Psalm 37: 1-11, 39-40
1 Corinthians 15:35-50
[Jesus said, ] “Love your enemies, do good,
and lend, expecting nothing in return.
Your reward will be great,
and you will be children of the Most High;
for He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
- Luke 6:35-36
When you read Jesus’ words here, which enemies are you picturing in your mind’s eye ?
They might be in an ISIS sleeper cell in a big city.
Or scheming to cross the border to commit crimes.
Or disgruntled former co-workers or employees.
Or they might be your flesh and blood.
Nobody can get under your skin like family.
And if familiarity can breed contempt, family breeds potential targets for contempt. And enmity. I see it all the time (you guessed it) in church families.
But it’s not really worse here and now than it’s been in other places and times. Heck ! The Bible is full of examples of family enmity— perhaps none more memorable than the Jacob a.k.a. Israel family: you know: the “children of Israel.”
Yes, the Book of Genesis is the oldest, best-known family-based soap opera. You’ll remember that Jacob was the guy who wanted to marry his younger cousin Rachel, but her dad, Jacob’s Uncle Laban, tricked him on his wedding night and he found himself married to Rachel’s older sister Leah instead. But Jacob insisted on having Rachel, too. So, between the two sisters and their slave girls, Jacob “begat” a dozen sons, in addition to daughter Dinah (who was in the kitchen with all of those brothers, fee-fie-fiddly-i-oh).
At this point in the Genesis soap opera, Joseph, the second-youngest son of Jacob / Israel’s favorite wife Rachel, becomes the star of the show: a naïve, boastful dreamer, he earns the hatred of his ten older brothers, who beat him, throw him into a pit, and then sell him as a slave to merchants who are on their way to Egypt.
I am not going to summarize here the utterly unbelievable story of Joseph’s rise from slavery to become second-in-command of all Egypt. Read it for yourself, in Genesis chapters 37 and 39-41. It’s totally worth your time.
Meanwhile, Jacob a.k.a. Israel believes that his second-youngest son Joseph is dead.
And meanwhile, there is a worldwide famine: no food… except, somehow, in Egypt. Old father Jacob / Israel sends his elder ten sons to Egypt to try to buy food. And Joseph, who by this time has become the Egyptian Pharaoh’s right-hand man, recognizes them, but they don’t recognize Joseph. So Joseph messes with their minds; he jerks them around. And he forces them to bring their very youngest brother, Benjamin to Egypt, too.
Finally, in Genesis chapter 45, Joseph sets up a scene where he’s on the throne and all eleven of his brothers are in front of him, terrified that he will have them killed. The drama climaxes with Joseph telling them, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” And then, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt….”
Joseph then proceeded to explain to them how God had turned the ten brothers’ evil into good for Joseph and for all of Egypt. What’s more, Joseph was now in a position to save his entire family— including the ten older brothers who had hated him and beaten him and sold him as a slave— from starvation. And so he did: Joseph blessed them instead of having them killed. Mercy !!
The three-year pattern of Scripture readings called the Revised Common Lectionary is a peculiar puzzle, a puzzle that I and many, many preachers try to work each week. [see this week’s Scripture readings, above .]
The usual pattern for each week’s lectionary includes
>a reading from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John,
>plus a reading from some other New Testament book,
>plus a Psalm or other item of biblical poetry,
>plus a reading from some other Old Testament book.
That makes four Bible readings per Sunday.
One of the quirks of the Revised Common Lectionary is that it sometimes plows through a book of the Old or New Testament, but at other times, the Old or New Testament reading and Psalm are chosen according to the theme of the gospel text. At this point in this church year, we are focused on Luke’s gospel, and we’re plowing through 1 Corinthians, and this week’s Psalm and the aforementioned Genesis 45 reading are chosen to resonate with the gospel lesson.
So please study Luke 6:35-36 (above). And go ahead and practice it at home, as well as on any other people you find difficult.
And you will be children of the Most High.