By Barbara Klugh
Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. This week, we’ll learn that kindness and loyalty are more important than ethnicity in the book of Ruth, how the heavenly Christ differs from earthly high priests of the temple, and Jesus warns about the hypocrisy of religious leaders and then praises a poor widow’s sacrificial giving.
Ruth 3:1-5: Because the beautiful readings for All Saints’ Day properly replaced our lectionary readings for last week, we didn’t read the first part of the Book of Ruth. It’s a brief book and I’ll comment on the entire story.
The story takes place in the time of the Judges and “there was a famine in the land.” An Israelite family—Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons leave their home in Bethlehem to escape the famine and move to Moab. Elimelech dies, and his sons marry Moabite women—Ruth and Orpah. Then ten years later the sons die, and Naomi and her daughters-in-law are widows.
After the famine is over, Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem and urges her daughters-in-law to return to Moab and begin new lives. Ruth clings to Naomi, and says these beautiful and memorable words: “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
They arrived in Bethlehem during the harvest and Ruth began to glean behind the reapers to survive. The landowner Boaz noticed Ruth, learned of her loyalty to Naomi, and encouraged her to glean his fields. When Ruth told Naomi about Boaz’s kindness, Naomi remembered that Boaz was a relation of her deceased husband, and could enter into a levirate marriage.
Wanting to provide a home for Ruth, Naomi plays the matchmaker and instructs Ruth about how to present herself as a wife for Boaz. Following the harvest, Boaz fell asleep on his threshing floor. Ruth lay down at his feet. When he awoke, and asked what she was doing, she told him of their family relationship. After meeting with the other family redeemer and the town leaders, Ruth and Boaz married and their son Obed was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David. So King David, Israel’s most celebrated king had foreign ancestry. Some commentators say that this is the point of the story: David had foreign blood, so this tale shows that marrying foreigners is acceptable—that people of all nations have a place in God’s family.
Psalm 127: In this wisdom psalm, we are reminded that for successful lives, God must be our foundation. “Unless the Lord builds the house [or temple, palace, dynasty, family], their labor is in vain who build it.” We can’t be self-sufficient or make ourselves safe. It is God alone who provides, protects, and gives peace.
Hebrews 9:24-28: As he has done throughout the Letter to the Hebrews, the author continues to see Christ as the great high priest. Chapter 9 explores the differences between the Old and New Covenants by contrasting Christ with a high priest in the Temple. In the Old Covenant, there was a succession of high priests who offered sacrifices “year after year” in the earthly Temple. In the New Covenant, Jesus himself ministers in his heavenly sanctuary. Jesus appeared once for all at the end of the [first] age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.
The high priest entered the sanctuary every year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) to offer sacrifices of animal blood for the redemption of the sins of the people. The repetition of the sacrifice shows its ineffectiveness against sin. Jesus entered the heavenly Holy Place with his own blood, which was so powerful and complete, that sin was removed once and forever. Before Jesus’ death, people died and faced judgment. Christ appeared once to deal with sin; at his second coming, he will complete the salvation of “those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
Mark 12:38-44: Prior to this week’s reading, Jesus rode triumphantly in Jerusalem which began the last week of his life. He drove out the money changers in the temple. He engaged in a series of confrontations with the chief priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, and Sadducees.
In this week’s gospel reading, Jesus makes two distinct points. In the first, Jesus denounces the scribes for strutting around in fine robes and seeking honor and prestige. They put on a good show, but “they devour widows’ houses.” Certain scribes were legal trustees of a widow’s estate, but then charged excessive fees, even taking a large part of the estate. They will be judged harshly.
As Jesus is speaking of widows, he made a second point. He sat down opposite the treasury and watched as people placed their offerings into the treasury. Rich people put in large sums, then a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins. Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
The widow revealed that she loved God with everything she had and she trusted God to provide for her. And she revealed that the giving of things without one’s heart in the right place, doesn’t count for much in God’s eyes.
Just the other day, I copied down something I read, but didn’t copy the source: “Believers are not free to do with their wealth as they please; they are to do with their wealth as God pleases.” I want to remember this as I write out my pledge on Commitment Sunday.