Old Testament – Genesis 32 and 33
Today in the OT reading we see Jacob given a new name just as his grandfather Abraham was. Names are important in Hebrew culture of they say something about the person. Name changes are even more important because they say something about the purpose of that person’s life. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel which means “to contend with God”. It is through Jacob that God will now establish the country of Israel. Jacob’s sons will become the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. It is through Israel that the Jewish people and ultimately all of us will “contend” with God.
This some is one of the greatest and most important Psalms. Jesus will call out the first line of this Psalm from the cross.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
The Jewish people often prayed and sang the Psalms. They were differentiated by their first line. Thus by quoting the first line, Jesus would have invoked the entirety of the psalm in His listeners minds. It’s the equivalent of my saying to you, “A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away…” or “Here’s the story of a man named Brady…” The Psalm contains some obvious messianic references:
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
7 All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
16 For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet —
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.
Notice, that although the psalm is about a man who is persecuted ultimately he is vindicated and raised up by God so that every generation praises him.
New Testament – Matthew 13
Jesus himself describes what the parable of the sower means, so it is not necessary to recount that here. However, what is interesting is Jesus’ explanation of why he speaks in parables.
11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
Notice, here Jesus is speaking to his Apostles. They are already in communion with Jesus, in relationship to Him. To them will be given even more. We see that the parable is then explained to them and their understanding, and therefore their relationship with Jesus is increased. But the crowds who the parables are taught to, they hear Jesus, they are also in relationship with him. They must get something out of the parable. They must give the parable their own interpretation. Hearing it, they must THINK they understand but Jesus says that this understanding is wrong and consequently they leave with less than that which they started.
This dynamic can be applied to our own lives today. Understanding comes not merely from our own study. Our personal understanding will be limited. It will be stunted by our own prejudices and bias. We will take from the parables and by extension the Bible what we want to hear. True understanding comes through the Apostles who have been graced with a deeper understanding. If one wants to go deeper into relationship with the Lord one must go to the successors of the Apostles whose mission, given them by Jesus, is to teach the Gospel to every generation. It is the Apostles, and by extension the Church that it has been given, “to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven”.