Other comments on this day's readings can be found here.
Reading 1 - Gen 21:9,10
"But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne
to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, 'Get rid of that slave woman
and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with
my son Isaac' " (Gen 21:9,10).
Paul comments on this incident, in Gal 4:29, where he
interprets Ishmael's mocking of Isaac as a persecution: "At that time the son
born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It
is the same now."
The insinuation is that Isaac was the son of the illicit union
of Abimelech and Sarah -- conceived while she spent time, unwillingly, in his
household the year before.
In a similar fashion, Christ, who was -- like Isaac -- a
special seed of promise, was mocked or taunted. Evidently some believed (or at
least proclaimed the lie) that Jesus was born of fornication (some rabbis said,
with a Roman soldier) while Mary was betrothed to Joseph:
" 'You are doing the things your own father does.' 'We are not
illegitimate children,' they protested. 'The only Father we have is God
himself'...The Jews answered him, 'Aren't we right in saying that you are a
Samaritan and demon-possessed?' " (Joh 8:41,48; cp Joh 9:29). (The use of the
term "Samaritan" is their thinly-veiled suggestion of illegitimacy, since the
Samaritans were a mixed race, part Jew and part Gentile.)
Reading 2 - Psa 23
"The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me
lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my
soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I
walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are
with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will
dwell in the house of the LORD forever" (Psa 23).
"On the roads of Palestine, and on the hills, you see the good
shepherd. He comes along at the head of his flock, generally carrying over his
shoulders a lamb or an injured sheep.
"A most remarkable thing is the sympathy that exists between
him and his flock. He never drives them as our own shepherds drive their sheep.
He always walks at their head, leading them along the roads and over the hills
to new pasture: and, as he goes, he sometimes talks to them in a loud sing-song
voice, using a weird language unlike anything I have ever heard in my
"Early one morning I saw an extraordinary sight not far from
Bethlehem. Two shepherds had evidently spent the night with their flocks in a
cave. The sheep were all mixed together and the time had come for the shepherds
to go in different directions. One of the shepherds stood some distance from the
sheep and began to call. First one, then another, then four or five animals ran
toward him; and so until he had counted his whole flock.
"More interesting than the sight of this was the knowledge
that Jesus must have seen exactly the same sight and described it in his own
words: 'He calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he
putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for
they know his voice. And a stranger they will not follow...' This parable spake
Jesus unto them. 'I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of
mine' " (HV Morton, "In the Steps of the Master" 154).
"I notice that some of the flock keep near the shepherd, and
follow whithersoever he goes, without the least hesitation, while others stray
about on either side, or loiter far behind; and he often turns round and scolds
them in a sharp, stern cry.
"Not unlike the Good Shepherd. Indeed, I never ride over these
hills, clothed with flocks, without meditating upon this delightful theme. Our
Saviour says that the good shepherd, when he putteth forth his own sheep, goeth
before them, and they follow (John 10:4). This is true to the letter. They are
so tame and so trained that they follow their keeper with the utmost docility...
Any one that wanders is sure to get into trouble.
"Some sheep always keep near the shepherd, and are his special
favorites. Each of them has a name, to which it answers joyfully; and the kind
shepherd is ever distributing to them choice portions which he gathers for that
purpose. These are the contented and happy ones. They are in no danger of
getting lost or into mischief, nor do wild beasts and thieves come near them.
The great body, however, are mere worldlings, intent upon their own pleasures or
selfish interests. They run from bush to bush, searching for variety or
delicacies, and only now and then lift their heads to see where the shepherd
"Did you ever see a shepherd gather the lambs in his arms, and
carry them in his bosom (Isa 40:11)? Often; and he will gently lead along the
mothers, in those times when to overdrive them even for a single day would be
fatal (Gen 33:13)" (WM Thomson, "The Land and the Book" 202-205).
The story is told of a Mutual Improvement Class where it was a
night for reading practice, and the reading was Psalm 23. Two members of the
class were called upon to read the psalm. Each read it faultlessly, but there
was a subtle yet significant difference. The older brother was later asked
privately about this, and why his rendering was clearly superior to that of the
younger brother. The reply was simple yet profound: "He knows the Psalm, but I
know the Shepherd."
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of
"We must always stand consciously in the presence of death:
not morbidly, but soberly and realistically: the death of those we have known
and loved (and inadequately appreciated), the death of Christ, our own
inevitable death if the Lord remain away. Sin and death are the present
inescapable reality, and we cope with reality by facing it maturely and
intelligently. The empty, giddy, unreal mirth of fools that fills the world is
an abomination to our holy God. We are always in His presence. Let us ever
remember to behave in keeping with that fact" (GV Growcott).
The Psalm Analyzed:
FAITH: The LORD is my
ASSURANCE: I shall not be in want.
CONTENTMENT: He makes me lie down in green
PEACE: He leads me beside quiet
LIFE: He restores my soul.
DIVINE GUIDANCE: He guides me in paths of
righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of
COURAGE: I will fear no
COMPANIONSHIP: For you are with
COMFORT: Your rod and your staff, they
PROVIDENCE: You prepare a table
before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil.
HAPPINESS: My cup
BLESSINGS: Surely goodness and love
will follow me all the days of my
IMMORTALITY: And I will dwell in the house
of the LORD forever.
Reading 3 - Mat 13:3
"Then he told them many things in parables" (Mat
"Parabola" literally means "a setting side by side", a
comparison -- in the case of Christ's parables -- between something natural and
something spiritual. Such teaching by picture, symbol, or figure has several
distinct advantages. Being graphic, it is more easily remembered than dry
statements of fact. It is also simple, direct, and emphatic, with the aura of
everyday life about it. And finally, it is calculated to overcome prejudice, to
circumvent that natural wall of resistance, to throw open the locked doors of
the heart. "Thou art the man," was Nathan's bold accusation; the hypocrite was
unmasked and condemned outright by a skillful parable.
Christ was a student of nature, of the people and the sights
of rural Galilee. In the hand of this master craftsman, the natural and
commonplace became spiritual and profound. The temporal and transient was
transformed into the eternal and immovable. As God was manifest in a man, so
that man's divine teachings were clothed in an earthly dress. He spoke of the
simple farm life, the planting and sowing and reaping, the orderly flow of days
and seasons and years being the Father's guarantee of order and security in all
His arrangements. He spoke of the flocks that grazed the hills of his homeland,
and the strong, quiet men who protected them; and his listeners began to
comprehend the surpassing love of that Great Shepherd for even one lost sheep.
And he spoke of the net and the fishers, the fowls of the air, and the lilies of
the field. He spoke of weddings, of marketplace transactions, and of lowly
household tasks. And always the point was made, that faith and hope and religion
itself was the vital substance of one's daily life, not the brittle form of a
Sabbath or a feast day.