Proper 5 (10), Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
11 June 2023
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
One the gifts of childhood and youth is play. Play is the way children learn. Adults can learn that way too, but quickly get wrapped up in responsibilities and the weight of the world that they forget that play is not the prerogative of children.
And speaking of play, I am glad that our child care is called child care, and not academy. Because to assume that three-year-olds can only learn by having knowledge funneled into them is a misunderstanding of both childhood and of learning.
To think that we can funnel knowledge into children is a way we seek to control a child’s development. That is not to say that there are not other ways one can control a child’s development, or that seeking to guide a child’s development is morally wrong. But, of course, you can’t plan your child’s career when they’re in kindergarten, you can’t even plan it when they’re in high school because they are their own person and, like everyone, they need room to discover who they are. This discovery takes place in community, not isolated from it, but while the community plays an important role in this process it does not get to call the shots.
Maybe that was different in earlier times, when children were born into certain structures and economic barriers were greater (not that they do not exist today), so you had no choice but to make your living the way your parents did. But that did not mean that you were the same person as they were.
I grew up in a time of growing prosperity, with awareness of human induced climate change but without seeing the fires, floods, and loss of arable land we see today. The only cloud in our geopolitical sky was the cold war, which was significant (and really close!) but at least in hindsight seemed relatively stable. I shared with a few people this week that when I applied to get into seminary, the schools at which I applied were only able to accept a third of the applicants. How the world has changed! On the other hand, every other field has become more competitive with greater entry requirements. One can understand the anxiety of parents who want to send their three-year-olds to an academy in order to secure their future.
When God called Abraham and Sarah they had no secure future. Insecurity is one of the ways in which we experience the world.
In God’s call Abraham and Sarah discover their identity. When they say yes to God and leave their country and their kindred, moving toward the land that God would show them, they discover that their life is in God and by living into this discovery they become not only the ancestors of Israel, or of many nations. (Gen 17:4) As far as Paul is concerned, they become the ancestors of all God’s people. They are the prototype of the believer. “Paul reads Abraham’s story as the story of a sinner, a gentile, a Jew, and a Christian – a justified, forgiven believer brought from death to life.”1 Abraham and Sarah are not only our ancestors but also the model for the life of faith.
Two features of the story of Abraham and Sarah are that God calls them but they do not know where to, and that the promised and desperately longed for progeny comes to them only in God’s time. Their lives are fulfilled in God, even though their lives could not be more uncertain. They give up their home, their land, and their kindred, and for some time the only thing they gain is God’s promise.
If our children came to us and told us that they had given up whatever career plans they had for nothing but God’s promise we would tell them they were reckless and imprudent.
We do not have to create moments and times of uncertainty. They come to us all on their own, they are part of life.
Of course, we do our best and spin our wheels as hard as we can to create certainty and security, but these efforts only give us the illusion that we are in charge of life when a great deal of life is not in our hands.
Perhaps it is no surprise that we encounter Abraham and Sarah in advanced years, perhaps having tried everything, though they do try a few things more when the promised offspring takes too long to arrive.
Perhaps Abraham and Sarah are receptive to God’s call precisely because they have tried everything and having no children, they see no future.
I wonder if in a technological society like ours, in which we think that pretty much anything can be done, if we have a more difficult time perceiving the gift of a divine vocation, for who needs God when there is in-vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood, when everything we used to pray for can be achieved technologically? This is not an ethical assessment of what society offers when people face infertility, only an illustration how we have come to see technology as our saviour. Of course, technology not only solves problems but also creates them.
The truth, of course, is that couples facing infertility are very much like Abraham and Sarah, and despite all modern technology have a sense of their own vulnerability. The truth is that despite all best efforts we remain mortal and even our inter-personal relationships can be difficult and at times prove beyond what we are able to control.
Abraham and Sarah are called by God. They experience their vocation. We learn that they become the ancestors of many nations. That is the result of God’s faithfulness. But as important is that they have faith not simply in themselves but in God, the God who raised them from the dead, raised Israel from Egypt, and raised Jesus from the dead.
And when Paul reminds the Romans of Abraham and Sarah, he creates a level playing field. This level playing field consists not of trust in ourselves but of trust in God.
And that is why we can go and live. It is much easier and better to live in trust than to live in fear.
Thanks be to God.
1 Michael J. Gorman, Romans – A Theological & Pastoral Commentary, 2022 Eerdman’s: Grand Rapids, MI, p. 131