Friday: Ruth 4:1-17; Psalm 51; 1 Timothy 5:17-22(23-25); Luke 14:1-11
The next day, Boaz goes to the city gate and waits until the next of kin arrives. He calls him aside as well as ten elders of the city, a minion, to serve as witnesses, and then Boaz tells the nameless next of kin that Naomi is about to sell a parcel of land that belonged to her deceased husband Elimelech, and as the nearest next of kin, he has the right to purchase it as an act of redemption that will keep the land within their tribe. If he is willing to do so, then let him redeem it. If not, then Boaz will purchase the field. The next of kin indicates that he is prepared to do so. Only then does Boaz tell him that Ruth, the Moabite woman, comes with the deal, and that in redeeming the land he will also redeem her and be expected to give her children who legally will belong to Ruth’s former husband Mahlon. At this, the next of kin replies that he cannot do this without damaging his own inheritance, and thus he renounces his right to redemption, telling Boaz to buy the field and giving Boaz his sandal in the presence of the minion as public witness to all of this. Boaz then responds in the presence of the elders that he will purchase the field that belonged to Naomi’s husband, and will also take Ruth as his wife. The elders at the gate bless Boaz for his action and invoke God’s blessing of fertility upon Ruth. Boaz takes Ruth as his wife, and soon Ruth is pregnant with Boaz’s child. When the son is born to Ruth, he is, by law, officially Mahlon’s child. The women of the city bless God for remembering Naomi and for giving her an heir. Naomi takes the child to serve as his nurse, and the woman of the village name him Obed, who will become the father of Jessie, the father of King David. As much parable as fact, the Book of Ruth celebrates God’s faithfulness to the poor, how God works through people who continue faithful to God and Torah, the importance of loyalty and fidelity in the family unit, the dynamics of levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) and the importance of maintaining property within the tribe. If this is written before the exile it establishes David’s ancestry and commends the importance of making provision for the poor within the community. If this is written after the exile it makes the point that a non-Israelite was the grandmother of Israel’s greatest king, herself a “foreign wife” that Ezra and Nehemiah railed against. Such a foreigner could become the Lord’s faithful servant (“Your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God.” Ruth 1:16b) and even play an important role in what God is doing, as opposed to Ezra and Nehemiah’s insistence that foreign wives must be divorced and put away (see Ezra 9 & 10; Nehemiah 10:30).
This psalm is a confession of sin without peer, and as appropriate today as when it was first uttered. Tradition attributes it to David upon being challenged by his prophet, Nathan, concerning David’s sin with Bathsheba and his subsequent engineering of the military murder of her husband Uriah. However, it shows marks of having been written later than that, after the return from exile, especially the last two verses. The center of the psalm focuses on the human heart, which to the Hebrew mind is not the center of affections, but the center of one’s will. In pleading for a clean heart, the supplicant expresses the conviction that without the gift of a new and right spirit, it is not possible to remain in obedience. The human heart is prone to pride and stubbornness. And so, he pleads for God’s holy spirit to sustain him—one of the few places in the Old Testament where the phrase “holy spirit” is used. Even right praise is God’s gift to us. We cannot offer it without God’s prompting. Consequently, he utters the phrase that has become a classic invitation to prayer, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.” He then expressed the prophets’ recurring conviction that rather than sacrifice, what God truly desires in each of us is an obedient heart committed to God and God’s ways. Sacrifices God may or may not accept. After all, God does not need them, and since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, there have been none. Prayer itself has become the new form of sacrifice. And so, a heart in which stubbornness has been broken, and self-pride crushed, is a heart God will never despise or reject. The prayer ends with a plea for Zion and the rebuilding of its walls following its sack by Babylon in 587 BCE, and the restoration of the sacrificial system.
After stepping over some household instructions and standards for admitting widows into the congregation (remember, that in that culture, to welcome them into the church was to also take on responsibility to care for them), we turn today to issues involving those serving in leadership in the church, and something as mundane as “clergy compensation.” Let those who rule well be worthy of double “honor”—the word here means compensation. Pay them twice what they would normally be paid for their work! There were, of course, objections to paying them anything, which is why the author uses the image of not muzzling the ox as it is treading out the grain on the thrashing floor. And then, to make it more specific still, “The laborer deserves to be paid. Standards for accusations against their teaching elders are also set forth—there must be two, or even three who can corroborate the accusation, just as the Old Testament insisted upon two witnessed to any allegation in the courts. On the other hand, elders found to be involved in sin must be rebuked publically in order that they may live in the fear of the Lord. This comes with solemn warning in the presence of Christ and his holy angels. Timothy, evidently the Bishop overseeing all of the house churches in the community, is to ordain no one quickly, and is to, himself, withstand the sin others in leadership may be exhibiting. Further, no longer is he to drink only water (remember the earlier warning about those calling for asceticism), but to take a little wine for the sake of his stomach and other ailments.
Jesus continues his confrontations with the religious officials, this time, when invited to the home of a Pharisee for dinner on the sabbath. Luke tells everyone was watching him closely to see what Jesus will do. A man plagued with dropsy (what we now know as edema) appears and Jesus asks those lawyers and Pharisees standing by it if is appropriate to heal on the sabbath. Luke tells us all remained silent. Jesus, of course, heals the man, and then turns to them and asks who of them, if their child, or even their ox, fell into a well would not rescue, and pull them out on the sabbath? All remain silent. Next Jesus watches the rest of the dinner guests filling the room as they jockey for the best seats and places of honor. He uses the occasion to tell them a parable, warning that they should initially take the lesser seats at the table, lest they find themselves in the place of another more honorable then themselves so that the host will have to ask them to move, thereby bringing dishonor upon themselves. Rather, seek the lower places so that when the host comes they can be ask to come higher. Jesus then warns that all who seek to exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Thursday: Ruth 3:1-18; Psalm 62; 1 Timothy 4:1-16; Luke 13:31-35
Naomi, recognizing Boaz’s interest in Ruth, sets out to secure things. Boaz is a kinsman, and has the right to “redeem” Ruth by taking her as his wife. Naomi instructs Ruth to prepare herself by bathing, anointing and donning her very best clothing and then go to Boaz at the threshing floor at evening, but remain hidden among his other maids until such time as Boaz had completed his evening meal and lay down for the night. Once he has done that, she is to uncover his feet and lie next to him. “Feet” here is a euphemism for genitalia. It is Ruth invitation for Boaz to take her as his wife. Naomi tells Ruth to then do as Boaz tells her. Boaz enjoys his meal and his wine, and when he has had his fill and “his heart is merry” he lies down next to a large heap of grain. Ruth comes, uncovers him and lies down next to him. Boaz awakens and sees her there and understands full well what Ruth intends. But to remove any doubt, Ruth says “spread your covering over me (the word in Hebrew is “wing”) for you are my redeemer.” But Boaz is not only a redeemer; he is also a righteous man. He blesses Ruth for coming to him, rather than chasing after the younger men in the community—evidently Boaz is more Naomi’s age than Ruth’s. He tells Ruth that everyone in the city knows she is a woman of excellence, and though he is a kinsman with right of redemption, there is another man in the community who is younger and a closer relative still. Boaz must consult with him to see if the man will exercise his right with her, otherwise Boaz will. He tells Ruth to stay the night at his side, but leave secretly before it is light enough for anyone to see who she is, so no one else will know that she has compromised herself in this way. And then he takes her outer cloak and fills it with six measures of barley—and enormous amount—and sends her back to Naomi. Naomi tells Ruth to wait. Boaz will not rest until the matter is settled.
Waiting on God, who alone is our rock and salvation, who alone can protect, is the dominant theme of today’s psalm. Those who scheme for rank and position are at worst nothing and at best a lie, and in the balance, “lighter than a breath.” Hope not in things, whether by ill or honesty gained—hope in the Lord, who is power and loving kindness and who rewards us according to our deeds.
Timothy is now warned against false teachers that will come into their community teaching the demand for asceticism (rejection of certain foods and physical pleasures) and insist on celibacy. All that God has created is good and is to be received with thanksgiving and blessed in prayer. Thereby it is made holy. This is the teaching Timothy is to put before the brothers and sisters. He is to have nothing to do with speculation, old wives tales and profane myths. Rather, he is to train himself in godliness, like the athlete trains for the games. Physical training is valuable as far as it goes, but training in godliness is valuable in every way, both for this life and for the life to come. Another doctrinal precept is introduced with “the saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance: we toil and struggle toward godliness because our hope is the Living God who is the savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” Notice the universal understanding of God’s work to save the world, and the distinction, not between those who are or will be saved or damned, but rather, those who believe and live out of the gospel and those who do not. Timothy is to teach all of this and insist upon it. He is to allow no one to despise his youth, every young pastor’s challenge. Rather, he is to live as an example in word and deed, in love and faith, and in purity. “Until I arrive,” is another reminder that Paul is coming to visit. Until Paul arrives, Timothy it to give his time to the public reading of scripture, exhortation and teaching—gifts that were given to Timothy though prophecy and the laying on of hands by God through “the council of the elders”—the presbytery! He is to pay close attention to and exercise these gifts among the church he is overseeing. Thereby, he will save both himself and his hearers.
The Pharisees come to Jesus and tell him to “get away from here,” and add as a threat to insure that he leaves that Herod is out to get him. The Pharisees have had hostility and grudges against Jesus from the beginning and are trying to leverage Herod’s reputation for killing religious leaders like John to silence Jesus, and short of that, to get him out of their geographic region of Galilee where Herod rules. Jesus responds, “Tell that old fox…,”—a term recognizing Herod’s craftiness and stealth. But in sending the Pharisees back to Herod, Jesus is identifying them as Herod’s servants and part of his movement—those who have killed the prophets. Tell Herod that Jesus is casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow and on the third day must finish his work. Herod has voiced interest in seeing Jesus for precisely these reasons—his exorcisms, cures and other reported miracles. But Jesus does not fear Herod as the Pharisees hope he might. They need to know that it is not possible for this prophet to die anywhere but in Jerusalem. That is the mission he is on, that is the one he is to fulfill, and his reference to “the third day,” clearly has resurrection written all over it. That is when his mission will be complete. Jesus now turns from the Pharisees to Jerusalem itself and laments over what is to come to it because of its continuing rejection of the prophets—“stoner of those sent to it.” The sentence of stoning was first and foremost the punishment for one who blasphemes. Jerusalem has consistently seen the prophets that God has sent to it as blasphemers and it will be the same with Jesus. Though ultimately, he will not be stoned by Jews, but crucified by Rome that now exercises its authority over the city. Jesus uses the well-known biblical image of a bird gathering her chick under her wing (Deuteronomy 32:11 and Psalm 91:4) to describe the reason for his coming to Jerusalem. But the city is not willing to gather under his wing, and as a consequence, its house is left to it. Is the “house” here a reference to the temple, to Jerusalem’s people, or to both? The text is not clear. History tells us it was both. Nonetheless, Jerusalem will not see him until the time comes when its people say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 177.26 in the Greek translation). Clearly, this is the reference to his forthcoming triumphal entry to the city. But in five short days thereafter, that welcome will turn to rejection.
Wednesday: Ruth 2:14-23; Psalm 33; 1 Timothy 3:1-16; Luke 13:18-30
When the mid-day mealtime comes, Boaz invites Ruth to join him in sharing bread, wine and parched grain. When her hunger has been satisfied there is some left over. As she gets up to return to her gleaning, Boaz instructs his men in her presence to let her glean among the standing sheaves, and not at the edges. In addition, he tells this privately, they are to pull out some handfuls from the bundles and leave them behind for her to glean as well. Ruth works until evening, then beats out what she has gleaned—about an ephah of barley (bushel of about 35 liters)—a more than sufficient amount for the two women. Taking it and what had been left over from the noonday meal with Boaz, Ruth returns to Naomi who is both surprised and delighted at the amount of grain. Naomi eats and asks where Ruth gleaned. Ruth tells her, and Naomi breaks into blessing the Lord, “whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” She then tells Ruth that Boaz is a relative. The translation that describes Boaz as “one of their nearest kin,” used by the NRSV misses the greater point and should be translated “one with the right to redeem” (see the footnote)—to claim her for marriage. Ruth observes that Boaz said to her, “Stay close by my servants, until they have finished all my harvest.” Naomi, recognizing that Boaz has taken interest in Ruth, tells her to stay close to his young women until she completes her gleaning, and she does. Meanwhile, Ruth continues to live with her mother-in-law and not Boaz’s servants.
What is the identifying mark of the upright? Praise; praise that makes melody to the Lord on the ten stringed harp, and sings to him new songs of praise filled with loud shouts of joy. After three verses calling the assembly to praise the Lord, the reasons for such praise are identified. The word of the Lord is upright; all his works are done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice. The earth is filled with his steadfast love. Verses 6-9 form the foundation of creation theology: “by the word of the Lord the heavens were made ….” God spoke and creation came into being. These verses had strong influence on the creation narrative in Genesis 1. God’s “counsel” is superior to all others’—happy is the nation whose God is the Lord. God’s eye is all seeing. Kings are not saved by great armies or warriors by their strength. The war horse is a vain hope for victory. Rather, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, those who hope in his steadfast love and look to him to deliver their souls from death. The psalm ends with the recurring theme and commitment to wait for the Lord who is both help and shield. As they wait, their hearts are glad because they trust in God’s holy name. The psalm ends with a final plea: “Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”
Instructions to the church now turn from worship and behavior in the household to leadership, as the qualifications of bishops (overseers) and deacons are defined. Bishops must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, apt teachers, not drunkards nor violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome or lovers of money. They must manage their own households well, keeping their children submissive and respectful. If they cannot do this, how will they care for God’s church? Bishops must not be recent converts, lest they become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. They must be well thought of by outsiders. Deacons likewise must be serious, able to guard their tongues, for after all, they will be privy to much in ministering to the poor among them. They must not indulge in much wine nor be greedy for money, both of which they will manage for the church. They must hold fast to the mystery of faith with a clear conscience. Women deacons likewise must be serious. Notice that women were already holding office in the church! Only later will copyists change the text from “women deacons” to “deacons’ women” (wives), again, trying to bring the texts into conformity with what was by then the case and assuming that there was an error in the original text. Deacons, like the bishops, are to be married only once, and must also manage their households well. Those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing, and great boldness in the faith. The author now expresses the hope to come visit Timothy soon, but is writing these instructions, so that if he is delayed Timothy may know how to behave as one vested with responsibility for overseeing the household of God, “which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” Again, the writer concludes this section with another liturgical fragment about Jesus and God’s work in him, “revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.”
Jesus turns to parables about the kingdom of God. It is like the tiny mustard seed that grows into the tree in which birds make their nests. It is like a lump of leavened dough—yeast—that a woman tries to hide in about fifty pounds flour. It does not remain hidden, but does its work and leavens the whole amount. The point is, the kingdom, though hidden to many in the world has the power to work to leaven it all. This kingdom and its gospel is powerful stuff! Jesus then begins to travel through one town and village after another, teaching as he makes his way to Jerusalem. When asked if only a few will be saved in the kingdom, he tells them to strive for the narrow door. Many will try but not gain entrance. And when the homeowner has shut the door, it will be too late; standing outside, banging on the door, reminding the owner of the house that they had eaten and drunk with him and listened to him as he taught in their streets, will not do. The message to the church for which Luke is writing is this: worship attendance, listening to Jesus’ teachings and participating in the church’s table fellowship is not enough. The kingdom is about changed lives—lives that seek to enter through the narrow door. The householder will say to them, “Go away from me, all you evildoers!” That will result in weeping and gnashing of teeth, especially when they see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, yet they themselves locked out. Others will come from east and west and north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God. In fact, some who come last will be first, while some who have come first will be last. Table fellowship and listening to Jesus’ teaching are not enough. Entrance into the kingdom is about repentance and changed lives—that is the narrow door through which we enter into and live in God’s realm.
Tuesday: Ruth 1:19-2:13; Psalm 133; 1 Timothy 1:18-2:8; Luke 13:10-17
Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem and when they arrive the town is in a stir saying, “this is Naomi.” She responds with a pun: “Call me no longer Naomi (“pleasant” or “sweet”), call me Mara (“bitter”) for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.” Naomi went away sweet and full, and now she has returned bitter and empty. Notice that all of this is blamed on “the Almighty.” Also, note the name that is being used for God. So the two women arrive in Bethlehem at the time of the barley harvest. Now Boaz is introduced: he is a kinsman of Naomi’s deceased husband Elimelech, and a prominent rich man. Ruth asks Naomi’s permission to go and glean in the grain fields, as the law made provision for the edges of the fields to be left for the poor. Naomi sends Ruth on her way with her blessing. Ruth goes, following the reapers, to glean what they leave behind or overlook, and as it happens, is doing so in a field that belongs to Boaz. Boaz appears on the scene, coming from Bethlehem, sees Ruth, and asks his servant in charge who she is. The servant identifies her as the Moabite woman who returned with Naomi, who came and asked permission to glean, and has been at it from early morning until now, without so much as a moment’s rest. Boaz, whether recognizing the need for loyalty to the wife of a deceased kinsman, or simply taken with Ruth herself, not only gives her permission to glean in his field, but goes further in his provisions and protection of her. In gratitude, Ruth falls prostrate before Boaz, asking how it is she has found favor in his sight. He tells her that he has heard how faithful she has been to Naomi after the death of Ruth’s husband, Naomi’s son, leaving behind her own mother and father and her native land to come with Naomi to a people she did not know. “May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!” Again, note the name Boaz uses for God. Has Naomi been too long among the Moabites? Again, in keeping with the parable nature of the story, Boaz uses the proper name for God and invokes a pious blessing to boot. Ruth responds with due deference, asking to continue “to find favor in his sight,” (a hint that Boaz has a right to “redeem her” as the elder kinsman through Naomi, and take Ruth as his own wife?), even though she is not even one of his servants.
“How good it is when brothers and sister dwell in unity together.” This psalm of blessing, a psalm of ascent being sung as pilgrims make their way to Jerusalem, describes the blessings of harmony and concord among the people, whether within the immediate family, the clan or the nations, especially as they make their way to Mount Zion. Such unity is good and pleasant, and like precious, fragrant oil. Oil was used in biblical times for healing wounds, as a cosmetic on skin and hair, and for anointing kings, priest and prophets. Such oil of blessing is poured in abundance in Jerusalem, like the dew of Mount Hermon, and runs down upon the beard and over the collar and onto the robe. The image of Aaron refers to the priesthood in Jerusalem; for it is there that the Lord “commanded” his blessing (“ordained” is too weak)—life forevermore. The pilgrimage formed a bond of blessing itself, not unlike contemporary pilgrimages to holy places, with the ultimate blessing coming upon entering the temple. This psalm has had a rich liturgical life in the church, often used in calling people to the Lord’s Table. Augustine used it as warrant for the development of monastic communities that were brotherhoods in which such unity was to dwell.
Instruction is given to Timothy to “fight the good fight,” a term used by the philosophers to encourage fidelity to their codes, and by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:7, 2 Corinthians 10:34, and Ephesians 6:10-17. Timothy will maintain a good and clean conscience by remaining loyal to the Christian code. Rejecting such a conscience instructed by those stronger in the faith is to suffer shipwreck. Two men are cited as examples of those who have done so: Hymenaeus, who in 2 Timothy 2:17 is cited for claiming that the resurrection has already taken place, and Alexander, about whom we know little. The point is that failing to hold to the tradition about the resurrection allows one to fall into speculation about the faith and such speculation leaves the faith shipwrecked. Paul says he has handed them over to the Satan—God’s agent for testing—in order that they might learn the error of their ways. Herein lies the tradition of excommunication. Its purpose is not punitive, but instructive and restorative, so that Hymenaeus and Alexander may learn not to blaspheme. The text now turns to instructions for prayers: intercessions and thanksgivings are to be made for everyone, beginning with kings in highest authority so that the church may live a quiet and peaceable life in godliness and dignity. This is right in God’s eyes, who is called “our Savior.” God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. This is followed by another creedal fragment from the church’s worship in Ephesus that encapsulates the Christian Gospel for which Paul was appointed a herald and apostle, a teacher of the Gentiles. Men are addressed first. They are to gather for prayer without anger or argument, lifting up holy hands. The lifting of hands in prayer was an ancient gesture of reverence and receptivity (Psalm 141:2; 143:6) that is often modeled today by the celebrants behind the communion table, and has become popular again in Evangelical and Pentecostal circles. Here, the designers of the lectionary rather indelicately step over the rest of the chapter because it deals with the controversial issue of women’s participation in worship as well as taking leadership in the church. Women are told to dress modestly for worship, not as women in the culture would normally dress for the symposium where braided hair, gold, pearls and expensive clothing often stirred passions and led to sexual behavior acceptable in the symposium but not the church. Modesty and virtue are to be the norm in the church. The provision for women to learn in silence with full submission is, in fact, antiquities’ moral code for women. Obviously, the women in Ephesus have been exercising their freedom in Christ to enter into prophecy, and under the influence of the Spirit, that may well have led them to instructing their husbands—something absolutely forbidden by the household codes of the day—and remember, church was house worship. A wife who instructed her husband under the influence of the Spirit in worship, could easily fall into instructing him in the household. Whatever, it has caused a disruption and brought embarrassment to the church and made it a source of ridicule in the larger community. The fact that the author has included it here, with the addition that he permits no woman to have authority over him, buttressing it with a forced midrash on Genesis 2:15-22 and 3:13, is one of the clues that this is not Paul who is writing this letter. After all, Paul regularly relied upon women like Lydia and Pricilla to provide leadership, and even names Junia, his female relative, who was “in Christ before him,” as an apostle (Romans 16:6; note that later manuscripts change the ending of the name to make it the masculine, Junias, to be in accordance with later tradition of only men in apostolic leadership). Finally, we see the author, insisting that only Eve was tempted and therefore culpable, bending scripture to fit culture, a problem and temptation that has confronted the church from the beginning and continues to do so to this day.
It is the sabbath and Jesus is again in the synagogue teaching. A woman appears who is crippled and badly stooped over, and has been for eighteen years. Jesus calls her over, announces that she is being freed from her ailment, lays his hands on her. and immediately she stands up straight and begins to praise God. Notice that whenever healings happen like this, the praise is always directed to God and not to Jesus. Nonetheless, the leader of the synagogue is indignant—Jesus did this on the sabbath. And so the synagogue leader begins to criticize Jesus publically for having done so. After all, there are six days on which to work. One ought to come on one of those days to be cured. Jesus can stand the hypocrisy no longer and names the synagogue leader just that—a hypocrite. Do not each of them untie their donkey from the manger and lead it to water on the sabbath? As that is the case, what is to prevent this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound for eighteen years, from being set free on the sabbath? The logic is, of course, irrefutable, and Jesus’ opponents are publically put to shame—a major censure in that culture—while the crowd continued to rejoice in all the wonderful things Jesus was doing. The crowd may be thrilled but the religious leaders are not and, increasingly threatened by Jesus and his message, they are quickly becoming his enemies.
Monday: Ruth 1:1-18; Psalm 29; 1 Timothy 1:1-17; Luke 13:1-9
We begin the Book of Ruth, named for a Moabite woman who became David’s grandmother. The Moabites were a shunned people in Judah, despised in much the same way Samaritans were later despised. Though the book is named for Ruth, it is really about her mother-in-law, Naomi. Naomi (“pleasant” or “sweet”), her husband Elimelech (“God is my King”), and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion (sounds like “diseased” and “perishing" in Hebrew, respectively), leave Bethlehem (“The house of bread”) because of a severe famine and venture into Moab. The symbolic names and ironic circumstance reveal this to be more a parable to make a particular point than history. Elimelech, Naomi and their sons settle there among a people the Israelites despised because of the Moabites incestuous beginnings (Gen 19) and other hostilities between the Israelites and the Moabites. Once there, Elimelech—notice he is named “the husband of Naomi,” shifting the focus of the story from him to her—dies and the sons both take Moabite wives, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. About ten years later, both sons die, childless, leaving Naomi a widow with no means of support and two additional widows in the household with no means of support. Naomi plans to return to Bethlehem, for she has heard that the Lord has dealt favorably with the people there and given them food. She takes the two daughters with her but as they enter Judah, she sends the women home to their mothers and fathers. They will, after all, be despised in Judah and Naomi is too old to have additional sons that could ultimately grow into their providing husbands. She kisses them goodbye, they weep, but the daughters-in-law refuse to leave her. Naomi insists and Orpah does comply, but Ruth, whose name means “friendship,” steadfastly refuses and, though not expected to stay with the mother of a dead husband, utters her well-known, “Entreat me not to leave thee (KJV), where you go I will go, where you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people and your God will be 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.” Seeing such determination on Ruth’s part, Naomi permits her to come with her.
This psalm appears to be the appropriation of a Canaanite hymn to Baal, who was believed to be a warrior god whose voice was heard in the thunder and other aspects of the storm. However, here, Israel has taken all of the attributes of the storm and attributed them to the voice of the Lord; it thunders, is sovereign over the waters, is powerful and full of majesty. Its lightening and wind break the cedars of Lebanon and its flashes cause the land to skip like a calf and a young wild ox. The Lord’s voice sends forth flames of fire that shake the wilderness. It causes the oaks to whirl in the wind that strips the forest bare. And to all of this, the heavenly are called to ascribe “Glory, strength and holy splendor” to God’s name. As the storm continues to break forth, terrifying others, those in the temple shout, “Glory!” The psalm concludes remembering that the Lord is God of the storm, and the flood, and sits enthroned as king forever, giving strength to his people. It ends with a prayer for God’s blessing of peace. For those of us who have just come through the storm named “Sandy,” we have some sense of the majesty and power of the sea, flood and wind. Remembering that God is Lord of all of this, how can we but not join in shouting, “Glory!”
The first letter of Timothy is written to combat false teachers and the incursion of various other forms of religion into the church of the New Testament. On the face of it, the letter is written from Paul to his younger missionary co-worker Timothy, who has been left behind in Ephesus. However, internal evidence, and what we have from other New Testament sources, suggest that this may be a letter written in Paul’s name for the sake of authority to Timothy, who may, or may not be in Ephesus, but whose name also bears authority there. After a traditional salutation, in which Timothy is named Paul’s “loyal child in the faith,” the letter describes the problems vexing the church in Ephesus: people teaching different doctrine (a term Paul never uses in his uncontested letters), occupying themselves with myths, genealogies and various speculations rather than sound training “that is known by faith.” Again this sounds less like Paul than an associate writing at a later date in Paul’s name. The subject of the letter is not faith, as we would expect from Paul, but love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith—faith is in the process of becoming “codes of doctrine.” Some in Ephesus have departed from these doctrines, turning to meaningless talk, attempting to be teachers of the law without understanding it. There follows what the author describes as the appropriate use of the law: to keep the lawless in line. The lawless are named by their behaviors, which are described as “contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God,” which has been entrusted to Paul. A biographical section follows in which Paul gives thanks that God entrusted the gospel to him, given his prior life as a sinner. But the grace of the Lord overflowed for him with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. There follows what must have been a creedal statement in Ephesus introduced by the liturgical formula, “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance.” “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Paul quickly adds that he was foremost among those sinners. Yet, he received mercy to make him an example to all others who would come after and believe in Christ. He ends this section, as Paul regularly does, with a doxological blessing. Scholars solve the quandary of authorship this way: it is either written by one of Paul’s associates after his death in Rome, or, Paul did not die in Rome and had an additional career following his imprisonment there, which would account for the change in vocabulary and theological emphasis away for faith in Christ to doctrinal concerns. Either way, this, the longest of the three “Pastoral Epistles” gives us a look into the theological challenges being faced in the infant church as it struggled to find its place in a world where Jesus had not yet returned.
This section of Luke’s gospel comes to a conclusion with Jesus’ call for repentance as a changed life that manifests the fruit of that change. Two publically known tragedies have been bandied about as the result of people’s sinfulness: Pilate’s slaughter of a group of Galileans as they offered sacrifices in Jerusalem, and a tower in Siloam that fell on eighteen people, killing all of them. In telling Jesus about this, there is the suggestion that this is the kind of judgment Jesus has been talking about. Jesus clearly refutes their notion of “greater sinners”—sin is sin and repentance is repentance; there are not shades of it in life, some more grievous than others. No, unless the people conveying the report repent, they too will perish as those others did. And now Jesus tells the parable of the barren fig tree. When the man who had planted it came looking for fruit he found none, not one year but three in a row! Consequently, he ordered the gardener to cut the tree down. Why should it be taking up the soil? The gardener pleads for more time. He will dig around it, put down some manure and wait. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, then he can cut it down. God is patient, but only for so long and one should not delay repentance in life by presuming on it.
Author: The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson
Created: June 21, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, Pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, offers thoughts on today’s lectionary readings.