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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost - November 11, 2012



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures

Saint Dominic
contemplating the Scriptures

Comments have been prepared by Chris Haslam using reputable commentaries, and checked for accuracy by the Venerable Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. While not intended to be exhaustive, they are an aid to reading the Scriptures with greater understanding.

Comments are best read with the lessons.

Feedback to is always welcome.


Lessons for this week from the Vanderbilt University web site

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Ruth

This is a short story set in the period before 1000 BC, when warlords ruled Israel: they raised a militia in time of need, and stayed on to settle disputes in the community. It is a book about love and fidelity, of how Ruth, a Moabite widow in a Jewish family brings her widowed mother-in-law back to enjoying life. Near the end of the book, Ruth bears a son who becomes David's grandfather. This carries a message: marrying foreigners is acceptable. When it was written is uncertain, but this message gives us a clue: at various times, pagans were blamed for Israel's sorry state of morals. Pagans came to Israel through intermarriage, so marrying non-Israelites was, at least, opposed. This occurred twice: during the time of Josiah and Jeremiah (about 600 BC) and of Nehemiah (about 450 BC).


Ruth 3:1-5;4:13-17

Elimelech has taken his wife, Naomi, and their two sons to live in Moab during a famine (1:1). The sons have married local girls, Ruth being one of them (1:4). Elimelech and both sons have died, leaving Naomi and her daughters-in-law destitute, for an ancient patriarchal society did little for widows. The famine being over, Naomi has decided to return to Judah and has freed Ruth of any obligations to the family, but Ruth has elected to accompany Naomi – and to make the LORD her god (1:16). In Judah, it is harvest time. The reapers are required to leave some grain for the poor (including widows) to glean; Ruth chooses to glean in Boaz’s field (2:3). (Boaz is Naomi’s kinsman, 2:20, so he has some obligation to look after her and Ruth.) Boaz notices Ruth and favours her; he has learnt of her fidelity to Naomi. Naomi sees Boaz’ kindness as a gift from God.

Now Naomi instructs Ruth on how to make Boaz her husband. Grain was separated from chaff, winnowed, on the “threshing floor” (3:2); the wind carried the chaff away. The farmer and the workers slept there to guard against theft. Ruth is to wash, put on her “best clothes” (3:3) and perfume (“anoint”), and when Boaz goes to sleep, “uncover his feet” (3:4, probably: make herself sexually available to him). This she does (3:6-7). He awakes at midnight, and finds her beside him. He again treats her with kindness, and assures her that he will “do for you all that you ask” (3:11), if need be. He does not take advantage of her. She leaves before daybreak so Boaz’s men will not know she has been there.

In the morning, Boaz goes to the meeting place (“gate”, 4:1) where he meets a closer kinsman, who has an obligation to buy the land Elimelech has left to Naomi (to keep it in the family). Before witnesses, the man initially agrees to buy it, but when Boaz tells him that protecting Ruth is part of the deal, he backs out. (The land will pass to Ruth’s sons, thus he would pay for land he would later lose, 4:5.) The way is now clear for Boaz to marry Ruth (4:13), which he does. God gives her a son. The women of the town tell Naomi that God has blessed her: she now has a grandson (4:14-15). Elimelech’s line continues, and Obed becomes grandfather of David (4:17), and here is the point of the story: David had foreign blood, so marrying foreigners is acceptable. (In Matthew 1:5 and Luke 3:31-32, Obed is listed as an ancestor of Jesus.) People of all nations have a place in God’s family.


Psalms

Psalms is a collection of collections. The psalms were written over many centuries, stretching from the days of Solomon's temple (about 950 BC) to after the Exile (about 350 BC.) Psalms are of five types: hymns of praise, laments, thanksgiving psalms, royal psalms, and wisdom psalms. Within the book, there are five "books"; there is a doxology ("Blessed be ... Amen and Amen") at the end of each book.


Psalm 127

This psalm is made up of two wise sayings (vv. 1-2 and 3-5). The first says that human activity is futile without God’s active involvement. (“House”, v. 1, means Temple, royal palace, dynasty, as well as house.) V. 1b is an example: a guard on the city wall watches “in vain” unless God protects the city. Genesis 3:17-19 tells us that humankind was committed to a life of toil for “bread” (v. 2) for disobeying God; this verse contrasts this with God’s gifts to those he loves. All kinds of houses have “sons” (v. 3); they are a gift from God; they protect and support their father in time of need: for example (v. 5b), when others try to make him back down in court (“the gate”). (”Arrows”, v. 4, are a symbol of protection.)


Hebrews

Apart from the concluding verses (which may have been added later), this book is a treatise (or sermon) rather than a letter. Its name comes from its approach to Christianity: it is couched is Judaic terms. The identity of the author is unknown; Origen, c. 200 said that "only God knows" who wrote Hebrews. The book presents an elaborate analysis, arguing for the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Christ as revealer and mediator of God's grace. Basing his argument on the Old Testament, the author argues for the superiority of Christ to the prophets, angels and Moses. Christ offers a superior priesthood, and his sacrifice is much more significant than that of Levite priests. Jesus is the "heavenly" High Priest, making the true sacrifice for the sins of the people, but he is also of the same flesh and blood as those he makes holy.


Hebrews 9:24-28

The author continues to see Christ as the great high priest, and to contrast him with a high priest in the Temple. Heaven is the perfect, ideal “sanctuary” (9:24), while the Holy of Holies is a “mere copy” of the divine one. Christ did not enter the Holy of Holies but rather “heaven itself” to “make intercession” (7:25) for us “in the presence of God” (9:24). Unlike the Temple high priest who entered the sanctuary annually to offer animal blood for the redemption of certain sins of the people, Christ sacrificed himself “once for all” (9:26), for all people, permanently abolishing sin – when release from sin previously only lasted a year. He came “at the end of the age” of the first covenant, of the pre-Christian era. God has appointed that humans “die once” (9:27) and later be judged (at the end of the current era); likewise Christ sacrificed himself once and will later return. But his second coming will be to complete and finalize the salvation of his followers. By taking our sin on himself, he has already taken it away.


Symbol of St Mark

Mark

As witnesses to the events of Jesus life and death became old and died, the need arose for a written synopsis. Tradition has it that Mark, while in Rome, wrote down what Peter remembered. This book stresses the crucifixion and resurrection as keys to understanding who Jesus was. When other synoptic gospels were written, i.e. Matthew and Luke, they used the Gospel according to Mark as a source. Mark is most probably the John Mark mentioned in Acts 12:12: his mother's house was a meeting place for believers.


Mark 12:38-44

A scribe has asked Jesus: which is the greatest precept in the law? His agreement that to love God and to love one’s neighbour are the most important has led Jesus to tell him that he is almost ready for the kingdom of God.

Now, as Jesus teaches in the synagogue, he warns of certain scribes (professional interpreters of the Law) who “walk around” ostentatiously, seek honour in public places (“marketplaces”) and seek prestige “in ... synagogues” (v. 39) and “at banquets”. (“Long robes”, v. 38, may be prayer shawls, normally worn only when praying. The “best seats”, v. 39, in the synagogue were near the Ark – where the scrolls were kept – and faced the congregation; the “places of honour” were couches at the host’s table.)

Certain scribes, as legal trustees of a widow’s estate, charged exorbitantly for their services. The fee was usually a part of the estate, but some took the “widows’ houses” (v. 40). Some kept up an appearance of piety. They will be judged harshly in the greatest court of all on Judgement Day. Jesus’ disciples are not to be like them.

On the other hand, a “poor widow” (v. 42) is an example of good discipleship. Jesus is “opposite the treasury” (v. 41), possibly in the outer court of the Temple, where people placed their offerings in chests. The “poor widow” – widows were often poor – makes a real sacrifice in giving two leptas, the lowest value coin in circulation; she “has put in more than all those” (v. 43) rich people who only give what they do not need.

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