The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Readings – Ruth 1: 1-18; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9: 11-14; Mark 12: 28-34
A reading from the Old Testament Book of Ezra –
At that time those who had come from captivity, returned exiles, offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel…. The officials approached… and said, ‘the people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves ad for their sons. Thus, the holy seed has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands, and in this faithlessness, the officials and leaders have led the way…They have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. Therefore, do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons and never seek their peace or prosperity… 8: 35a, 9: 1b-2, 11b-12.
A reading from the Old Testament Book of Nehemiah –
The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the singers, the temple servants, and all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to adhere to the law of God, their wives, their sons, their daughters, all who have knowledge and understanding, join with their kin, their nobles, and enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and his ordinances and his statutes. We will not give our daughters to the people of the land or take their daughters for our sons. 10: 28-29.
The remanent of the People of Israel had returned from exile in Babylon and was rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, the city, and the city walls in the years 464-358 B.C.E. King David and his glorious reign was a very distant memory.
An unknown author, indeed, a prophet, penned the story of Naomi and Ruth at about the same time. It is a love story of a mother, Naomi, and her foreign-born daughter-in-law, Ruth, a Moabite. While the historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah speak of the pollution of the People of God by other peoples, this author wrote of the expansion of the People of God, indeed, about the great grandmother of King David, Ruth, who was a Moabite. In this love story of Naomi and Ruth, Ruth is welcomed into Israel, into the People of God. It is the story of welcoming, arms open, human love that also invited Ruth into the welcoming, open arms of God’s love. Experiencing Naomi’s love, human love, opened up Ruth to experiencing God’s love.
I believe extending our welcoming, loving arms to others can do the same. Our love can open for others the deeper love of God. Welcoming the stranger, welcoming the immigrant, welcoming the foreigner, can open for them the love of God. As the hymn words proclaim, “They will know we are Christians by our love…”. That experience of love will generate a deeper love of God within the hearts of those we welcome.
In our Gospel reading from St. Mark, Jesus responded to the disputing Sadducees and scribes—
The first is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength”. The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. There is no other commandment greater than these. 12:28-34
Jesus responded with what is sometimes called the Summary of the Law. It is simple; it is succinct. They asked for one commandment and Jesus gave the two that are inseparable.
If people do not experience us loving our neighbors as ourselves, it is impossible for them to see our loving our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Even in tough times, the People of God remain steadfast in our love of neighbor. In that love of neighbor, we witness our deep love of God. To love neighbor in tough times is not “an agenda”, it is our faith in action.
Ruth entered Israel, the People of God, through the love of Naomi. In our own day, there are many Ruths out there, seeking to be loved, seeking to enter into a loving community, and seeking to experience the deeper love of God.
May our arms be open, may words of welcome be on our lips, as we share the love of God that is within us with our neighbors next door, down the street, around the corner, at the coffee shop, at the market, and wherever we encounter them.
As we extend God’s love, our walk with God will deepen, and those whom we touch, they too, will be truly blessed on their walk with God.