Year B — Proper 27 (The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for November 11, 2012
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
I loved the old Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. They had such catchy episode titles that always included an optional subtext featured prominently — to wit, the title of Episode 1 — “Rocky and His Friends: Knock on Wood, OR Bullwinkle Takes the Rap!”

(for more Rocky/BW nostalgia, check out the titles here)

I wonder how we might title this episode from the ongoing saga of Ruth and Naomi? I admit that it has always made me a bit uncomfortable for the seemingly questionable (according to our modern sensibilities) situation it puts young Ruth into.

“Fix up real nice, darlin’, and go on down to the threshing floor after Boaz has had plenty to eat and drink. Lay right there next to him, and then do whatever he tells you to do!”

Of course, it works out all right — Boaz is, after all, the kindly kinsman-redeemer (and soon-to-be great grandpappy of King David, the messianic forerunner.)

So, here goes — “Widowed Women: Where There’s a Will There’s a Way, OR Kindly Kinsman Plants a Kiss, Saves the Day (and the Kingdom, Too!)”

Psalm 127

According to Psalm 127, the Eldridge* Family must have been the happiest bunch in Martin, Tennessee, my hometown. (Which, incidentally, was named as one of “Nine Happy Towns in the USA” in 1970 by Esquire Magazine. See, you just can’t get this stuff anywhere else!)

There were 9 of them, seven children with the two parents. They all had bright red hair and rode in one of those way-cool 1970’s station wagons with the wood panels on the side. 

I’m certain that the psalmist’s rejoicing over the Lord’s addition of happy little arrows to the quiver of the blessed had something to do with familial success and security. We tend to rejoice to this day over the addition of little ones in a family, do we not?

     * Not their real surname, though the family did exist — I promise!

1 Kings 17:8-16
As Dr. Chilton points out in the sermon below, this is the first of two “widow-stories” in our lessons for today (I suppose it would be three, if you count Ruth/Naomi in the first story, above.)

Both are stories about little becoming much when given in faith. Just how far and for how long does the blessing of God go in lives that are surrendered to God’s care?

Psalm 146

See previous commentary for this psalm on September 9, 2012 and November 4, 2012. 

Hebrews 9:24-28

Hebrews has been remarkably important on the doctrinal development of the church in so many ways. Today there are two important points to notice:

     * The continuing emphasis on Christ’s sacrifice as a “once for all” event
     * The sure and certain return of Christ to once-and-for-all effect God’s 
salvation (redemption, not the removal of sin)

Mark 12:38-44
Widows vs. Scribes — Choose a Side!

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Today, we have read Bible lessons about two widows, both of whom were poor, and both of whom were generous with what they had. The story of the widow’s mite in the gospel was a little tough on ministers and other official church folk.

 “Beware of scribes, who like to walk around in long robes . . .,” Well, I wear them during service, but I don’t walk around in them, much. “ . . . and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,” Okay, I do like it when people in grocery stores and restaurants call me Father or Reverend or Padre and treat me a little extra nice. “ . . . and to have the best seats in the synagogue,”  Well, I don’t know if it’s the best, but it is bigger and it is different. “ . . .and places of honor at banquets.”  What can I say, I obviously like to eat!
“They devour widow’s houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.” Okay, I’m clean on these two; I’ve never tricked a widow out of her house, and I’m famous for short prayers, not long ones; so perhaps I’ve escaped the “greater condemnation” by a narrow margin.

Whenever we hear a Bible story, one of the most important things we can ask ourselves is, “With whom do I identify, who in this story feels like me?” Of course, none of us would like to think we’re like the scribes, making a big, loud public display of our religion; in particular, none of us wants to look like a hypocrite. And we all want to believe that we’re like the widow, doing all we can with what little we have.

Most of us, most of the time, hear the widow’s mite story and think it means something like this: “See, it’s not how much you give that matters, it’s the spirit with which you give it that counts. A little bit is just as important as a lot.” That is true, as far as it goes.

But most of us miss an important point here; Jesus did not say that the widow gave all she could afford; Jesus said she gave all she had.

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Truth be told, most of us, myself included, most of the time, give out of our abundance.
We give what we think we can afford to give without seriously affecting our standard of living. What Jesus points to in the widow is another thing entirely; her total commitment of everything she has, all her resources, “all she had to live on,” to the Kingdom of God. At root, this story is not so much about giving and generosity as it is about trust in God.

That is why the Hebrew story of Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath is paired with the story of the widow’s mite in the appointed readings for today. These two stories are not only about widows, they are about putting your complete trust in God as well.

The Widow of Zarephath also gave all she had. She shared with the Prophet of the Lord the last of her food in a time of famine. Yet, when she did, she discovered she had enough, enough at least to keep going, day by day; the jar of meal and the jug of oil having in them each day enough for that day’s needs.

This is the way God operates. This is the way God provides for God’s people. Remember the manna from Heaven, the bread upon the ground provided to the Israelites as they went from Egypt to the Promised Land? If they took more than they needed for the day, the extra would rot before the next morning. It was a lesson in trusting God to provide each day’s needs.

What Jesus noticed and commented upon with the widow is not the size of her gift, but the fact that she gave her all, trusting that God would provide for the next day. This is the Biblical Principle of God’s economy; this is the way God always works. God’s promise is not: If you return to me a tithe, I will make you rich. God’s promise is: If you commit to me your all, I will provide for your needs.

The Bible stories about the widow’s and their generosity are not so much about finances as they are about the relationship of trust we are called upon to have with God.  And, we must admit, this is hard for us, we like to hedge our bets, hold a little something back, play it safe.

A number of years ago I heard a story about a college student who went into a camera store to have a picture enlarged. It was a framed 8×10 of the young man and his girlfriend. When the clerk took the picture out of the frame, he read the writing on the back:

“My dearest Tommy, I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever and ever. I am yours for all eternity. With all my love, Diane. PS – If we ever break up, I want this picture back!”

Today God call us to quit hedging our bets, to stop holding back.  God calls us toward making a complete and total commitment of ourselves to Christ and the Kingdom of God.
We are called upon to make all that we are and all that we have available to the work of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ into all the World.

And the Gospel for us today is that we can make that leap, that commitment, with full confidence in God’s  promise to provide our every need, now and forever more.

Amen and amen.

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