Signpost for Sunday 6th July 2014: Gen 24:34-38,42-49, 58-67; Ps 45:10-17 or Song of Sol 2:8-13; Rom 7:15-25a; Matt 11:16-19,25-30
If you were to just read the Old Testament texts this week you’d be reading love stories, and they’re stories about the love between two people as much as the love of God. I was enjoying reading them that way when I noticed a couple of things that aren’t quite so straightforwardly storybook.
The first is that maybe Isaac and Rebekah aren’t quite the young lovers I usually see in my mind’s eye. Because when you read on a bit you find Genesis 25:20 and that tells us that Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah. A bit of an old bachelor then – which would have been pretty unusual in those days to say the least. It also makes Gen 24:37 seem less clear-cut. There’s Abraham making sure his son doesn’t get hitched to one of the local girls, who surely he must have been eyeing up for at least 20 years. Just makes me wonder about Isaac really.
But there’s something even more unusual in the story. Rebekah’s mother and brother try to delay her departure (Gen 22:55) while Abraham’s servant is insisting that they leave sooner. Then, guess what. They call in Rebekah and ask her what she wants to do (57-58). Pardon? Surely that’s unheard of in the fiercely patriarchal society of the time, let alone the male dominated context of biblical scripture. Bethuel and Milcah were very enlightened parents. Shame Rebekah and Isaac didn’t quite live happily ever after.
Speaking of happy endings, like many people I’m particularly fond of the last two verses of this week’s reading from Matthew (11:29-30). These comforting words appear nowhere else. So I was intrigued to find the very helpful John Petty saying this:
“Most of our translations over-spiritualize this passage, in my humble opinion. Jesus is specifically addressing those who are over-worked and carrying a heavy load. In first century Israel, that group consisted of poor people in a condition of political and religious oppression.”
But then he goes onto say that the yoke Jesus asks people to take up isn’t a literal device for carrying something. Apparently “Yoke” was a common metaphor for Torah and the Mosaic Law. So Jesus is offering those who follow him a new version of law.
This new way of doing things is literally doing things Jesus’s way – and Matthew’s audiences would indeed be followers of The Way. Jesus’s way involves meals eaten at an open table and extending fellowship to all. That’s the point of Matthew 11:19 perhaps.
Then my Bible, like many, translates Matthew 11:30 as “My yoke is easy.” I don’t read Greek but John Petty does and he says, “‘Easy’ is too superficial, given the richness and importance of the word in this context. The Greek word is xrestos—‘goodness, benevolence, pleasant, worthy, loving, kind,’ or, even better, ‘active benevolence in spite of ingratitude.’”
My own little epiphany this week was to wonder about the very last phrase, “and my burden is light.” As I say, I don’t read ancient Greek (or modern for that matter) but I wonder if those words could have another meaning other than how heavy the burden is. It struck me that Jesus is literally carrying the light, and it’s the light that helps us see things for what they really are.