Revised Common Lectionary Bible readings to prepare for Sunday, November 18
Theme: The devil’s destructive works are overturned by faith in God’s purpose
1 Samuel 1:4-20 – God’s answer to a desperate prayer impacts history. Hannah’s failure to conceive does not dampen her trust in God’s goodness.
Daniel 12:1-3 – End-times resurrection: either everlasting life, or shame. The archangel Michael will arise to protect those whose name is written in book of the saved, in the final conflict.
Mark 13:1-8 – Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple. The end-times conflicts will be characterised by wars, disasters and widespread spiritual deception.
Hebrews 10:11-25 – Our confidence is in knowing who we are in Jesus. The Holy Spirit witnesses to us the New Covenant in Jesus blood and the finality of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
OLD TESTAMENT READING 1
1 Samuel 1:4-20 – God’s answer to a desperate prayer impacts history
Hannah’s failure to conceive does not dampen her trust in God’s goodness
4-8 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to
“But to Hannah” – the name means ‘grace’. The wider story is God’s miraculous intervention with a faithful woman, Hannah, raising up the last of the judges of Israel at a time of crisis for Israel, who will oversee the transition to a monarchy.
“Peninnah… Hannah” – monogamy was the rule, two people becoming one flesh, Gen. 2:24. But there were social pressures through young men being killed in battle and the need to continue the family line – and produce more offspring to help with the work.
9-11 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
“Shiloh” – the original settled location of the tabernacle where the land was divided among the tribes, Josh. 18:1-10; modern Khirbet Seilun, about 20 miles north of Jerusalem. It was destroyed, Psalm 78:60; Jer. 7:12-14 perhaps as a result of the mistakes of 1 Sam. 4 when the ark was taken from Shiloh to be with the army, who
“Eli…on his chair by the…Lord’s house” – by this time a building with rooms, not just a tent. The chair (like a vicar’s stall in a C of E church) is the priest’s place and denotes his authority. Rabbis would sit to teach. Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father.
“Deep anguish” – barrenness in OT times was considered a failure and a social embarrassment for her husband, on top of the natural disappointment.
12-14 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”
“Kept on praying” – Hannah had reason to be swamped by discouragement; unable to conceive, mocked by a woman who shared her husband and by the high priest who failed to understand her motives. But she kept praying, kept her focus on God and opened the way for Him to work.
15-16 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
“Not… a wicked woman” – to drink in the tabernacle precincts would be considered a grave offence; for a priest, a death sentence, Lev. 10:9; Ezek. 44:21.
17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
18 She said, “May your servant find favour in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.
19-20 Early the next morning they arose and worshipped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. So in the course of time, Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”
“Samuel” – the literal meaning is ‘name of God’ but it sounded like ‘heard by God’, a double meaning important to Hannah: God had heard her prayer.
OLD TESTAMENT READING 2
Daniel 12:1-3 – End-times resurrection: either to everlasting life, or shame
The archangel Michael will arise to protect those whose name is written in book of the saved, in the final conflict
1 “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered.
“At that time” – the events of the previous paragraph detailing the antichrist’s attempt to annihilate the Jewish people, Dan. 11:36-45. It will be a time of unprecedented distress but at the same time, tempered with hope for true believers, who have turned in faith to their Messiah Jesus, Zech. 12:10; Romans 11:25-27.
“Michael” – the name of the archangel Michael who prevailed over a principality demon controlling the Persian empire, after a 21-day struggle.
“Name… written in the book” – the book of the saved, Mal. 3:16-4:3; Luke 10:20; Rev. 13:8
2-3 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.
“Multitudes who sleep… will awake” – the first reference in the Bible to the physical resurrection of the righteous, and also with a different outcome, of the wicked. The bodily resurrection of both the saved and the lost was a not part of the common belief.
For further study, read Job 19:25-26; Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 26:19; John 5:24-29.
“Everlasting life” – the phrase is unique here in the OT.
IN PRACTICE The story of Hannah speaks loudly of God’s goodness, to all of us who have been misunderstood, disappointed again and again and put down by others. Her self-esteem had been shredded, but not her faith. She knew God is good, even if it didn’t feel that way to her, and she kept on praying. We know that pride and self-sufficiency are a barrier to God working in our lives. And He will root that out, especially if he is about to do something big. His purpose is always to grow us and always has a bigger picture than the one we see.
Hannah’s story reminds us that at times of apparent disaster, God is working for His salvation purposes. For God’s people taking God’s kingdom purpose forward, persecution goes with the territory! Paul reminded Timothy of this (2 Timothy 3:10-13 especially) and it is our encouragement to keep on keeping on, for heaven’s reward in heaven’s time.
PRAYER Lord, open my eyes to the bigger picture that is not just my fight of faith, that I may see and declare that You are good and Your purposes for me are protective.
Mark 13:1-8 – Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple
The end-times conflicts will be characterised by wars, disasters and widespread spiritual deception
1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
“Massive stones” – think of foundation stones on the scale of a double-decker bus. The building project would not be complete for another 30 years.
2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
“Every one… thrown down’ – the temple was completely destroyed by the Romans in AD70 together with most of the city. The authorities, who sought to murder the Messiah, Mark 11:18, rather than welcome Him, Mark 11:9-11, 27-33, were rebellious tenants marked for destruction, Mark 12:9-10.
3-4 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
“What will be the sign” — the disciples were expecting the temple destruction to herald the last times. Jesus is speaking of future events and future times but, confusingly for us, free of chronological order. Prophetic foretelling in Scripture often applies to more than one future time.
5-8 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
“Watch out… be on your guard” – Jesus’ commanding tone points to deception being a primary danger for the disciples, requiring them (and us) to be skilled in spiritual discernment together with Scriptural principles.
IN PRACTICE Jesus had warned the disciples that there would be consequences for those who rejected their Messiah. The cause and effect relationship would result in the pulling down of the focus of national pride, the new temple and even its massive foundations. Their ‘sign of the end times’ came less than 40 years later with terrible bloodshed as Jerusalem and its revolt was destroyed by the Romans. Jesus’ words point to a greater conflict yet to come, while the end-times seem to us to go on and on. Perhaps the greatest danger is not just hatred and war, but its root causes in satanic deception. The kingdom message of knowing God’s love and loving Him and others is so straightforward we can miss it – but we are to watch for the ways it is twisted into an ugly caricature, and recognise which kingdom is dark, and which is light.
QUESTION Do our attitudes and actions play out with effects now, or effects later, or in eternity – or not at all?
Hebrews 10:11-25 – Knowing who we are in Jesus is our confidence
The Holy Spirit witnesses to us the New Covenant in Jesus blood and the finality of Jesus’ sacrifice for us
11-14 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this Priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time He waits for his enemies to be made His footstool. For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
“Every priest stands… this Priest… sat down” – Christ is seated because His work is finished, whereas every
15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First He says:
16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
“I will put my laws in their hearts” – as Jeremiah had prophesied, Jer. 31:31-34, seeing a future era of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding believers which, post-Resurrection, should be our experience. These verses explain the apparent conundrum of “being made holy” or sanctified by the Holy Spirit’s influence on us, while being regarded positionally as “made perfect” by the finished work of Christ, v.14. We are seen according to our new nature in Christ, outcome assured, while as we are aware, we remain on earth a ‘work in progress’.
17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”
18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
“Sins…remember no more” – contrasts with “annual reminder of sins”, Heb. 10:3. The religious mindset (as in the Old Covenant) holds on to a false need to confess sins repeatedly. This new spiritual perspective of the New Covenant has the revelation that Christ forgives sins completely, Psalm 40:6-8. Sins we confess and renounce are both forgiven and forgotten.
19-25 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
“Therefore… let us…” – the incredible good news that we are positionally completely forgiven is not a licence for passivity, but rather, the reason to keep on meeting, encouraging one another, going deeper with God and further in faith-prompted love and good deeds.
“Draw near… with…” – it works with certain conditions: sincerity of heart, unhesitating assurance, freedom from guilt, and the impartation of “hearts sprinkled… bodies washed” which points to the value of choosing to declare faith in baptism.
IN PRACTICE A key word in this passage is ‘confidence’ and a key value in living above all that pulls us down as witnesses to the life of the Spirit of Jesus in us, is confidence in who we are, as viewed by heaven. We might not feel it polite in mixed company to speak vehemently of the blood of Jesus and how it has transformed us – but speak it out we
QUESTION What seems to be going badly for you right now? What is God’s good purpose in it, and how do you pray in line with that discernment?
PRAYER Lord, no one knows the time of Your return and all we really understand about the end-times is that at the end of the book, the Lamb wins! Fill me afresh with the Holy Spirit who gives holy confidence and
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RCL and Remembrance Sunday readings for Nov 11, 2018
Theme: God hates falsehood, but honours authenticity and trust
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 — Ruth shows her need of a kinsman redeemer. Boaz marries the young Moabite widow and their son is an ancestor of King David.
Jonah 3:1-5, 10 — Jonah obeys the Lord and preaches repentance to Nineveh. On overcoming his fears and misgivings and obeying the Lord, he sees Ninevites respond and God’s judgment averted.
Mark 12:38-44 — Jesus condemns the falsehood of the scribes. The teachers of the law lived by show and exploited others, while the powerless widow is seen to honour God in her giving.
Hebrews 9:24-28 — Christ enters the ‘real tabernacle’ of heaven to appear for us. His first appearance was to sacrifice Himself for the sins of many and He will come again to gather others.
Also: Psalm 127
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 — Ruth shows her need of a kinsman redeemer
Boaz marries a young Moabite widow and their son is an ancestor of King David
1-2 One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor.
“Find a home” – literally, resting place, or permanent home. As a close relative, Boaz might act as a kinsman-redeemer for Ruth and Naomi.
Winnowing…threshing floor” – separating the chaff from the grain. It was also customary for the landowner and men to sleep nearby and prevent theft of the grain.
“Uncover his feet” – however it sounds, folding back his long tunic so that he wakes with cold feet, so she can speak privately with him, is not pushing the boundary of moral integrity. Ruth’s action, dressed as a bride, rather than a widow, amounts to a request for marriage. The story of Tamar, Genesis 38:13-30, is another example of appealing to the guardian-redeemer law.
5 “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered.
“Whatever you say” – Ruth was a Moabite, unfamiliar with Jewish law and custom.
4:13-15 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”
“Gave birth to a son” – the story concludes with the ten generations from Perez, the son of Judah (Jacob’s son) to David, grandson of Obed. Ruth and Boaz were ancestors of Israel’s greatest king (and Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus).
16-17 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
“Obed… father of Jesse” – Ruth and Boaz were ancestors of Israel’s greatest king (and Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus).
The conclusion balances the introduction, Ruth 1:1-5, Ruth 4:13-17. Both focus on Naomi, her former emptiness and reliance on the Lord, now reversed by His provision for her. Both passages are similar in being compressed and having the same number of words in Hebrew.
Jonah 3:1-5, 10 — Jonah obeys the Lord and preaches repentance to Nineveh
On overcoming his fears and misgivings and obeying the Lord, he sees Ninevites respond and God’s judgment averted
1-2 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
“The message I give you” – a prophet is to proclaim a message from God, not necessarily a foretelling one.
3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.
“Great city” – it was a sizeable place, about three miles across, not a journey of days, except that it took Jonah time to preach his message, street corner by street corner.
4-5 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
“Nineveh… overthrown” – Jonah’s message did not include an “unless” clause even though he knew God wanted their repentance rather than their destruction, Jonah 3:10, 4:2.
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened.
IN PRACTICE The Book of Ruth begins and ends with the Lord’s provision – He “had come to the aid of His people by providing food for them”, “the Lord enabled [Ruth] to conceive” and the Bethlehem women agreed with Naomi, “The Lord… has not left you without a guardian-redeemer”. It was a big issue of trust for them; for Ruth, trusting God who she hardly knew, doing the right thing when it also seemed a wrong thing and for them both, being real about their situation and their need of God’s intervention in providing an unwed and land-owning relative keen to marry Ruth and continue the family line… which reached forward to King David. Jonah’s version of being real before God and trusting Him in a difficult call needed some time to mature, but eventually he found himself preaching to the streets of this notorious pagan capital of the Assyrian empire, for the people to turn from their wickedness to the living God – and they did. God blessed the two women in their plight and their need, and He blessed run-away Jonah back to obedience, who then saw an extraordinary revival unfold.
QUESTION Worshipping as one of a congregation that is led from the front, we can all wear a mask but we need to get real with the Lord about how we are. What other ways of gathering help us to do this?
Mark 12:38-44 — Jesus condemns the falsehood of the scribes
The teachers of the law lived by show and exploited others, while the powerless widow is seen to honour God in her giving
38-40 As He taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
“Teachers of the law” – also called ‘scribes’, were notorious for breaking the law they sought to impose by failing to love God and have His love for people. Jesus names six examples of their self-promoting desire for recognition: wearing long festive garments inappropriate for everyday wear; expecting people to rise and greet them; assuming the right to the prominent places in synagogues, and at banquets; making ‘grandstanding’ prayers; and preying on vulnerable widows.
Devour widows’ houses’ – teachers of the law relied on the generosity of patrons, and widows were vulnerable to exploitation which eventually left them homeless. Defrauding someone else’s mother, Mark 7:11-13, was a denial of loving either God or people, with a lack of mercy that rendered their lengthy prayers empty.
For further study – God’s concern for widows, Deut. 14:29; Ps. 68:5; Ps. 146:9; Isa. 1:17; Jer. 7:6; Jer. 49:11; and condemnation of those who abuse them, Isa. 1:23, Ezek. 22:7, Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5.
41-42 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
“The temple treasury” – a number of trumpet-like receptacles to catch money, in the Court of Women, accessible to men and women. Women were barred from going in further.
“Small…coins” – ‘two lepta, which is a quadrans’ – a Roman measure, because Mark wrote his gospel for the church in Rome. It was equivalent to a sixty-fourth of a basic day’s pay.
43-44 Calling His disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.”
“She… put in everything” – the widow did exactly what Jesus had told the influential young man and His disciples to do, Mark 10:21, Mark 8:34-37, Mark 10:28-29.
IN PRACTICE There are times and situations where distinctive uniforms are helpful – we immediately think of peacekeeping and emergency services – and job titles are helpful for recognising people’s roles, from the Queen and Prime Minister to the customer service person. The point in this passage is about those who are in a position to represent God to others failing to demonstrate His mercy, but rather assuming an entitlement to position and distinction and the right to bully others – which Jesus denounces as warranting severe punishment. The lesson here is that God may hear quite short and simple prayers from regular people who have no pretension and nothing to prove, but give themselves to God in authenticity and reliance on Him.
QUESTION Do you have a title or a position that you rather like? What will it cost you to let it go?
Hebrews 9:24-28 — Christ enters the ‘real tabernacle’ of heaven to appear for us
His first appearance was to sacrifice Himself for the sins of many and He will come again to gather others
24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that
“Sanctuary… a copy of the true one” – the regulations for ministry given under the old covenant were for a sanctuary on earth that represented God’s transcendent ‘otherness’ with the holy place that people other than the high priest could not enter. Now Christ enters into the very presence of God in heaven.
25 Nor did He enter heaven to offer Himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.
“Blood not his own” – pointing out the difference between a priest sacrificing unwilling animals, and Jesus offering Himself.
26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But He has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
“Many times… once for all” – the animal sacrifice had to be made again and again on the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16:29-34. Christ’s far superior sacrifice was final, for all time.
“Since the creation of the world” – or since the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden, Genesis 3, Hebrews 4:3 there has been the need for a complete and lasting, rather than provisional, remedy.
27-28 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.
“He will appear a second time” – but not to deal with sin, because that has already been accomplished. “Those who are waiting for Him” – believers are to live in expectation of Christ’s return at any time, remaining faithful and ready however long the wait.
IN PRACTICE The writer of Hebrews (possibly Apollos and almost certainly not Paul) addresses Jewish-background believers. This gives them a sharply-drawn comparison between the rituals of temple and synagogue (as it was then) and the worship in heaven with Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the adoration of the heavenly throng. One is an earthly imitation, of sorts, and the other is the real thing. Is what we do a pale imitation, or the real thing, albeit scaled down and humanised to make it accessible for us? We can go through the familiar routines – liturgy or not, every church tradition has them – or we can be intentional about inviting the presence of God, asking the Holy Spirit to presence Himself, giving Him permission to upset our carefully prepared order of service. To the extent that we do this (probably little steps at first) we notice the difference. We can’t always define it. But there’s a sense of God’s close presence. We know ‘the real thing’ when we experience it. And Christ has performed the perfect ritual, once and for all, so that we can be free to encounter the Lord and experience a little bit of heaven as we gather and submit to Him.
QUESTION Honest answer, on a postcard… would you rather know the exact order of worship, or know that you have met with the Lord in a way special and personal to you?
PRAYER Father God, I receive Your love afresh and thank You that You know me inside out. You know the ways I am an open book to You, and also where I cling to some life position for my identity. Help me to renounce all that is false, proud or self-sufficient — and offensive to You. I pray this in and through Jesus. Amen.
Scriptures to read in preparation for Sunday, November 4
Theme: The priority of returning God’s love to Him and others
Deuteronomy 6:1-9 — First love God with all your heart; the foundation of the First Great Commandment.
Ruth 1:1-18— Ruth decides to trust God and look after Naomi. A choice to do what is right.
Mark 12:28-34 — the Great Commandment, love God, love others. Unselfishness the guiding principle of the kingdom of God.
Hebrews 9:11-14 — Love enabled by the cleansing power of the blood of Christ. Christ’s sacrifice changes us inwardly in a way the blood of calves and goats never could.
Also: Psalm 146
OLD TESTAMENT READING 1
Deuteronomy 6:1-9 — First love God with all your heart
The foundation of the First Great Commandment
1-2 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.
“Fear the Lord your God” – ‘revere’ for His goodness, would come closer than ‘fear’ (of the consequences) although both are in the meaning. What follows is predicated on Israel’s covenanted relationship with a loving, sustaining, providing God i.e. Exodus 34:5-7 “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love… and forgiving…”
3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.
“Be careful to obey” — needs to be understood in terms of the heart and soul and passion of v.5, see note to vv. 6-8 below.
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
“The Lord is one” — distinctive among other tribes and nations who worshipped, and attempted to placate, various deities who were related to the prevailing threats and needs of life. Scripture is
5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
“Hear, O Israel” — recited by Jews in the synagogue and often daily as well, this Shema (Hebrew for ‘hear’) passage is a foundational confession of faith, as the Nicene Creed has become in the Church of England.
“Love the Lord” — ‘love’ in English has a broad range of meanings. This has the specific sense of ‘adore, revere, be committed to’ in the way people show their devotion to a popular monarch, like Trooping the Colour in London every June.
6-8 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
“0n your hearts… foreheads” — the sense of verse 6 was lost on some Jewish sects who in religious zeal tied a small box containing the text over their heads. This is what we all tend to do: try to turn a heart relationship into a set of religious rules and routines which we find easier to control. But the Lord simply wants our hearts, and when He has our heart, that will be evident enough.
9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
…OLD TESTAMENT READING 2
Ruth 1:1-18 – Ruth decides to trust God and look after Naomi
A choice to do what is right
1-2 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
“When the judges ruled” – following Joshua and preceding Saul and David, probably around 1100 BC.
“Ephrathites” – the area around Bethlehem village, as in Micah’s prophecy foretelling the Messiah’s birth in “Bethlehem Ephrathah”, Micah 5:2
“Mahlon and Kilion” – both names descriptive of a weak constitution.
3-5 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
“Married Moabite women” – not forbidden although classed as outsiders – there was a 10-generation (male) ban on “entering the assembly of the Lord”. However, marriage and continuation of the family line
“Naomi was left” – the plight of Ruth’s mother-in-law is set out early in the story. Life could be very hard and vulnerable for an unsupported widow in that culture.
6-7 When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
“The Lord had come to the aid of His people” – this story emphasises the Lord’s sovereignty over events.
8-9 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
“Show you kindness” – Naomi had blessed her daughters-in-law with God’s hesēd, meaning the covenant, loyal love of God, although the daughters-in-law were not Israelites and in a foreign country.
9-10 Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
11-13 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons — would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”
Naomi sees her difficult circumstances, wrongly, as the Lord’s enmity or discipline of her – as we often do. The book as a whole tells a different story of God’s gracious provision.
14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God, my God.
“Your God my God” – Ruth probably grew up worshipping the Moabite god Chemosh.
17-18 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
“May the Lord” – Ruth invokes the name of Yahweh for the first time, showing her commitment to Naomi and the Lord, with no other prospects in view. She is embracing uncertainty, leaving kinspeople and familiarity to go where she has no family and friends, as an outsider.
IN PRACTICE Ruth and Naomi walk us through what it means to return God’s love by trusting Him and choosing His way in our relationships with others. They faced an uncertain future as women in a man’s world, their menfolk having been taken from them. Do they blame God, or trust Him? Do they do what gives them most opportunity, or choose to do what is right? Life and its pressures and choices hasn’t changed in three thousand years, except that we have many more choices we can make, and many more options for self-determination rather than seeking God’s best and trusting Him in it. We have too much practice in making easy but low-value choices, and we need to work up our skills in making high-value and lasting ones — seeking God and trusting Him for His way.
QUESTION Trusting God, doing what is right by Him, making high value choices is difficult. Who can share this with you, and encourage you?
Mark 12:28-34 – the Great Commandment, love God, love others
Unselfishness a guiding principle of the kingdom of God
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“One of the teachers of the law” – until now, in Mark, they have been hostile; this was probably a Pharisee, but a friendly and teachable one.
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
30 ‘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 most important…” – the rabbis had codified the law into 613 statutes, and debated which were ‘weighty’ and which were ‘lighter’. Jesus starts where they are, quoting the familiar ‘Shema’ or ‘Hear’ passage (which opens worship in synagogues today)._
31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“The second is this” – Jesus puts two sayings together (see For Further Study note below) that were widely separated in the law, and so not expected to be combined. The first summarises commandments 1-4 about loving God wholeheartedly, the second summarises commandments 5-10 about moral responsibility and treating others well. His point is that they cannot be separated. God, who loves us, expects us to return His love by putting Him first and also by honouring others, loving them as He does.
32-33 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
“You are right” – this particular scribe had understood that God’s overriding characteristic was mercy. Without the accompaniment of just and merciful behaviour, without which the ceremonial was meaningless.
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask Him any more questions.
“Not far from the kingdom” – the scribe had the right priorities, but entering the kingdom would require him to recognise and speak out Jesus as being the Son of God, (who would shortly die in his place as a sacrifice for his sins).
For further study: The Great Commandment unfolds, Deut. 6:46; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43; Matthew 22:36-40; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14.
This man had grasped the teaching and understood the way it fits together. He knew the priorities – a lack of moral compass and concern for others cancels out any good religious intentions we can perform. First things first, and with God, that is always mercy!
The second teaching here is about the spirit of the law versus the legalism of the law. Jesus upholds the broad intention of the law by being the fulfilment of the law. He shows what it looks like to know God’s love, and so to be provoked into returning it in devotion to God, that results in having a heart of mercy and generosity to others. By contrast, the Jewish teachers and scribes majored on the fine details of observance, where their response to God had become formulaic rather than feeling.
We can’t reduce the teaching of Jesus to a formula; either it is heartfelt or it is reduced to head-knowledge. To change the world around us – being bringers of the kingdom of God – must start with us having a demonstrable heart change. We can’t give what we haven’t got.
QUESTION How can we, as the Church representing Jesus, be more effective at showing His transforming love to the world, rather reducing it to the kind of rituals and regulations which Jesus so clearly derided?
Hebrews 9:11-14 – The cleansing, releasing power of the blood of Christ
Christ’s sacrifice changes us inwardly in a way the blood of calves and goats never could
11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.
“Greater… perfect tabernacle” – a comparison between the tent that preceded the temple with its hammered gold lamp stand for seven lamps and its consecrated bread, and the ‘heavenly tent’ around God’s presence. The man-made one was a poor shadow of the real thing which Christ entered to take his high priestly seat.
12-13 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.
“Once for all” – a comparison between the repeated sacrifices of the Levitical priest, each of which amounted to a partial remedy for sin, and Christ’s sinless sacrifice, final, effective and unrepeatable.
14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
“How much more” – an argument from less to greater. The comparison emphasises the power of remembering, enacting and declaring what Christ’s blood has done for us. The balance between these actions varies across Christian traditions.
IN PRACTICE The flesh nature — how we behave naturally as humankind — is inherently selfish and self-protective, and therefore not disposed to be generous to others. We live in competition, not collaboration. Loving others is optional, depending on what we feel – because we readily store up resentments accumulated by emotional collisions with others.
Coming to Christ and having a personal relationship with God brings the Holy Spirit’s dynamic to counteract and change this self-centred flesh nature. We have hurt God by our selfishness and rebellion, but He has forgiven us — massively. This is the work of the blood of Christ, not only spiritual forgiveness for sin, but emotional cleansing of conscience from the effect of sin. Now we can think and act differently, with a generosity of spirit towards others. It is still a choice — we need to constantly be reminded how Christ’s blood has cleansed us — but it is an empowered choice. We can reflect God’s love and generous spirit to us, in how we relate to others.
QUESTION Christ’s blood is all-powerful and effective, but how do we assert this? What is the balance between remembering, and speaking it out, in your tradition?
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PRAYER Father, we see selfishness, hatred and war all around us yet You sent Jesus to be the embodiment of your way of love and the means to achieve it. Fill us with Your love and empower us to use it to bring change to the bit of the world we can influence. Amen.
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