The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 26, 4 November 2018

Ruth 1:1-18
Psalm 146


Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Psalm 119:1-8

Hebrews 9:11-14
St. Mark 12:28-34

Background: Moab

The land of Moab lies to the immediate east of the Dead Sea, north of the Kingdom of Edom, and south of the Kingdom of Ammon. There are several references in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as archaeological evidence, especially the Mesha Stele which commemorates a victory of Moab over Israel. The name seems to come either from the phrase “seed of a father” or from the word “desire” an appellation akin to “the land of milk and honey” as a designation for the lands north of the Negev in the Levant. There are connections in the Hebrew Scriptures to the story of Lot and his daughters, which daughters seduce lot and have sons by him, ancestors of the Moabites and the Ammonites. Situated where it is along the King’s Highway, Moab enjoyed the benefits of the trade route, and provided limestone, salt, and balsam from the Dead Sea. It vacillated from the Egyptian sphere of influence, as evidenced by a statue at Luxor which recalls a campaign by Ramesses II in which Mu’ab was conquered, to the incursion of Syrian and Mesopotamian rulers. The religion of the land was centered on Chemosh, which followed the patterns of regional Semitic religions. The language was a variation of Canaanite language and was written using a form of the Phoenician alphabet. During the Persian Period, the Kingdom of Moab disappears from the historical record, the land being overtaken by tribes from northern Arabia.

Track One:

First Reading: Ruth 1:1-18

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back each of you to your mother's house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband." Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, "No, we will return with you to your people." But Naomi said, "Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me." Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

So she said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said,

“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
Where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”

When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

Where and when does this classic Israelite story come from. It is set in the time of the Judges, but the vocabulary and phraseology used in telling the tale comes from a later period of time, perhaps sometime in the first millennium BCE. The other evidence for a later provenance is the marriage of Boaz and Ruth. This is pleasantly surrounded by a countryside setting, harmonious village life, the gleaning of fields, and the practice of levirate marriage (see Genesis 38). Some see this tale as a polemic against the strict rules of Ezra and Nehemiah against intermarriage. That the marriage should be a Moabitess paints the message with a sense of the extreme. Moab was the proverbial enemy of Judah. She becomes the one who follows the law, in pursuing her rights to a levirate marriage, and it is Boaz who needs to be convinced. 

The names of the characters of the story add a certain poignancy to it. Elimelech means “my God is king,” Naomi means “sweet”, Mahlon means “sickness” and Chilion means “destruction.” In addition the place name of Bethlehem means “house of bread” which is emphasized in the story by the threshing floor scenes. The name Orpah means “nape”, or the back of the head, for it is she that turns her back and returns to Moab. Ruth may have two different meanings, either “friendship” or “fertile.” There are other symbolic and telling usages in the story as well. It revolves around three verbs: “to return”, “to go”, and finally “to cling”. Finally there are two nouns, hesed andlehem, mercy and bread.

Ruth is the pre-eminent example of faithfulness and really the righteousness called for in the Law. She is loyal and stays faithful to her mother-in-law. In the Lutheran marriage rite, Ruth’s canticle is sung as an example to the couple. 

Breaking open Ruth:
  1. Who are the strangers in your life?
  2. What do you find threatening about “strangers”?
  3. How do you overcome your fear?

Psalm 146 Lauda, anima mea

Praise the Lord, O my soul! *
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
     Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, *
for there is no help in them.
     When they breathe their last, they return to earth, *
and in that day their thoughts perish.
     Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! *
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
     Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
who keeps his promise for ever;
     Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.
     The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; *
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
     The Lord loves the righteous;
the Lord cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
     The Lord shall reign for ever, *
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

This psalm delights in the good things that God provides. God’s benevolence and faithfulness is contrasted in the beginning with mortal rulers who provide insufficient and temporary help – for they soon die, and “their thoughts perish.” Beginning with the acts of creation, the psalmist rehearses what it is that God gives: justice, food, freedom, sight, exaltation, love, care, and sustenance. This psalm is a good accompaniment to the story of Ruth, as seen in the phrases: “the Lord cares for the stranger; he sustains the orphan and widow.”

Breaking open Psalm 146:
  1. What does society provide you with?
  2. What does it not provide those around you?
  3. How might you fill in?


Track Two:

First Reading: Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Moses said: Now this is the commandment--the statutes and the ordinances--that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you and your children and your children's children, may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

When the book of Deuteronomy was formed, its purpose was that of a sermon, a piece of literature meant to persuade a people in the period between David/Solomon and the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon about the necessity of being faithful to the covenant that is shaped in these texts ostensibly from Moses, “These are the words that Moses spoke to all the Israelites across the Jordan.” It is a virtual return to Sinai, and to the great assembly there. In that guise, Moses addresses Israel about to enter the land. The audience addressed by the editors that produced Deuteronomy are addressing an Israel in a totally different situation. The earlier Israelites were about to possess the new land flowing with milk and honey. The latter Israelites were about to lose it. The link in Deuteronomy is faithfulness to good, and the prosperity that the land would bring.

At the core of this reading is the Great Shema, Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Robert Alter would challenge that translation, however, arguing that the intention is really “Lord (is) one.” The creedal statement is followed with catechetical material, meant to form the people in their beliefs and daily practice. Thus the words that follow are intended for heart and mind, doorpost and body. 

Breaking open Deuteronomy:
  1. How do you honor God?
  2. How does your congregation honor God?
  3. How does your nation honor God?

Psalm 119:1-8 Beati immaculate

     Happy are they whose way is blameless, *
who walk in the law of the Lord!
     Happy are they who observe his decrees *
and seek him with all their hearts!
     Who never do any wrong, *
but always walk in his ways.
     You laid down your commandments, *
that we should fully keep them.
     Oh, that my ways were made so direct *
that I might keep your statutes!
     Then I should not be put to shame, *
when I regard all your commandments.
     I will thank you with an unfeigned heart, *
when I have learned your righteous judgments.
     I will keep your statutes; *
do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119 is a long acrostic psalm, and our reading is the aleph section of the psalm. It is the longest psalm in the Bible, with 176 verses. Like the first reading in Track One, the psalm is didactic, meant to teach the hearer, and to lead him or her to a memorized recognition of God’s Law. Out mental eye is focused on the Torah, the book of God’s law, or the instruction of God’s law. That this psalm is focused on Torah places it within the same theological field and purpose as the Book of Deuteronomy. We hear that in these words, that pepper the psalm with purpose: torah, precept, decrees, utterances, word, statutes, and law. Because of the didactic nature of the psalm it also has the style and flavor of a Wisdom psalm.

Breaking open Psalm 119:
  1. How is your life like a good walk?
  2. What have you learned along the way?
  3. What is your destination?

Second Reading: Hebrews 9:11-14

When Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!

This pericope and the fourteen verses that follow speak about Christ’s worship in heaven. Again the author uses the worship and liturgy of the ancient tabernacle/temple as a comparison for the offering of Christ, the great high priest. There is, however, according to the author, a difference. He speaks of the “perfect tent (not made with hands, that is not of this creation.) The offering is not of creation, the blood of goats, etc., but is made up of the blood of Christ, himself. So Christ is both priest and victim. This unified offering sanctifies our own purification of conscience moving us to worship God, beyond just offering works.

If we go back to the verse that precedes this verse, “They are regulations of the flesh laid down until a time of correction, dealing only with foods and drinks and various washings,” we can understand why the begins this pericope with “But”, which our translation renders as “When Christ came…” Using the “But” sets us up for the contrast that will be made in the following verses, “But Christ came as a high priest..”We then enter a platonic argument which contrasts the earthly demands of the temple and the heavenly realities of Christ’s offering. It is also seen in the other and the inner – the blood of goats vs. the blood of Christ. For us to understand this more completely we might want to think on Leviticus 17:11, and 17:14, where we understand that “the life of the flesh is in the blood.” Seen in the offering at the altar of sacrifice is the offering of Jesus, his life being given up on the cross. Jesus is seen as the more perfect offering.

Breaking open Hebrews:
  1. What is the ideal offering?
  2. What is the ideal altar?
  3. Who is the ideal priest?

The Gospel: St. Mark 12:28-34

One of the scribes came near and heard the Saducees disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

In chapter eleven we have the Entry into Jerusalem. We approach the end of Jesus’ journey as Mark sees it. What follows are events that moderate and describe Jesus’ final act there. He curses the fig tree and cleanses the temple. His authority is questioned by the Jewish authorities, and Jesus gives the Parable of the Tenants, in which his own fate is quite obviously described. Taxes are payed and Jesus differentiates Caesar and God. Finally there are questions about the Resurrection, in which Jesus disturbs the frame of their question and describes God as the God of the living.

Now we enter our pericope whose center is the Great Shema. We are going into new territory that is centered in the old. Jesus continues to demonstrate his connection to the God of Israel, but the scribes have difficulty in seeing that. Thus he questions Jesus about the Law – which is the greatest commandment. Jesus answers with the Great Shema, and the commandments about God and neighbor. The structure of the conversation is a chiasmus, which underscores the unity of the belief. The Scribe asks, Jesus responds, the scribe repeats, and Jesus commends him for his answer. We are back standing with Moses in Deuteronomy (first reading) where we learn what it is that God demands of us. Thus Deuteronomy and Mark mark out the territory in which Jesus teaches, and the tenets of his theology. 

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. How would you describe the law of God?
  2. What is the most important part for you?
  3. Where do you fit in God’s law?

Central Point              The Great Shema

How do we:                Love the Lord our God with:



How do we:                Love neighbor?

                                      Love Self?

Finally:                        How does this bring us into the kingdom?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller


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