Today's Lectionary Text
Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said to them, “Go up there into the Negeb, and go up into the hill country, and see what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether the land they live in is good or bad, and whether the towns that they live in are unwalled or fortified, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be bold, and bring some of the fruit of the land.” Now it was the season of the first ripe grapes.
So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob, near Lebo-hamath. They went up into the Negeb, and came to Hebron; and Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the Anakites, were there. (Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) And they came to the Wadi Eshcol, and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them. They also brought some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Wadi Eshcol, because of the cluster that the Israelites cut down from there.
At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.
He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
I cringed when I read today’s reading from the Book of Numbers. Here we have Moses asking his spies to go over to Canaan and case the joint. As much as we want to see Moses as our hero, this text has him instructing his men to check out how many people are going to have to be killed or removed and what spoils will be theirs when the deed is done. As one who lives on a land once colonized by Christians using the conquest of Canaan to justify the catastrophic doctrine of manifest destiny, I cannot read this and cheer for Moses. I take no joy in the spies returning with fruit that will be bought with the blood of the inhabitants of the land.
Some days these scriptures are pretty hard to read, but I’d rather wrestle with scripture than use the biblical text to justify evil. As my Hebrew bible professor used to say, “Reading scripture is an ethical activity.” It sure is.
Just as I was about to give up on this book once and for all, I encountered today’s last lectionary reading. What a strange little reading, but one that changes everything about how we are being called to obey God today. Rather than standing on a hill looking at someone else’s resources and planning how to take them for our own, here we are called to radical transformation in our own backyards. The kingdom is not like an invading army taking over – the kingdom is like a mustard seed. It is in small and radical acts of fecundity that God’s kingdom will arrive not just for “us” but for all people.
It seems there are two ways to change the world: by force and by mustard seed.
Has anybody got a shovel?
-Rev. Chris Jorgensen
Omaha Hanscom Park UMC
Prayer for Reflection
Loving God, help me today to be one who changes the world by mustard seed: by miraculously small acts of presence, compassion, and generosity. May it be so. Amen.
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