Before I talk about today’s readings, I want to acknowledge that today, November 11th, is the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of WWI, and what was hoped to have been the last of the horrible large wars in the world. Unfortunately, that did not happen. That day became Veterans Day in our country and pretty much around the world, too, to honor those who have fought for our countries over the many years since. I thank all who have served in all types of service—and in some unpopular wars —Korea, Vietnam, Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan. I pray that our country can and will do so much more to help all of our troops and veterans going forward in their pain, health needs, shelter, and in whatever other ways possible.
I also bring up a lesser known event that occurred 80 years ago on November 9th, 1938. I say lesser known to me anyway, because I never was told about it in my World History class in high school back in the late 1960s. Kristallnacht or Crystal Night, also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass, was carried out against Jews throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938, by SA paramilitary forces and civilians. The German authorities looked on without intervening. The name Kristallnacht comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues were smashed. Estimates of the number of fatalities have varied. Early reports estimated that 91 Jews were murdered during the attacks. Modern analysis of German scholarly sources by historians puts the number much higher. When deaths from post-arrest maltreatment and subsequent suicides are included, the death toll climbs well into the hundreds. Additionally, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked, as the attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers. The rioters destroyed 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland, and over 7,000 Jewish businesses were either destroyed or damaged. I pray that we never see this again ever either, especially here in our own country, as we deal with heightened hatred and violence against all kinds of minority groups.
Now, on to our readings from Ruth, Hebrews, and Mark today. Our Bible study this week was very helpful to me in preparing this talk. It was interesting that I was preparing for a sermon, while two priests, a deacon, and Corby was there leading the study, so I was the one to really get to gain from their perspectives and knowledge.
We learned more this week about the story of the Moabite Ruth, and her staying with and caring for her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi now back in the land of Judah, in the town of Bethlehem. We don’t get the full story in the reading, and it seems like Ruth is acting like a prostitute or seducer with Boaz, but the rest of the story make it much more clear that in the full context and culture of the time that she was doing things in a much more “normal” way.
It turns out that Boaz was related to Naomi’s deceased husband Elimalech, and was a very wealthy man. He was therefore obliged by the Levirate law to marry Mahlon's widow, Ruth, in order to carry on his family's inheritance. Naomi sent Ruth to the threshing floor at night and told her to go where he slept, and uncover his feet, and lay down; and he will tell her what she should do. Boaz blessed her and agreed to do all that is required to claim her via Jewish law, but he then acknowledged that even though he was a close relative, but that there was one who was closer, and she remained in submission at his feet until she returned into the city in the morning.
Early that same day, Boaz went to the city gate to meet with the other male relative before the town elders. The unnamed relative was unwilling to jeopardize the inheritance of his own estate by marrying Ruth, and so relinquished his right of redemption, thus allowing Boaz to marry Ruth. Boaz and Ruth were then married and had a son. The women of the city celebrated Naomi's joy, for Naomi found a redeemer for her family name, and Naomi took the child and placed it in her bosom. The child was named Obed, who we discover is "the father of Jesse, the father of David", that is, the grandfather of King David.
This is a powerful story about a part of the genealogy of King David and Jesus, and it has a strong woman in it, too. Something we do not see a lot of in the Bible.
We had a lively discussion about the Hebrews reading, because of the last 2 verses: “And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” On two levels was this discussed: 1) do we truly believe that Christ will come again, and 2) to who will he really come? I know what it says in our Nicene Creed about this, but do I believe it for sure? I do believe that Christ will come again someday, but I’m not waiting for it sitting on the sidelines rooting for it. Because I think we can go a long way to help bring heaven on earth now, by acting as Jesus would and helping those around us in need and accepting help as we need it too. And inclusive me hopes that Jesus will come for everyone as his standard, not just those who are waiting for him. My view, anyway!
Ok, now for the difficult reading, our Gospel from Mark.
Jesus, as he was teaching, called out the scribes (and priests) and rich people for their showiness and hypocrisy. They walked around in long robes, expected respect in public, and had to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. Basically, he said they used the Law to destroy widows and others for the benefit of themselves. As he watched people bring their “offerings” to the treasury (meaning to the synagogue, not the Roman government), he saw wealthy people putting large sums in to gain favor and respect (but not anything that would be any type of sacrificing at all). Then a poor widow gives all she has (a true sacrifice!).
We had discussions about what the poor widow did, and whether she might have been “shamed” into giving so much to try to keep up with those more fortunate or helped by the economic system at the time. It could be part of the dynamic going on, but I think Jesus pointed her out for a reason—to contrast her giving vs. the hypocritical giving by the wealthy with an agenda in mind.
As I look back on these readings, I begin to see a theme—one of sacrifice and giving of self. Ruth clearly gave of herself to her mother-in-law and to a chance of redemption for herself in God’s eyes. Jesus’ death and resurrection for the sins of the world is clear sacrifice. And, the poor widow gives everything to be part of society in the way she was able.
I might have told this story to a few of you before, but about a year or so ago, a poor and homeless man at the river in Aberdeen who our Rev. Sarah had been listening to for a time and had made friends with came up to her and handed her some money. Now getting some money from the homeless at our meals or under the bridge at lunches or in Westport is not unusual; Chaplains tries to leave a donation can out for anyone who wants to help or give back. In this case the man handed Sarah 10 $100 bills, said he had gotten it from a benefit received recently and thought it could help her ministry. At that time, and even now, I was and am still speechless. A today example of the poor widow?