Lectionary Commentaries for July 17, 2011
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Elisabeth Johnson

Jesus tells a second parable about sowing seeds, this time about two sowers — one who sows good seed to grow wheat, and the enemy who sows weeds among the wheat.

For this parable too, Jesus offers an allegorical interpretation to his disciples in private. Like the parable of the sower, the parable of the wheat and weeds offers a perspective on opposition to Jesus, and also speaks more generally to the persistence of evil in the world.

Wheat and Weeds

The sower has sown good seed in his field for a healthy wheat harvest. But in the dark of night an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. “So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well” (13:24-26).

A bit of botany is helpful in understanding this parable. Matthew uses the Greek term zizania, which in modern botanical terms refers to the genus of wild rice grasses. What Matthew most likely refers to, however, is darnel or cockle, a noxious weed that closely resembles wheat and is plentiful in Israel. The difference between darnel and real wheat is evident only when the plants mature and the ears appear. The ears of the real wheat are heavy and will droop, while the ears of the darnel stand up straight.

When the householder’s slaves notice the weeds, their first response is to question the quality of the seed. “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” (13:27) When the master replies that an enemy has sown the weeds, the slaves are anxious to take care of the problem, to root those nasty weeds right out. But the master restrains his servants, saying that in gathering the weeds they would uproot the wheat along with them. He orders them to let both grow together until the harvest. Then he will send out his reapers to collect and burn the weeds and to gather the wheat into his barn (13:28-30).

In the clearest of terms, Jesus tells his disciples what almost every element of the parable represents: “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels” (13:37-39). Jesus does not, however, say whom the slaves represent.

Perhaps the slaves represent the disciples, or anyone who hears this parable and its interpretation. Who among us has not questioned why God allows evil to grow and thrive? Who among us has not wanted to take matters into our own hands and root out the evil in our midst? The master stops the slaves from doing anything of the sort. For one thing, it is not so easy to tell the weeds from the wheat, and for another, their roots are intertwined below the ground. Rooting out the weeds would uproot the wheat as well, doing more damage to the crop than leaving the weeds to grow.

Jesus says that the reapers — not the slaves — will take care of this at harvest time. “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (13:41-43). It is the angels — not any human beings — who are authorized to pluck out the weeds from the wheat.

Stumbling Blocks

We may find the dualism of this text troubling. It seems that there are two groups of people in the world — children of the kingdom and children of the evil one, wheat and weeds — and that their destinies are fixed from the beginning. Jesus says that at the end of the age, the angels will “collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin (skandala) and all evildoers, and will throw them into the furnace of fire” (13:41).

Elsewhere Jesus warns those who put a stumbling block (skandalon) before any of the “little ones” that it would be better for them to have a millstone put around their neck and to be drowned in the sea (18:6-7). Similarly he warns that if your hand or foot or eye causes you to sin (skandalizo), it is better to cut it off or pluck it out and enter life blind or maimed, than to be thrown into the “hell of fire” with body intact (18:8-9).

This is hyperbolic language, of course, meant to jar us into recognizing the seriousness of anything that leads us or others into sin. It seems to suggest that a skandalon may be something within a person rather than the whole person. We know that it is not really our hand or foot or eye that causes us to sin. Sin comes from the human heart (kardia) (15:18-20), which in Greek refers to the inner self, the mind and will. No human is able to pluck out the inner self.

Perhaps when Jesus says that the angels will collect all skandala to burn in the fire, he means that everything within us that causes sin will be burned away. It doesn’t quite fit the logic of the parable, which seems to be talking about two groups of people and speaks of throwing all evildoers into the furnace of fire. Yet it seems congruent with other texts in Matthew about stumbling blocks.

Another text to consider is 16:23, where Jesus tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block (skandalon) to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” In spite of these strong words and Peter’s repeated failings, Jesus does not give up on Peter; rather, he entrusts the future of his mission to him and the rest of his bumbling disciples.

So perhaps we should not press the logic of the parable too literally. In the world we know, weeds do not become wheat. Yet Matthew’s story holds out hope even for those who stumble — yes, even for the one whom Jesus calls a stumbling block!

God’s Job — Not Ours

Perhaps there were some overzealous “weeders” in Matthew’s congregation who wanted to purify the community by rooting out the bad seed. This seems to be a temptation for followers of Jesus in every age. We whip ourselves into a weeding frenzy, certain that we know the difference between weeds and wheat, and that we know how to deal with the weeds!

Jesus’ parable makes clear that any attempt to root out the weeds will only do more damage to the crop. This has played out far too many times in congregations and denominations, with some determined to root out anyone who does not agree with the “right” interpretation of Scripture, liturgical practice, or stand on a particular issue. There are also those who pronounce judgment on people outside the church — on people of other faiths, for instance — declaring them to be destined for eternal damnation. Whether judgment is focused within the church or without, it does serious damage to the church and its mission.

Jesus makes clear that we simply cannot be certain who is “in” or who is “out.” In fact, God’s judgment about these matters will take many by surprise (7:21-23; 8:11-12; 21:31-32; 25:31-46). Thank God it is not up to us! We can leave the weeding to the angels, and get on with the mission Jesus has given us — proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God drawing near.

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 44:6-8

Brent A. Strawn

Isaiah 44:6-8 is a short, defensible unit, marked off from the unit that follows (verses 9-20) which shifts to prose in the NRSV (contrast NIV and TNK),

but most commentators consider verses 6-8 to belong to a larger unit, whether that includes preceding verses, verses that follow (e.g., verses 21-22), or even both.  So, if this short unit is adopted as the preached text, preachers may need to expand their view and consider a wider selection of verses.  This is not to say there is not enough here to preach on its own–there certainly is!–but preachers will have to linger over the words and, in so doing, teach their congregations to do the same.

Verse 6 begins with a typical prophetic introduction: “Thus says the LORD,” but this common form is immediately modified.  The Lord is “the King of Israel…his Redeemer, the LORD of Hosts” (NRSV).  In poetry, no less than in other literature and in truth probably more so than in other literature, every word is present for a reason, and so each of these three “qualifications” (a double entendre!) of the Lord is weighty and deserves consideration. 

The king language is obviously royal and evokes the Lord’s sole sovereignty in matters official and political.  Nowadays, the redeemer language is full of spiritual significance (redeeming from sin), but the political and economic roots of redemption ought to not be overlooked (consider, for example, the redemption language in Leviticus 27 and Ruth).  Finally, “the LORD of hosts” has both military (troops, armies) and creational (the heavenly hosts: stars, the divine entourage, etc.) overtones.

This impressive (and allusive) rounding out of a standard introductory speech formula leads directly and naturally into what follows:

I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god (verse 6b; NRSV).

This, along with some other statements in this section of the book of Isaiah (chapters 40-55, frequently called Second Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah–a term also used for the prophet responsible for this material) are often said to be the fullest if not the earliest articulations of full-blown theoretical monotheism in the Old Testament.  “Theoretical monotheism” is what most people mean by the term “monotheism”–namely, the (abstract, philosophical, theological) belief that only one God exists. 

“Ethical monotheism,” on the other hand, is used to describe someone who is monotheistic in practice (that is, they only worship one deity).  Such a person may think other gods exist, but he or she doesn’t worship them.  Other terms that are used for this include “monolatry” (worship of only one) and “henotheism” (one deity out of many possible ones). 

Many scholars believe that Israel (at its best) was monolatrous or henotheistic or ethically monotheistic, but not theoretically monotheistic–not in the early days at any rate.  And it is often the case that scholars attribute the emergence of full blown theoretical monotheism to the later periods, especially the Babylonian exile and beyond, precisely on the basis of texts like this one found in Second Isaiah–a unit that it typically attributed to the exilic period. 

If this reasoning sounds a bit circular, it’s probably because it is.  It is certainly possible that theoretical monotheism antedates the exilic period (a form of it seems to have been known in Egypt in the 14th century during the reign of king Akhenaten and his worship of the sun-disk Aten) and even after the exilic period some Jews struggled with syncretism (note the 5th century archive from Elephantine). 

So it is unlikely that Second Isaiah created theoretical monotheism out of thin air, and it is equally unlikely that his statements, even if they reflect theoretical monotheism (this, too, could be debated), settled the matter in some sort of final or decisive fashion.  One might even argue that the only monotheism that ultimately matters is of the ethical variety (cf. the first commandment which does not say there are no other gods, but only that Israel must not have any other gods before the Lord). 

If this somehow sounds less-than-Christian or pre-Christian, it is only because we haven’t looked hard in the mirror lately.  As Luther saw clearly–and Jesus before him!–the first commandment is the most important one; everything stands or falls with it. 

More recently, in his book on the Creed, Nicholas Lash has written that

“all human beings have their hearts set somewhere — if only on themselves.  For most of us, there is probably no single creature that is the object of our faith.  Most of us, in other words, are polytheists.”1

Ethically, Lash lashes, even Christians are polytheists.  And the proof is in the pudding, isn’t it?  If one is not ethically monotheistic, what does one’s theoretical monotheism mean?  Very little indeed.

All this is to say that maybe Isaiah 44:6 reflects theoretical monotheism, maybe it doesn’t.  It probably doesn’t matter much either way.  Earlier, in fact, in Isaiah 41:21-24, God actually questions the other gods, which seems to score low on the theoretical monotheism standardized test.2 

What matters, again, is the ethics–always the ethics!–and this in two ways. Not only will Israel worship only (the) one God (the human ethics), but also what do/does the gods/God do (the divine ethics)?  In Isaiah 41:24 the Lord declares concerning the other gods: “You, indeed, are nothing and your work is nothing at all.”  In chapter 44, the absurdity of idol worship is underscored in the parody of idol-making that follows 44:6-8 hard and fast in verses 9-20.  In contrast, Isaiah 40-55 is filled with praise for the God who creates, makes, and acts (see, e.g., Isaiah 40:10-26; 43:1-7; 44:2-3)–indeed, who does “all these things,” even if we don’t like the sound of all those things (see 45:7)! (Again, theoretical monotheism may not be all it’s cracked up to be.)

So, coming back to the unit at hand, we hear once again (cf. 40:18, 25) that the Lord is incomparable by means of a question from God’s own lips: “Who is like me?” (44:7). The Lord awaits an answer from someone, somewhere: maybe from the silenced gods who are nothing (at least by comparison), or, more likely, from Israel. 

The next part of verse 7 is difficult, however, and many translations/commentators find the Hebrew nonsensical and so resort to corrections of one sort or another (cf. the different versions in NRSV, NIV, TNK).  Whatever the final decision or translation that is adopted, the sentiment seems similar to verse 6b.  There is no other god–no other comparable–who can do what the Lord can do: in verse 7 such doing includes calling, proclaiming, declaring, announcing from of old things yet to come and things yet to be (so NRSV).  God does precisely that for Israel (verse 8b)–that is why they are God’s witnesses (verse 8c) and that is why they shouldn’t fear or be afraid (verse 8a). 

And so we end where we began, with another question from God about the gods:

“Is there any god besides me?” (verse 8d).

And again the Lord answers the rhetorical (in the most persuasive sense of that word) question for Israel, before Israel has to:

“There is no other rock; I know not one” (verse 8e).

“Rock” is a divine metaphor, used in Deuteronomy 32 to define the Lord (32:4, 18, 31) as well as other gods (32:31).  Among other things, it seems to connote stability, security, safety.  In Deuteronomy, the divine rocks are incomparable (32:31); in Isaiah, there is only one such stable, secure, safe deity. 

And this stable, secure, safe deity testifies directly and personally that there are no other rocks around.  Precisely here, then, the divine ethical monotheism–the fact that this God can be relied upon3–motivates the human ethical monotheism–worshipping and serving as witnesses of the One and Only Rock.  So, here, we get the best, and most practical, of both worlds!

1Nicholas Lash, Believing Three Ways in One God: A Reading of the Apostles’ Creed (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993), 21.
2Cf. Claus Westermann, Isaiah 50-66: A Commentary (trans. D. M. G. Stalker; Old Testament Library; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969 [German orig.: 1966]), 140: “They must therefore be present, there must be such gods, even in the mind of Deutero-Isaiah–such is our conclusion….The words, ‘and beside me there is no god’, constitute a claim, not a statement of fact.”
3Cf. Westermann, Isaiah 40-55, 141: “deity or divinity is proved according as, over a long period of time, the god concerned guides a community’s history by means of proclamations whose fulfillment allows the community to know that this god can be relied on to guide.”

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 28:10-19a

Juliana Claassens

In the lectionary reading for today, we encounter Jacob on the way. Jacob is portrayed as a fugitive fleeing for his life; a vagabond somewhere between a conflict-ridden past and an uncertain future.

At exactly this point of limbo, landless, rootless and with no real prospects for the future, God meets Jacob at a place of no particular significance and transforms it into the house of God.

The pericope starts with a flurry of activity when at least eight waw consecutive verbs are used in verses 10-11 (including the first verb in verse 12) to describe Jacob leaving Beersheba, going toward Haran, “stumbling” (literally “striking”) upon no particular place, and because the sun was setting, staying there for the night. Here Jacob took one of the stones of the place, put it under his head and went to sleep. Amid this fervent activity of a man on the run (as evident in the death threat in the previous chapter; Genesis 27:42-43), a dream that mirrors the flurry of activity of his waking life, interrupts Jacob’s sleep.

He dreams in verse 12 of a ladder that reaches to heaven with angels (messengers) of God going up and down on it. One probably should not think of a ladder in the contemporary sense of the word, but rather something like the Mesopotamian ziggurat; a ramp-like structure that served as a divine sanctuary through which heaven and earth were connected. This stairway to heaven does not give Jacob access to heaven; rather, God speaks to Jacob where he is, denoting God’s immanent presence rather than a faraway removed God calling from a distance. It is significant that this surprise encounter completely comes from God — breaking into Jacob’s state of sleep which signifies a brief cessation of anxious fleeing.

In this divine speech, God reiterates the promises that God has made to Jacob’s ancestors, Abraham and Isaac. With this gesture, God emphasizes that God is not only the God of the first and the second generation. Rather at the point at which Jacob is most vulnerable, God asserts that God is also the God of Jacob.

This promise of God in verses 13-15 is the 8th reiteration of the promise of a land of their own that has repeatedly come to Abraham and Isaac, and the 7th direct or indirect promise of becoming the father of a large nation. God’s promise to Jacob also contains the 5th and final statement regarding the nations being blessed by means of the patriarchs and matriarchs — a powerful reminder that Jacob’s life should not be governed by self-interest and self-aggrandizement, but by becoming a channel of God’s blessing to others.

Moreover, God also promises Jacob that God will be with him — a promise that is even more imperative given the fact that Jacob is traveling far away from home, entering an unknown future in an unknown land. This promise of God’s presence and protection has deep roots in Israel’s communal memory, e.g., the beautiful priestly blessing in Numbers 6:24-26 that holds up God’s safekeeping and blessing in the wilderness, as well as Psalm 121, a psalm of ascent which prays for God’s protection on the way.

A promise that is unique to Jacob is that God promises to bring Jacob back home (verse 15) — a promise that speaks to Jacob’s unique circumstances of being a man on the run, but also a promise that for the displaced community in the exilic context in which the Pentateuch probably received its final form, was all the more poignant.

When Jacob awoke from his dream, not only the place has been changed by God’s presence, but also he is a changed man. Professing God’s presence in this rather ordinary place, Jacob builds an altar, converting his “pillow” — just another stone from that place — into a type of memorial stela that marks the life-altering encounter with God.  He calls this place without a name “Bethel” — house of God, professing that God is here, on the way right there where Jacob finds himself.

The lectionary reading ends at verse 19a, however, one conceivably could also include verses 20-21 in which Jacob makes a vow that shows his commitment to God. In this vow, Jacob recapitulates God’s statement in verse 15, showing something of the new sense of vocation that now marks his journey into the unknown that will be undertaken with God as traveling companion.

It is significant that God’s interruption of Jacob’s anxious journey, which displays God’s renewed commitment to Jacob in his own right, does not contain a word of judgment regarding Jacob’s prior actions with regard to his brother and his father. Rather God’s address to Jacob contains one unconditional promise after the other. In this grace-filled encounter, we see how God can transform an ordinary stone and an ordinary place into something special; a place where God’s presence has made a home in the world. Similarly, this trickster who has deceived his father and brother, and who since birth has lived in strife with the people around him can be transformed by God into a richly blessed man who serves as a source of God’s blessing to others.

The lyrics of U2’s song “Yahweh” offers an intriguing perspective on this ability of God to transform ordinary things, people and places into something special:

“Take these shoes
Click clacking down some dead end street
Take these shoes
And make them fit
Take this shirt
Polyester white trash made in nowhere
Take this shirt
And make it clean, clean
Take this soul
Stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul
And make it sing”

Finally, the lectionary text in Genesis 28 attests to the ability of an alternative reality to break into a world of fear, terror, and loneliness. In this text, Jacob’s dream, which he dreamed somewhere in the middle of nowhere, permits the dreamer to imagine an alternative way of being in the world, as the dreamer is encompassed by God’s presence that has a transformative effect in the waking world.


Commentary on Psalm 86:11-17

Scott Shauf

Psalm 86 is classified by most scholars as a psalm of individual lament, in which an individual expresses the pain of his present condition and seeks relief from God.

However, most of the elements of complaint are in the early part of the psalm, with only verse 14 and verse 17 from our selection expressing concern over the psalmist’s circumstances, and even in those places there is no explicit mention of pain that has been experienced. Verses 11-17 thus on their own read more as an expression of commitment based on the experience of God’s past help (verses 12-13, 17) and on the knowledge of God’s character (verses 13, 15-16). The element of petition is still present, however, in the final two verses.

The opening petition, “Teach me your way, O LORD,” expresses a common important sentiment in the psalms (see examples, 25:4 and 27:11). The tacit basis of the petition is that God’s way is not necessarily obvious and hence requires teaching in order to know it. The line that follows, “that I may walk in your truth,” is a statement of commitment. The psalmist and we desire to know God’s way not out of curiosity but so that we may actually live it out. “Truth” is used in the second line not to mean anything different than God’s way but to affirm that God’s way is truth. We might well be reminded at this point of Christ’s claim to be “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The word “life” does not appear in the NRSV’s translation in this passage, but life is certainly an issue in verse 13, and the Hebrew word translated as “soul” in verse 13 is translated “life” in verse 2 (nefesh).

The last line of verse 11 combines the elements of petition and commitment: “Give me an undivided heart to revere your name.” The tacit basis of the petition is again important: Just as the psalmist recognizes that we are in need of teaching, so he recognizes that very often our hearts are divided and thus unable to walk in God’s way. There is not the burden of sin here felt in Psalm 51:10’s plea for God to “create in me a clean heart,” but the sentiment is the same.

The psalmist does not dwell on the need for an undivided heart, for in the very next line he expresses thanks to God “with my whole heart” (verse 12). There is a simple confidence that his prayer for an undivided heart is answered. In fact, there is a bold magnification of the petition from verse 11, because whereas in verse 11 he had asked merely to “revere” God’s name, here in verse 12 his claim is much stronger: “I will glorify your name forever.” Not only has he moved from revering to glorifying, but the addition of “forever” makes the return of thanks all the more fervent. It is as strong a statement of commitment as one can imagine. Can we make the claim our own?

Verse 13 provides the foundation for the thanksgiving, petitions, and commitment expressed in verse 11-12: “For great is your steadfast love toward me.” “Steadfast love” translates the single Hebrew word khesed. The Hebrew meaning is difficult to convey with any single English expression, and thus we see different English Bibles using a variety of translations in different contexts: steadfast love, lovingkindness, love, kindness, mercy, loyalty, favor, devotion, goodness, and still others. The range of translations gives a sense of the broad meaning of the word. For the psalmist here, it is a confession of and proclamation of his fundamental relationship with God, and especially of the blessing he has received from that relationship.

The second half of verse 13 expresses a very concrete benefit of God’s khesed: “You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.” In the context of the overall psalm, this probably refers to a deliverance from physical death. Sheol is simply the “the grave” (as it is often translated). Many Christians will think here, however, and appropriately so, of the salvation from spiritual death that is the quintessential example of God’s khesed in their lives. It is the life that walking in God’s way and truth provides.

The reference to God’s khesed is picked up in verse 15 and expanded. Beginning with the word “merciful,” verse 15 is a quote of the fundamental self-revelation of God given to Moses at Mt. Sinai: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). This initial self-revelation expressed Israel’s understanding of the basic nature of its relationship to God, and it is quoted and paraphrased frequently throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Numbers 14:18; Joel 2:13; Psalms 103:8, 145:8; Nehemiah 9:17). Here it forms the basis for the psalmist’s appeal for grace, strength, and salvation in verse 16 and for why he need not fear his enemies referred to in verse 14.

When he appeals to God to “turn to me and be gracious to me” (verse 16), it is his knowledge of the gracious character of God mentioned in the Exodus quote of verse 15 that prompts his plea. Of course, the words “turn to me” also express his feeling of the present absence of God’s grace, a feeling caused by the intentions of his enemies mentioned in verse 14. The feelings of divine absence and abandonment expressed in many of the psalms (in the present psalm, mostly in verses 1-7) often cause believers today a certain amount of discomfort, but they should remind us that it is pointless to hide our true feelings in addressing God–and that there is no need to do so.

Verse 17 closes the psalm with a final petition, a request for a sign of God’s favor. As in verse 16, the petition is based on knowledge of God’s character, but here the psalmist expresses it in terms of his own experience: “because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.” In this sense the psalmist’s petition may be a model for our own prayers to God: Our appeals arise out of our common understanding of God’s character and out of our experience of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to us in the past.

Second Reading

Commentary on Romans 8:12-25

Mary Hinkle Shore

In Greek, even more than in English, the word for “flesh” (sarx) points to something different from that to which the word for “body” (soma) points.

This is certainly true as the apostle Paul uses the two words. Paul’s gospel is not about fleeing life in the body in favor of existence on a spiritual plane. When Romans 8 is read in worship, it may help to make this point, lest hearers dismiss Paul as an ancient prude or embrace him as a Gnostic guru.

In Paul’s writings, “flesh” almost always signifies a power, along with sin, that resists the Spirit of God and that must be vanquished if human beings–body and all–are to be free from what Paul calls “the bondage of decay” and obtain “the glorious freedom of God’s children” (Romans 8:21, NET). That glorious freedom is not freedom from the material world, but freedom within a restored creation. It is the freedom of an embodied life that reflects, as it had at the first, the image and glory of God (cf. Genesis 1:27). In Romans 8:12-25, Paul points to that freedom and describes what it is like to hope for such a thing here and now.

A cluster of words from the realm of family helps Paul describe the freedom that believers have in Christ and the relationships in which they now find themselves: sons, Abba, Father, children, adoption, heirs, joint heirs. The vocabulary describes relationships within a family and a household. Such language is not particularly common in Romans. Two times in the opening verses of the letter, Paul reminded his hearers of Jesus’ identity as a child of God. He defined God’s good news as “the gospel concerning his Son, who was… declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4, NRSV). He refers to Jesus once more as Son in Romans 5:10.

Then, in Romans 8 Paul uses the words for “son” and “child” to refer not to Jesus, but to his siblings who are led by the Spirit. As “flesh” had referred to a power that enslaves humans and keeps them from participating in God’s glory, the Spirit is the power that frees and enlivens humans for a new identity as children of God.

To describe what it means to be children of God, Paul employs a series of compound verbs built on the preposition syn-. We are joint heirs with Christ, suffering with him, and being glorified with him. Readers should not fret over the conditional syntax in verse 17. It is a simple condition in which “since” could be used as well as “if” (cf. the translation of the same Greek word at Romans 8:9). The idea is not that anyone (including Christ) earns glory by suffering; rather, as Paul seeks to describe what it means to be a joint heir with Christ, he notes that the joint heir’s life is characterized by the same pattern that shaped Christ’s life. To be connected to Christ is to know humiliation and exaltation. To be a joint heir with Christ is share in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.

In the remaining verses of the reading, Paul talks as forthrightly as possible about the suffering of humanity and creation as together we await the revealing of what we are in Christ, that is, children of God. As syn- compounds had described our connection to Christ, now they describe the mutual suffering of all creation: the whole creation, Paul says, groans together and suffers together, “and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23). James Dunn names the solidarity among Christ, humans, and the rest of creation well when he observes, “Believers are being saved not from creation but with creation…. The sonship they are privileged to share in some sense with Christ, they in turn share in some sense with creation.”

The “eager expectation” Paul refers to in 8:19 is literally the act of craning the neck to get a better look at what is coming down the road. It is the upturned face of the farmer watching the sky before starting up the combine for harvest. It is the leaning forward of a woman on a train platform as she awaits a loved one’s arrival. Paul describes what we are expecting with phrases like “the revealing of the sons [and daughters] of God” (8:19), “the glorious freedom of God’s children” (8:21), “adoption,” and “the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). As we live between hoping for these things and actually seeing them, the tension between the two experiences becomes acute. Dunn again: “The gift of the Spirit reclaims the believer for God and begins or heightens the tension between human belonging to God and human entrancement with the world of human control and success, the warfare between Spirit and flesh” (87).

One of the causes of suffering for those who have received the Spirit of adoption (8:15) is that the Spirit has given us reason to hope for more than we can see. The definition of suffering will be broadened in verses 35-39 to include anything that threatens to separate us from God’s love. For now, the suffering Paul speaks of is suffering that comes from knowing what the world could be, even as we live in the world as it is. To borrow an image from the gospel reading for the day, the field was planted with good seed. It was going to be so beautiful as it grew to maturity, but an enemy sowed weeds among the wheat, and even as the crop matured, the field was a mess; the crop was threatened, and the workers nearly made things worse by trying to take control of the situation. At the owner’s insistence, the field hands endure the wait between weeds appearing and a crop maturing. “Redemption” in the parable of the weeds and wheat comes when the harvest results not only in grain but a batch of kindling besides. “He has both his wheat safe and some free kindling as well,” Dominic Crossan writes. “His enemy is doubly outwitted.”

The details of redemption for humanity and the rest of creation will probably be as surprising to us as the dual harvest of wheat and kindling was to the field hands. And certainly the wait often passes with excruciating slowness. Even so, with a mixture of eagerness and sheer endurance, we hope for what we do not see.