Tuesday of the 30th Week in Course 2020
In the last episode of our Gospel drama–yesterday–Jesus encountered two obstacles on a Sabbath day, right in the synagogue. He was teaching and a woman with what appears to be a deformed spine or chronic back muscle problem hobbled in. Now if you’ve ever thrown out your back, you know this is terribly painful, and she had suffered from it for nearly two decades. She had heard that this prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, was in town. With a word and a touch she was freed from her bondage. And then the other obstacle, never far from the surface, bobbed up out of a hard heart. The synagogue leader, probably a rabbi who had heard about the troubles this preacher had stirred up for Jewish leaders all over Palestine, officiously told everyone that it’s improper–sinful–to do any work on the Sabbath.
Jesus, who had patience with anybody but a hypocrite, pointed out that this guy himself probably watered his domestic animals on the Sabbath. Perhaps Jesus had seen him do it on His way to the synagogue. Anyway, what’s more important? Surely freeing the woman of faith from her terrible disability is more important than watering your donkey? So today we hear about the sequel. Jesus always used healings as an opportunity to teach about the kingdom of God, which begins within each Christian heart.
He says the kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard. This got the attention of Christian congregations because the Greek is unforgettable: kókko synápeos. Think about it. A kingdom that is about the size of a period at the end of a sentence. But in the twenty-first century, we know that tiny seeds contain the whole plant, expression of the DNA that ultimately will be carried in each of the cells of the large plant that will grow from the seed. So the kingdom of God, the assembly Jesus created, began in small communities but has spread all over the world. And it must do so again in this time of doubt, fracture and despair. The real disease in any age is not a crooked spine, but a crooked mind and heart in the human person.
Jesus says the kingdom is like yeast. Why did that get the attention of the hearers? The Greek word is zymé, but let’s be clear about that word. The listeners would not have thought about going down to Kroger and getting a paper package of Fleishmann’s. No, the bakers of that day wouldn’t have known what we know about microorganisms and the species saccharomyces cerevisiae found in those packages. In a special, critical part of their kitchens they would keep their leaven, which was unbaked dough from the last loaf of bread they made. They would knead that little starter into their next batch of flour and water and whatever else they needed, letting it spread through the whole ball of dough. Then they would reserve a little of that dough for the next baking. That means that the kingdom of God in my heart and your heart is not meant to be kept hidden. It’s meant to be spread through the whole earth. Every human being needs the word and sacrament who is Christ, so we have a missionary obligation, in prayer, in financial support, and in sharing our love in Christ with everyone.
Part of that, an essential foundation of Christ’s teaching, is His support of the family. And that means husband, wife and children therefrom. Don’t get hung up on the language here. Husband and wife are subject to each other. That is we each have a primary obligation to each other in love, exactly as Jesus and the Church have a primary obligation to each other in love. If you look at the two sides to this coin, you’ll see that the husband gets most of the work in the passage. Is that surprising? Not at all. The husband is like Jesus Christ to the wife. Who does the work of our redemption? And why? Jesus does all the work of our redemption, and it is accomplished in us through our openness, our faith, and the sacraments Jesus gave to the Church as His presence in the Church. Therefore, we husbands and wives are very much in our love for each other and our children the signs of Christ’s love for the Church, and the Church’s unconditional love for Jesus Christ. This is a mystery, a sacrament, and we must value and protect it from all assault.
What should we take away from our worship today, then? Those of us who are married need to examine our behavior and see if we measure up to St. Paul’s instruction to us about our married love. But all of us need to examine our behavior to see if by repentance we should let Jesus straighten our minds and hearts for love, and our backs for the lifelong work of spreading His Gospel.