Readings: Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11, 45b; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Today in our Old Testament reading we continue the saga of Jacob, the legendary father of Israel. With his first wife, Leah, whom Laban tricks him into marriage, he has sons – first Ruben, second Simeon, third Levi, and fourth Judah. Sons five Dan and six Naphtali are birthed by Rachel’s maid, Bilhah because Rachel was unable to conceive. Sons seven Gad and eight Asher were birthed by Leah’s maid, Zilpah. Sons nine Issachar and ten Zebulun were birthed by Leah. And finally, Rachel, Jacob’s second wife, birthed the last two of Jacob’s sons, Joseph and Benjamin. We also know that Leah birthed the only known daughter, Dinah.
Later in the story, we will encounter the named twelve sons of Jacob as the twelve tribes of Israel, one for each son.
I find this first reading from our lectionary disturbing. Leah is wed to Jacob by deception, true. However, Leah, Rachel, and their maids, Bilhah and Zilpah are all treated as the property of Laban who then passed them on to Jacob as payment for working for him for fourteen years. It is clear from this passage that a woman’s place in that ancient society was to provide sons. To read this ancient story in the twenty-first century is not helpful for our spiritual enrichment or transformation other than to say, “Look how far we have come”. Yet, it is the required reading for today. No wonder there are calls for a revised lectionary that would exclude readings such as this.
It is especially not helpful on this day, the thirtieth of July because yesterday, the twenty-ninth of July was the feast of St. Mary and St. Martha. On that day in 1974 in a packed church, the Church of the Advocate, in Philadelphia, three retired Episcopal bishops and eleven deacons were gathered for ordination. All three bishops and the eleven women were breaking new ground for our church. Daniel Corrigan, Robert DeWitt, and Edward Welles II ordained to the sacred order of priests Merrill Bittner, Alla Bozarth-Campbell, Alison Cheek, Emily Hewitt, Carter Hayward, Suzanne Hiatt, Marie Moorefield, Jeanette Piccard, Betty Schiess, Katrina Swanson, and Nancy Wittig.
John Hoover, a young priest at the time, served as one of the crucifers of the liturgy and was very proud of the fact.
The yeast of the Holy Spirit had taken years to get to leaven the loaf, to lead the Episcopal Church to that day. Our church since the sixteenth century has been guided by three principles, Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. On the ordination of women, Scripture remained patriarchal and opposed. The tradition remained patriarchal and opposed. Yet the principle of Reason, closely tied to the experience of the People of God, opened the door to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. The People of God experienced the Holy Spirit calling women into ordained leadership and were ready to act. Some churches had arrived at that conclusion sooner than the Episcopal Church, and some churches still have not arrived at that conclusion, yet! The Spirit of God, I would say, still has some work to do.
In our proper collect for today, we prayed that with:
[God] as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal.
Forty-nine years ago yesterday was a great day in our church history, but it did take us a long time to get there. The Holy Spirit spoke through Scripture, Tradition, and especially Reason in a new way. I pray that we may continue to respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in our church.
I agree with St. Paul in what he wrote to the small gathering in Rome–
…all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to [God’s] purpose.