Bishop's Lectionary Reflection
Proper 26, Year B
October 31, 2021

Ruth 1:1-18
Social customs frequently govern our behavior. In this selection from the Book of Ruth, there is a schema of social mores and expectations at play that we need to understand before we can completely absorb the impact of Ruth’s decision to follow Naomi. Women in that day had no social standing unless they were connected to a man. They enjoyed status and financial security only by virtue of their connection to their fathers, their husbands, or their sons. A widow had to rely on sons to give her a home and a place; and a widow without sons was totally at the mercy of charity and compassionate welfare. Naomi finds herself in this place of needing such mercy. She is an immigrant in the land of Moab, having migrated there from Bethlehem in Judah with her husband, Elimilech and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. They have come to Moab to escape the effects of a famine in the land. All is well for a while, and Naomi enjoys security. But then her husband dies. Even though she is a widow, Naomi still has access to security and status by virtue of her sons who care for her. The sons marry Moabite women and for a while the household continues secure with Naomi, Mahlon, Chilion and their Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth. But then tragedy strikes again. Mahlon and Chilion die, and suddenly there are three widows – three women without status or security. While sad indeed for Orpah and Ruth that they are now widows, all is not lost for they still have the option of returning to their childhood homes where their father can grant them security. For Naomi, however, the death of her sons is devastating. She no longer has a father, or a husband, or sons. She has lost all access to social status and financial security. She is totally at the mercy of her fellow human beings.
Naomi hears that in her home country of Judah, the famine is abating and food is present; she makes the decision to return to Bethlehem and at first, both her daughters-in-law decide to accompany her. Naomi loves her daughters-in-law but realized that if they come with her, they will lose everything. They would surrender any hope for their own financial security and social status. So she implores them to reconsider and to return to their childhood homes. Oprah finally concedes and turns from following Naomi. But Ruth, in her eloquent and moving words of love and loyalty, aligns her life with Naomi’s. She surrenders everything and enters into a covenant of sacrificial love.
We know the story of redemption and restoration that comes to Ruth (and also to Naomi) by virtue of Ruth’s decision to bind her life with Naomi’s. We can almost interpret it as a foreshadowing of Christ’s sacrificial love for us. Can we emulate Ruth? Do we love God and others with our whole being? Do we feel such loyalty toward our own families and friends? What are we willing to sacrifice to follow God in the way that He calls us?
Psalm 146
Psalm 146 is a joyful reminder that our help is in God alone. A timely reminder that if we rely only on our own strength and control, or even on that of other human beings, then we are in a precarious position. God is on the side of the underdog. He cares for the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoners, the blind, the stranger, the orphan and the widow. He loves the righteous. Rejoice! Rejoice! God is on our side!
Take a moment to remind yourself that God walks beside you today. Ask him to remind you to rely on Him and not to trust to your own strength and control. Then offer a word of praise.
Hebrews 9:11-14
We are called to works of life! Through Christ’s sacrifice, we are called away from works of death to worship a living God. The result is that the fruit we produce with our own lives is in itself life-giving, life-producing. Through the sacrificial pouring out of blood, life is given. Blood is the source of life, and bodies do not exist without its coursing through veins. While the blood of sacrificed animals was offered as temporary atonement for human sins, in this Letter to the Hebrews, we learn that the perfect blood of Christ is offered once for all to save us from death and to sanctify us for life…permanently.
We are holy, sanctified, set apart to do life-giving acts in the name of Jesus Christ. Do you have a sense of how you have been set apart, made holy, called to proclaim life in this world? How do you live this calling out in the world?
Mark 12:28-34
An oft used method of teaching is to ask questions…questions that provoke more questions, questions that provoke thinking. Jesus often asked questions himself. In this Gospel selection from Mark, many are gathered around Jesus and are discussing things. One of the scribes asks the question regarding Jesus’s opinion as to which is the most important commandment. Jesus recites the Shema, the commandment from the Jewish Torah that places the primacy and sole worship of God as the most important. He then offers a second most important commandment: those who would love God must love Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength; and then must love their neighbor as themselves. If these two commandments are observed, there is little if no room left for error. So absolute and thorough are these two commandments that those who were trying to argue with or even trap Jesus abandon their efforts and leave him alone.
Every Christian should have a Rule of Life – a set of disciplines that draw them more closely into God’s love and way. These commandments offer a perfect framework for a Rule of Life. If one would keep God as primary in one’s worship, one could be led to do things that exemplify loving God with all of one’s heart, mind, soul and strength:
HEART: What actions do you engage in on a daily basis that show God’s love to the world? Is there a charity to which you give sacrificially? Do you make a point of doing at least one act of kindness each day? Is there some endeavor to which you volunteer your time for the sake of God and showing His love to the world?
SOUL: What actions do you engage in on a daily basis that foster your interior life with God? What prayer disciplines draw you more closely to God? The Daily Office? Intercessory prayer for others? Prayer beads? Prayer walking? Journaling? Meditative, contemplative prayer?
MIND: Do you immerse yourself in Scripture on a daily basis? Do you keep a book of spiritual reading going as part of your daily routine? Do you study the traditions of the Church?
STRENGTH: How do you care for your body? Do you rest adequately? Do you exercise? Do you take in nutritious food? Do you refrain from things that are harmful to the body?
If you would like to develop a Rule of Life but do not know how and feel at a loss, speak to the clergy at your church or to a trusted spiritual friend.
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.