32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 28), Year B

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Psalm 127
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

So, the Scriptures are ancient texts written in another time and place with a context that is often really difficult for us to grasp in our present lives. And so we try to remember to ask ourselves early and often what these texts might be saying to us today. It's important to recognize when and where and why a text was written so that we are better able to identify our own response to it. And we still probably need to ask, even if we can point to context and say - wow things were different then - why we get bugged by certain things.

The texts this week sort of fit into the category of contexts to which we have difficulty relating.

The reading from Ruth gives us sort of a snapshot contextual snapshot of how two widows - a mother and her daughter-in-law - manage to survive the harsh realities of their society. It's hard to imagine the fate that Ruth and Naomi encountered when their spouses died. Naomi has left her roots behind in Bethlehem to follow her husband and sons. When they die, Ruth promises to stay with Naomi and leaves her own homeland to become a stranger in a strange land - to enter Israel with Naomi. In turn, Naomi helps Ruth to attract the attention and affection of wealthy landowner Boaz, effectively bonding Ruth to the Israelites. In the selection for this week, we are entering sort of an awkward point of the story by our societal standards. Naomi has basically instructed Ruth to go lay with Boaz on the threshing floor. Then we flash forward through the text to the point at which it is revealed that Ruth has conceived, she and Boaz have married and somehow Naomi ends up with the baby - a boy - to nurse. Ruth has provided Naomi with something none of her seven sons were able to provide - economic security in their society. Now, this is a tough story for us to wrap our 21st century norms around...and yet, it has stood the test of time, made it into the cannon and continues to be read. What does this story - named for Ruth but as much about Naomi - say to us today? For one, there are some interesting questions to be asked about immigrants. Ruth is an immigrant who completely adopts her new culture and invests herself in it for survival and out of loyalty to Naomi. Does Ruth give up anything in the process?

The psalmist is echoing some of the themes about the importance of family and of sons in particular that we find in Ruth. Also, the psalmist is naming the importance of keeping the Lord central to our comings and our goings. Now all of this talk about "sons" as opposed to daughters is very particular to the culture in which this psalm was written. Is it easy to substitute sons and daughters? Are there other things that could replace "sons" in this text for today?

In the selection from Hebrews, the writer is establishing Jesus' death on the cross as the atoning sacrifice that wipes away all of our sins. Now most of us cannot really grasp the importance of these passages referencing the High Priest entering the Holy Place or about Jesus entering the Sanctuary. Even the High-est Church Folks of us today do not have the social / religious / personal reverence for the Sacred Places that the Jews of that time had. It is so hard for us to grasp the comparisons that are being made in this passage. Also (we....Laura and Matt) do not and cannot understand the importance and depth of the references to sacrifice here and how they connect to the Jewish expectations of the day. Sacrifice was so much more real and meant so much more in that space. Also, the writer of Hebrews is attempting to do something quite important here. He is attempting to show a Jewish audience that the sacrifice of Jesus and by Jesus was an ultimate sacrifice for sins as opposed to the constant and consistent sacrifices for sins that were performed by the priests in the Temple. Context is so important.

In the passage from Mark, the context is quite different, but it is fairly easy for us to relate to it we believe. He was teaching the disciples about personal / social / financial responsibility using examples from what they saw around them. It appears they are standing outside of the synagogue and he goes after the scribes (the folks who were responsible for literally keeping the law alive through repeating and recording) as models for how one ought NOT behave. He was encouraging the disciples to not let power and authority and control go to their heads....to not let their job titles or the color of their robes determine how they should behave. This example was immediately juxaposed against a poor widow who gave as all she had to support the synagogue...she was held up as the example of giving all to God. Of course it is easy to draw our own contextual parallels to today. You can choose your favorite: corporate leaders, government leaders, religious leaders, etc.

Do you have the same cultural curiosity and respect for the scriptures as you might have for a new friend from another country?
How do you take the stories and messages you find in scripture and apply them to your personal journey here in 2009 America?
How does a cultural awareness impact how you behave and respond to the world around you?

God, help us see how you continue to speak.
It is so tempting for me to believe you Have Spoken...
....and that is it.
But I know you continue to speak.
It is easier to believe you Have Spoken...
....that makes it eaiser for me...
....I could just study the scriptures thoroughly....
....and I would Know.
But realistically, I know you continue to speak.
You spoke to the darkness and the light.
You spoke to Moses.
You spoke to Mary.
You spoke to Martin Luther.
You speak to Me.
You continue to speak.
Help me to listen.

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