images of what the Kingdom of God is like: a tiny seed that grows into a great tree, a generous measure of yeast that gives enough bread to feed a village, hidden treasure whose value has gone unrecognised for too long, a pearl that is worth more than anyone can guess, a net that can haul in more than we imagine we can catch.

I ought to have been in England this past week, in Swanwick in Derbyshire for the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in Gospel). But the Covid-19 travel restrictions led to the conference being cancelled. Instead, many of us followed what would have been the conference agenda through a series of on-line, Zoom meetings or ‘webinars.’

During these conversations, I heard of a lot of work in mission that people are engaged in and that helps to give a taste of what the Kingdom of God should be like, ought to be like.

On Monday and Tuesday, the General Secretary of USPG, the Revd Duncan Dormor, and other staff members spoke of USPG’s work around the world, trying to be signs of the Kingdom of God.

On Wednesday, we heard from Dr Esther Mombo, who is a Professor at Saint Paul’s University in Limuru, Kenya, and is involved in empowering women in the church and in East Africa. Like me, she did some of her post-graduate work at the Irish School of Ecumenics in Dublin. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, her talk was titled – provocatively and on purpose – ‘I can’t breathe.’ She challenged many of the white, post-colonial perspectives that still inform the life of the Church.

Profressor Paulo Ueti is a Brazilian theologian and Bible Scholar, working with the Anglican Communion. He challenged many of our perspectives that come from positions of privilege.

Whether we come from positions of privilege, or see the world from a perspective of oppression and suffering, we need to try to imagine and understand, what life is like for another person or family.

In that generosity, we may begin to imagine what the Kingdom of God is like. We can only glimpse what another place is like. We can only listen to what the Kingdom of God is like, until we actually live it out and incorporate it into our own lives.

But when we walk in someone else’s shoes, we begin to understand what the Kingdom of God might – just might – be like, be truly like … for other people, and for us.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘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’ (Matthew 13: 33) … three trays of bread in a baker’s shop in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52 (NRSVA):

31 He [Jesus] put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it 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.’

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.’

44 ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 ‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ 52 And he said to them, ‘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.’

‘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’ (Matthew 13: 33) … varieties of bread on a stall in a market in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green (Year A, Ordinary Time)

The Collect of the Day:

Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
Graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Word:

O God, the fount of wisdom,
you have revealed to us in Christ
the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price:
grant us your Spirit’s gift of discernment,
that, in the midst of the things of this world,
we may learn to value the priceless worth of your kingdom,
and be ready to renounce all else
for the sake of the precious gift you offer.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God,
whose Son is the true vine and the source of life,
ever giving himself that the world may live:
May we so receive within ourselves
the power of his death and passion
that, in his saving cup,
we may share his glory and be made perfect in his love;
for he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.


544, O perfect love, all human thought transcending (CD 31)

95, Jesu, priceless treasure (CD 6)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

‘The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind’ (Matthew 13: 47) … nets and fishing boats at the harbour in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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