The Readings: Leviticus 26:27-42; Ephesians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:41-46
(From today until Pentecost—except Ascension and Sunday—the Lectionary offers a largely course reading of Ephesians. Ephesus, on the west coast of modern Turkey, was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and among the largest cities in the Empire.)
In Lev. 26:34-35 the importance of the plural “sabbaths” (v.2) becomes clear, specifically the 7th year sabbath. That sabbath is not simply about human concerns, but also (equally?) about the land’s needs and integrity. Recalling the early chapters of Genesis (again!) Ellen Davis argues persuasively that the end of Gen. 2:15 (“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” NRSV) might better translated with something like “to serve and to watch it,” explaining:
“We must serve (ˁavad) the land, not worshipping it but showing it reverence as God’s own creation, respecting it as one whose needs take priority over our immediate desires. We must watch it and watch over it (shamar) as one who has something to teach us and yet at the same time needs our vigilant care” (Getting Involved with God).
The 7th year sabbath is a part of how Israel is to relate to her land, and it turns out to be like the canary in the coal mine. So (vv.34-35) the land also must receive its due. And today? At the national/international level, Creation Care is a useful starting-point. At the local level, the “Grounds” tab in the St. Dunstan’s (Madison, Wisconsin) website is an example of developing responses.
The final verses, vv.40-48, address what Israel should do after everything goes south. It is one of a cluster of Old Testament responses to the question, differing in the weight given to divine and human initiatives, differing in what the human initiatives should look like. As such, an opportunity to wonder about how we understand divine and human initiatives to interact. The cluster itself: the stage on which John the Baptist and Jesus chart their path, typically in contrast with the other paths on offer (the Pharisees, the Zealots, etc.). How can Israel’s exile be brought to a clear end?