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Pentecost 23 Proper 26B October 31, 2021

Ruth 1:1-18
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:11-14
Mark 12:28-34

Our first reading today is from the book of Ruth. In the time of the judges, a famine comes to the land. Elimelech, who is from Bethlehem in Judah, his wife Naomi, and their sons Mahlon and Chilion leave Judah and go to the land of Moab to find food. 

They remain in Moab for a time and then Elimelech dies. Naomi’s sons marry two Moab women. One  is named Ruth and the other is named Orpah. After about ten years, Naomi’s sons, Mahlon and Chilion, die. Naomi has lost her husband and both of her sons. Orpah and Ruth have lost their husbands.

This leaves Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah in a terrible situation, Without a male relative, they have no identity in that society. They are not someone’s wife or mother or daughter. And they have no one to protect them and no way to earn a living. 

Ruth has heard that there is now food in Judah. The famine is over. She decides to head home. Ruth and Orpah go with her.

Naomi sees how vulnerable Ruth and Orpah are, and she encourages them to go home to their families so that they can have a roof over their heads and a male relative to protect them. Although she has lost her husband and both her sons, she has a love and a depth of spirit that enable her to go beyond her own grief and try to do what is best for her daughters-in-law. The three women, all in the most vulnerable of circumstances, argue and weep together as they try to discern the best course of action for each of them.

Finally, Orpah decides to go back to her family.

Naomi has no future in Moab. She has no family there. She feels she must return to Judah. She tries to say goodbye to Ruth and send her home to her family. But Ruth is adamant. “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.”

The power of Ruth’s love and loyalty has inspired countless people over the ages. Scholars tell us that Moab and Judah weren’t exactly enemies, but relations could be a bit testy at times. Because she loves her mother-in-law, Ruth is going into a land that is foreign to her, a land where she will know no one except Naomi.

In these times when famine and violence and oppression and weather events are causing so many people to become refugees, this story speaks so deeply of the power of God’s love for us and our love for each other.

In our gospel for today, the Sadducees are arguing and asking Jesus questions. A scribe, a religious official, comes along and asks Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” And Jesus answers word for word that the first commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And he adds, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Our Lord is giving the standard answer. He is not arguing any points or elaborating in any way.

And the scribe does a very strange thing. He says, “You are right, Teacher.” He does not attack. He does not quibble or taunt or try to trap Jesus. Scholars tell us that the scribe was a a minor official but he was still part of the  official religious structure. He could still have given Jesus a hard time. Here we have a religious official who has an open heart and an open mind. He and Jesus are on the same page. This is a rare moment in the gospels. 

The scribe says something further. He says that to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves…”This is much more important than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  

And Jesus says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

The book of Hebrews says that the sacrifice of our Lord has transcended all of the temple sacrifices. This scribe is saying the same thing. The life and ministry of Jesus have changed everything. God’s love changes everything.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “The common thread in these readings is the insight that the greatest gift we can give is the gift of ourselves. In the first reading, Ruth gives herself to her mother-in-law, In the psalm, God gives fully. In the second reading, our Lord gives himself fully and freely. In the gospel passage, Jesus is overjoyed to meet someone who realizes that self-giving is greater than any exterior sacrifice.” (O’Driscoll, The Word among us, p. 136.

Our loving God calls us to give of ourselves, and all of you do that every day. You care about people; you listen to people; you help others; you work at the food shelf, or at the Historical Society. You deliver Meals on Wheels. You rescue animals. You are always doing something to spread God’s love and to make the world a better place. Thank you for giving the gift of yourselves. This is what walking the Way of Love is all about. May our loving God continue to give us the grace to offer ourselves in service to others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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