Proper 4 (June 1, 2008)
Common Lectionary Texts:
Deut. 11:18-21, 26-28; Ps. 31:1-5, 19-24; Rom. 1:16-17, 3:22b-31; Matt. 7:21-29
This week we hosted agricultural students from Penn State University, attended a high school graduation ceremony, visited MCC partners in Wadi Araba and Salt, and made preparations for an Iranian religious leaders delegation to the United States (August 2008) and for a Mennonite educators learning tour to Iran (October 2008).
Wadi Araba is a desert community south of the Dead Sea. Bedouin tribes have squeezed life out of this arid land for years, raising crops and tending goats and sheep. In the early 1990s, one visionary Bedouin elder asked MCC to help two “warring” tribes to work together for the betterment of all.
Through two agricultural cooperatives and a benevolent society, tribes that once were ready to kill each other, are now working together to provide water for drinking and irrigation. MCC has supported the Bedouins in building water catchments. Water from wells deep under the ground is pumped to catchments on top of hills, where gravity transports it to fields below though a network of plastic pipes. By using drip irrigation, precious water is preserved.
In Salt, MCC supports a deaf-blind unit at the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf (HLID). The unit just moved from temporary housing to its newly renovated home at the center of the HLID campus. Its four young residents are transitioning well and learning all about their “new house” by using cardboard box models to learn the concepts of wall, roof, door, window, curtains, etc. Each of the children works one on one with a teacher. Large and small steps of progress are celebrated. Eight-year-old Noor, with her teacher, was exploring her bedroom door, feeling the surface features, and learning how to open and close it. The unit is hoping to welcome two more girls to the unit in September.
In our visits to Wadi Araba and Salt, we saw clear examples of persons who are not just speaking religious-sounding words. They are living in ways that demonstrate faith and obedience. This week’s lectionary texts follow these same themes.
The Old Testament reading highlights the importance of paying attention to God’s words. We are to put them in our heart and soul, bind them as a sign on our hand and fix them as an emblem on our forehead (Deut. 11:18). We are to teach God’s words to our children – when we are at home and traveling, in the morning and the evening (v.19). Blessing follows those who obey God’s word (v.27) and a curse for those who follow other gods (v.28).
The Gospel reading also focuses on the importance of obedience. At the end of his “Sermon on the Mount”(Matt. 5-7), Jesus says that doing God’s will matters more than words or actions that only appear to be religious. Addressing Jesus as “Lord, Lord,” or prophesying, casting out demons and doing deeds of power in Jesus’ name, do not alone make one fit for God’s kingdom (Matt. 7:21-22). Rather, those who hear the words of Jesus and act on them are the wise ones – the ones who build on a solid foundation (v.24). What are these words of Jesus that we are to act upon? Letting our light shine (5:16). Being reconciled with our sisters and brothers (5:24). Speaking the truth (5:37). Loving our enemies (5:44). Not worrying about tomorrow, but trusting God (6:31-34). Treating others as we want to be treated (7:12).
But obedience is much more than keeping a rigid set of rules. It is acting in ways that show we fully trust God. In the Epistle reading, Paul makes it clear that the law is not what saves us and makes us whole. Rather, it is our faith (Rom. 1:16-17, 3:22-31). Life in God’s family is not restricted to one tribe or nation (1:16; 3:22, 29-30). It is freely available to all who live lives of faith – the same kind of trusting obedience that Jesus demonstrated in his life (3:22, 26).
Our faith has been strengthened this week as we have observed faith in the life of our partners in Jordan.