A Sermon for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
November 8, 2015
(Ruth 3:1-5 & 4:13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:23-28; Mark 12:38-44)
The story of Ruth depicts one relatively small incident in the life of Israel.
The account spans and links generations, to be sure. But the the vast majority of this short story tells of the faith of Naomi, of her foreign daughter-in-law, Ruth, and of their ‘kinsman-redeemer’, Boaz.
The Book of Ruth is a love story. A ‘rags to riches’ story. And a cherished faith story. It is also a story of three people who played their role in God’s vision for the world. Their lives, in different ways, reflected heaven.
The nation of Israel was given a special role. They were, as the author of Hebrews puts it, something a ‘sketch of the heavenly things’, a ‘copy of the true’ sanctuary. They were called to be ‘like’ heaven.
The temple was the core symbol of this reality. It represented all that Israel hoped for – a hub of activity comprising the nation’s political, social, legal, historical, philosophical, and, of course, religious life.
One can only imagine the emotions such a place invoked. A myriad of pilgrims arriving each day. Extravagant buildings. Ancient walls. To be here is to belong to something greater.
But in today’s gospel reading we hear that the temple failed to remind Jesus of heaven.
So much so that the Son of God feels compelled to issue a public warning. His is a fairly straight talk. A stark, public, assessment of the scribal movement that dominates Israel’s life.
Our passage invites the imagination to soar: see him pointing to flowing robes; shaking his head at each ritual greeting; drawing attention to the danger of honour. Perhaps Jesus is forced to raise his voice above the drone of wordy, elaborate prayers. Theirs, he believes, is an alarming contentment with a wafer-thin, white-washed religion.
Jesus warning: ’do not be like them’.
Of course, Jesus see more than the negative. Positioning himself opposite the treasury he observes the temple’s collection process. Solomon’s rebuilt masterpiece was a money-mulching machine requiring constant upkeep. Neglect would not reflect well on those entrusted with caring for this most prized national symbol.
Their system demanded they collect.
But heaven’s Messiah is not seduced by the donor’s open display. Rather it is the contrast between their showy acts and that of our poor widow that captures his imagination. Her broken penny conceals a radical generosity and trust visible only to the faith-filled, heaven-centred, eye.
Jesus observed this widow through kingdom-coloured lenses – that is to say, Jesus is the only one observing without an artificial filter. He sees from the one true vantage point – heaven.
Many have observed the secretiveness in the widow’s giving. Our text hints in this direction as Jesus calls over his disciples. His pep talk implies that he was unconvinced that they had seen. The disciples are not blind to grand quantities of cash – but the sacrificial gift of this unnamed widow needed to be pointed out.
Jesus’ instruction: essentially, be ‘like’ her.
I find a delightful irony in our heroin’s quiet, unobtrusive, almost shamed act. There is no indication that she ever spoke to Jesus. From her perspective no-one ever noticed.
But once Jesus has made his observations the story of her extravagant gift finds its way into the most published and translated of all books. Without ever knowing she has become a part of history’s most celebrated story!
Like Ruth, and Naomi, and Boaz, this widow faithfully plays her heaven-reflective role.
As does Jesus.
We see heaven, again, in Jesus’ ultimate action as our once-for-all High Priest removing ‘sin by the sacrifice of himself’. This one will appear again, the saviour of all who are ‘eagerly waiting for him’.
In the faithfulness of the characters found in the book of Ruth. In the secret giving of those tiny coins. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In your every action. In each of these I pray that you may see something of the prayer Jesus asked of us: ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’
A prayer with all the potential to guide our lives into reflecting heaven itself.