XXIII Pentecost, Year B
Ru 3:1-5;4:13-17 or * 1 Kgs 17:8-16
Ps 127 * Ps 146
Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, "My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do." She said to her, "All that you tell me I will do."
So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the LORD made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, "Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him." Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, "A son has been born to Naomi." They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.
* (1 Kings 17:8-16)
Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you." So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink." As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." But she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die." Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth." She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.
For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. 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.
As he taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation." He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "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."
Jesus is going to say in unequivocal terms that a certain type of person will be “greatly condemned”. Along with others, we have observed that when Jesus speaks of punishment in the gospels, it is always in the context of the religious, not those deemed ‘sinful.’ Such is also the case today. Talk of punishment and hell should be part of our in house self-examination and reflection, not part of our message to ‘sinners.’ It wasn’t so with Jesus and it shouldn’t be so with us either.
What kind of behavior is Jesus critiquing in the ‘teachers of the law?’
1. They make a public display of their ‘perceived blessings.’
2. They are political animals; they make sure they are known by all.
3. They like to be socially recognized and honored.
4. They sacrifice the helpless and defenseless.
5. They are ostentatious in the public display of their spirituality.
6. They are wealthy.
Now let’s see, do any of these categories fit either clergy or theological academics today? You know they do. Scary, isn’t it? Sounds also like a lot of contemporary politicians in the news. Sounds suspiciously like a certain form of popular Christianity.
What kind of person does Jesus say will face the severest consequences? The religious person who wants everyone to see their devotion to ‘good’ while in fact they are secretly devoted to the sacrifice of others, to the victimage mechanism. This is obvious in number 4 but look at number 2. Why are they so well known? Why do people want to know them? They have become mimetic model/obstacles. In becoming such, they seek to remove themselves from the ‘massa damnata’ thus ensuring that they will not fall victim to the victimage mechanism. They will in fact seek to control it.
As political animals they form alliances and create factions. They will be those who steer the victimage mechanism. They are the grand guarantors of the eschatological lottery deciding who is important and who isn’t. Their decision, as Girard has said, is a sacrifice.
The theologians and the clergy who hide the revelation of the Father behind the mask of victimage create gods in their own image. They do not need wood or stone. The world of their ideas is enough to hold humanity captive. You cannot, cannot, cannot be sacrificial in your anthropology and non-sacrificial in your theology. You are either one or the other. The ‘teachers of the law’ may have spoken of grace and blessing and love and peace but it was all gained at the expense of other human beings. Theirs (and our) is the false blessing of the scapegoat mechanism.
You may well wonder what it is that they missed. They missed the same thing that many Christians have been missing (for the most part) for quite some millennia now. Go back and read the verses omitted by the lectionary, 12:35-37. In that discussion you will observe that Jesus challenges the ‘teaching’ of the scribes. They say the Messiah is the Son of David. That being the case, interjects Jesus, how can David call his son, ‘Lord?’ This makes no sense. More so, Jesus underscores the ‘authority’ of this text by declaring that David spoke by the Holy Spirit. In other words, you can’t bypass this text, you have to deal with it. Jesus, speaking with beautiful irony then declares that the Messiah cannot be placed in the same context as David’s son. This may mean that the ‘Messiah’ was to not be understood in Davidic warrior-king categories (see our discussion of Psalm 110 in ‘The Biblical Testaments as a Marriage of Convenience.’)
This interpretation fits congruently with all we have been asserting regarding the foundational place of non-retaliation in Jesus’ spirituality. If Messiah is to be conceived in terms of the warrior king Jesus is in effect saying he is not Messiah. If, however, Messiah is conceived in other non-retributive categories, then Jesus appears to be interested, e.g., Son of Man or Suffering Servant.
A Hermeneutical Note: This text will be preached far too many times today in an anti-Semitic fashion. It is covert. It equates the Scribes with ‘legalistic’ (sic) Pharisees and then goes on to set up a straw man that Jesus critiques. If Gentiles are going to preach from Jewish texts, they have got to learn to think inside Judaism and not stand outside as strangers. We Christians, whether we like it or not, have a historical obligation to all of those who perished in the Nazi Shoah. We may have continued our genocidal tendencies since, all over the planet, but this was this was the one that opened our eyes. If we are not authentically seeking to understand Jesus and the early Christians within the framework of Judaism we will forever spin in our Hellenistic dead ends. Whatever Greece and Rome may have left us moderns as their legacy has been co-opted by the corporate economic interests of the victimage mechanism anyway so what’s the difference.
If you are reading Ched Myers Binding the Strong Man alongside this site it will be obvious that we are following a very similar path. On what we said above see Myers: “However, bourgeois scholarship, oblivious to Mark’s critique of the political economy of the temple, portrays the common theme as the contrast between the religious hypocrisy of the scribes and the genuine piety of the poor woman. Fortunately, recent work has overturned this exegetical tradition.” Unless you are last, lost and helpless, poor and needy you must identify with either the crowds or the teachers of the law. If you are last, lost and helpless, poor and needy do not worry. God has his eye on you. You are worth more than a sparrow.
It is time for Christian theology to rise from its slumber and shake off the dust of violence. It is time to acknowledge the two Christs that exist in the Church, the retributive Davidic Judge and the Jesus of the Gospels. Our text today is a direct invitation to see the implications of our theology as it works itself out in our anthropology. If we find ourselves convicted, holding the short end of the stick, that may well be good. It may indicate that time for repentance is still at hand.
[A text like this is like an ink blot. Who you identify with determines your interpretation.]