XXII Pentecost, Year B
Ru 1:1-18 or * Dt 6:1-9
Ps 146 * Ps 119:1-8
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband." Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, "No, we will return with you to your people." But Naomi said, "Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the LORD has turned against me." Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. So she said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law." But Ruth said, "Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die– there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!" When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
* (Deuteronomy 6:1-9)
Now this is the commandment–the statutes and the ordinances– that the LORD your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you and your children and your children’s children, may fear the LORD your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, has promised you. Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; youshall 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." Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’–this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.
Until it is acknowledged that Christianity has falsely associated the Creator with violence, we will not get what is occurring in our text today. If we cannot see this ‘distinguishing’ Jesus is making between the Creator and the gods and theologies of mimetic religion, then we will not understand how the scribe in our text could be so close to the Kingdom of God as Jesus perceived it.
When the gospels are read through the lens of mimetic theory it becomes clear that the distinguishing characteristic of Jesus was his absolute commitment to non-violence, non-retaliation, non-retribution. Forgivenss, love, the abba, the healings, all indicate that the Creator is not like the gods of the victimage mechanism, gods who demand sacrifice. And, as the agent of the Creator, Jesus enfleshes the character of the Creator in his character. His story is the story of a life that has been repeated many times over since. There are those who have chosen Jesus above all else. We call them saints.
Now it would be a travesty to limit our saints to those of our canonical calendars. There have always been and there always will be those persons for whom Jesus was their sole passion. St. Francis, St. Patrick, St. Teresa, not to mention St. Matthew or St. Paul or St. Mary Magdalene. But there are, hiding in our midst, people who have a secret passion for Jesus and as they contemplate his story their lives are changed and more and more one can say of them, ‘I see Jesus.’ Some of them are in the churches, many are not. But they are still saints. These folks have often undergone tremendous testing, full of trauma and suffering. But they have an unfailing trust in God’s benevolence. And that is what sets them apart from others. That is what makes a saint, a saint.
When we read the writings or traditions of the saints, we hear one theme being echoed over and over again: they are so aware that they are loved by God. It permeates their being. Their emotions, their thoughts, the language they use cannot begin to contain the power of the love of which they are aware. That is why when we read them we think “Wow, they were on some higher level.” Fact is, they chose to obey the greatest commandment.
Their developing awareness of God’s kindness and benevolence also contains a deep self awareness that is conceived of as fault, forgiveness and humility. That is, the awareness of the deep nature of their ‘mimetic’ (= sinful) self and the corresponding break (bend [C.S. Lewis], fault [Paul Ricoeur]), in the light of the mercy and compassion of God seen in the life and death of Jesus, produces a view of the self that is connected and interrelated but is not the center of all things. This is humility. This is an expression of positive mimesis, of following Jesus.
What did the scribe say that earned the positive praise of Jesus? He connected positive mimesis (= loving God and neighbor) with awareness of false ‘positive’ mimesis (= sacrifice). He understood that there was a distinction to be made between loving God and religion. The God who commands us to love is the God who is Love. Sacrifice is not love. Sacrifice is about death and taking of life. Love is about giving, love is life-giving. Just like you can’t love God and mammon so you cannot love God and the gods generated by the generative mimetic scapegoating mechanism.
One sees this is the writings of the saints in their ‘inclusiveness.’ No matter who they write for or to they all speak inclusively, as though everyone was loved as they were. They made no distinctions between rich and poor, they transcended seeing people through the eyes of social hierarchy, and discerned that ‘what God has done for them God has done for all, and what God has done for all, God has done for them’ (as Barth might put it). The saints typically do not have scapegoats, particularly those saints with a deep and abiding connection to the earth.
Though there are rabbinic parallels to discussions concerning the greatest commandment (see the Mishnah), it is the scribe’s anti sacrificial response that is noteworthy.
While Matthew may omit the scribes positive response and use this as a conflict story, he still retains the essential notion (love/mercy is better than sacrifice) in his citation of Hosea 6.6 twice in his gospel
We have stressed the difference previously between religion and spirituality. It is worth repeating. Religion is for people trying to stay out of hell; spirituality is for those who’ve been there. Don’t imagine that either Jesus’ or the scribe’s response came cheaply. These are views that are earned after much soul searching. There is a profound prophetic disjunction between religion and spirituality. There is also a deep hunger for the real Jesus in the churches and, sadly, far too many people are being fed not only pabulum, but poison.
Christian theology must deal with this ‘religious poison’ as it enters the twenty first century or else all consequent theology that it does will just be another mimetic repetition of the violence laden mimetic theology of the past. Christianity is truly at a crossroads as we see it. In the gospel we are set free to chose to Love God and our neighbor. We can chose this gospel or we can mythologize it and package it as the ‘Christian’ form of mimetic religion. Being Christian, of course, makes it the best, the only true way (sic). [As though Jesus didn’t carry a cross. As though a theology of the cross and a spirituality of the cross did not exist.]
Must God be violent? Will we Christians always view our loving God through the lens of religion? Of sacrifice? Of law and punishment? Or will we, like so many others, discover the joy of the gospel, and the sheer delight of following Jesus, of Loving God and all those we meet? Will we answer as wisely as the scribe?