Wednesday, March 27th
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 27th: Numbers 13:17-27; Psalm 39; and Luke 13:18-21. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
In the selection from the Book of Numbers, Israel is on the verge of entering the Promised Land. They send a forward party to scout it out. They return with news of great abundance, but also, as the account continues in Numbers, of formidable adversaries. The people grow terrified and despondent when they hear this news. They do not trust enough in the same God who has freed them miraculously from Egyptian slavery and led them through the Red Sea. For this lack of faith, Yahweh forbids them entrance. They must wander in the wilderness for 40 years until the faithless generation passes away.
The Lectionary links this account with two of Jesus’ kingdom parables, which themselves are paired together. The first one is about a man and the second about a woman. To the ancient mind, the transformation of seed to harvest was miraculous. God was at work. The parable of the mustard seed stresses the unity of Jesus’ present work and the future reign of God. Jesus and His ministry are the seed, the beginning. In that seed, the future of God’s reign is present already, but not yet fulfilled.
The second parable shares the same message, but stresses that even if the nascent reign of God is hidden in the mix, hidden in the world, that still its growth is inevitable. The bit of leaven mixed in with the much larger amounts of flour may disappear from view, but the activity of fermenting the whole proceeds, nonetheless.
God’s reign will be established. The question posed in the parables, however, is not unlike the people of Israel on the border of the Promised Land. Will we choose to enter? Or, in the imagery of Jesus’ parable, will we choose to build our nests in the branches of the mustard tree? There are other trees in which to seek shelter.
God can lead us to the border of the Promised Land; God can provide the mustard tree. The question for us is whether or not we will choose to accept. Luke places these two parables at a critical juncture in his account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and His Passion.
The immediately following mention of Jerusalem is a marker along the way. These two parables of the reign of God are followed by the parable of the narrow door. Which path will we choose? The reign of God does not have to be the most popular, most obvious, or easiest path. Will we choose the narrow path and follow the crucified Saviour? Will we enter the Promised Land? Will we build our nests in the kingdom of God? Just like ancient Israel, it’s up to us to decide.
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