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From Twelve to Many to One to All
Preparing for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: Three Days before Sunday (Year A)
Psalter: Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
Old Testament: Genesis 35:22b-29
Epistle: Acts 17:10-15
Psalter: Psalm 85:8-13
Old Testament: 1 Kings 18:1-16
Epistle: Acts 17:10-15
Eternal God, you are present with us throughout our lives, even when others plot to do us harm. May we learn to live together in unity, that in all we do, we may sing your praises now and forever. Amen. (Revised Common Lectionary)
While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine, and Israel heard of it.
Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.
Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba, that is, Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac had resided as aliens. Now the days of Isaac were one hundred eighty years. And Isaac breathed his last; he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days, and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him (Genesis 35:22b-29).
Genesis 35 names the twelve sons of Jacob who are also known as the twelve patriarchs. Every Israelite will be descended from one of Jacob’s sons. In 722 BC, the Assyrians will sack the northern capital of Samaria and take ten of the tribes off into captivity. They will be lost to history. The two remaining tribes, Judah and Benjamin who occupy the southern kingdom will be taken off into Babylonian exile in 586 BC. They will return a generation later to Jerusalem. By Jesus’ day, every Jew will trace her or his lineage back to either Benjamin or Judah.
When Jesus began his ministry, he called twelve disciples. It was a symbolic act meant to convey the message that in his work he was reconstituting the people of Israel around him. As Israel was to be a light to the nations, so Jesus formed his ministry around that mission. In gathering twelve disciples, Jesus is making a missional statement. In Revelation chapter 7 we read,
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen’ (Revelation 7:9-12).
The story of God’s people is one of beginning with a single individual, Abraham and widening his circle to Abraham’s twelve great grandchildren whose descendants were to be a light to the nations. Now Jesus reconstitutes Israel’s mission in his ministry by choosing twelve witnesses to be his inner circle. The Divine plan moves from one individual to twelve tribes in one specific location and then to twelve apostles who will then spread the message to many tribes around the world. These many tribes will ultimately be gathered together into one tribe in which there is “no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female” (Galatians 3:28).
That one tribe today is known as the church where the diversity of people is not dismissed, but embraced with the unity of one mission.
The church is made up of many tribes, but it is not tribal. St. Paul says there is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (Ephesians 4:5-7).
PRAYER: Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)
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