Biblical Words 
Migrants and pilgrims, in old lands and new, find renewal and liberation in their journeys.
The reading from the Hebrew scriptures is the first part of the Book of Ruth. This is one of the most familiar and beloved stories of the Bible – presenting personal lives touched by tragedy, deep feelings of attachment, and community relations of concern and support for the working poor.
Ruth had linked her life to immigrants and herself became an immigrant.
As a young woman in her native land, she had married an immigrant. The marriage made her part of a family in which the men and the mother-in-law were foreigners living in her country, with only her sister-in-law Orpah a native of her own land. Though their marriages lasted less than ten years and produced no children, they fostered strongly bonded relationships. These relationships were tested after the death of the men, when the three women were left as widows, dependent on charity and without future hope.
The drama of our
reading is the parting of the women, and particularly Ruth’s refusal to
leave Naomi, her mother-in-law. Naomi must
What is extraordinary is Ruth’s refusal to part from Naomi. Her vow of deathless attachment to Naomi (verses 16-17) is not ordinary. This avowal makes her an immigrant, commits her to a new ethnic identify, to a new God, and to a new land, which will become her burial place. Because of her love for Naomi, Ruth converts to a new people and faith, and ties her destiny inextricably to Naomi’s.
The grandeur of this love is breathtaking – and, as the book intends to show, makes Ruth a woman of destiny for her adopted land and its great king to come (David).
Reading Psalm 146 after the Ruth selection expands the horizons.
This is a hymn of praise to the God to whom Ruth committed herself in her vow to Naomi. The central parts of the psalm are a wisdom instruction (verses 3-4), a blessing on those who depend on the Lord (verses 5-7b), and a declaration of the character of this God (verses 7c-9). Two points especially link with the situation of Ruth.
fallibility of human supports for life:
“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help”
the particular objects of care and protection of this God are those such as
Naomi and Ruth: “The Lord watches over
the strangers [gērīm, “sojourners,” immigrants], he upholds the orphan
and the widow…” (verse 9). In the story
of Ruth it remains to be seen how such care from God may be worked out, but
this declaration of faith is the sort of thing Naomi might have heard among the
The Epistle reading approaches the most esoteric aspects of Jesus Christ as heavenly high priest and his sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Rather than worry over the details of ritual involved in the argument, let’s take a broader perspective on the writer’s message.
One of the priestly
actions referred to in this passage is the annual Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)
ritual. (The instructions for Aaron –
and subsequent high priests – to follow for this ritual are given in
Judean scholars in
perspective – that the action of the high priest in
sacrifice opens new possibilities of living as pilgrims moving from Sinai to
The Gospel reading is
one of the episodes by which Jesus’ authority as a teacher of the people is
challenged and tested in
Our reading is
remarkable because it is the one case where Jesus and a scribe come to
complete agreement – and agreement about truly fundamental matters. Jesus seals this outcome by saying, “You are
not far from the
What Jesus and the scribe agree upon, of course, are the essentials of Judaism – the greatest commandment, and the one “like unto it.”
The text is rather wordy, having Jesus quote the commandments fully, and then having the scribe, in agreement, summarize what Jesus has just said. The scribe’s summary is interesting in its own right. “…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” (-33). That concluding statement is an addition: Jesus had not mentioned the priority of the commandments over the obligation to bring sacrifices and offerings.
We can be sure that the priestly families would not have agreed with this scribe’s summary.
The basic premise
of the Mosaic legislation is that there is one supreme holy place where every
Israelite’s relation to God is focused and determined, and that place was an
altar for animal sacrifices. Scrupulous
obedience to that legislation – with all its sacrifices, tithes, and holy times
– is the absolute requirement for
On the other hand, the agreement between Jesus and the scribe, as paraphrased by the scribe, offers a glimpse of a great prospect on the future for Judaism and Christianity.
The religions of the word and of faith will replace the religions of blood sacrifices and exclusionary atonement rituals.
On the side of
Judaism, historical necessity – the permanent destruction of the
A new age in human religiousness was emerging in the Hellenistic-Roman world, and this scribe – in agreement with Jesus – was naming the new reality.