Reading Ramblings – October 13, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 13, 2019

Texts: Ruth 1:1-19a; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:1-13; Luke 17:11-19

Context: The readings today are interesting, and parallels are elusive at first glance. Yet a theme of faithfulness runs through them all. God’s faithfulness to us, which is not always visible to us when we are called to respond in faith and trust. Ruth pledges herself to an uncertain future away from her own people, yet God brings her into the story of salvation as an ancestor not only of King David but the Son of God himself. The lepers are sent to the priests before they are healed, and only as they head down the road does their healing take place. Even Timothy is called to respond in faithfulness rather than fear, remembering all he was taught, and all he saw and heard Paul preach to others as the source of salvation. Likewise, we are to trust God’s work in our lives even when we can’t see it in the moment, knowing He is always with us and will always be faithful to us eternally.

Ruth 1:1-19a – During the period of the judges, a period characterized by a lack of faithfulness to God and a lack of leadership that would eventually lead to the call for a king, we have this story of a famine and the relocation of a family from the Promised Land of Israel to the Moabites, a people related to the Israelites but with a contentious history and a pagan religion. Here Naomi’s husband dies, her two sons marry local girls (instead of going back home to marry Israelite women), then they die leaving her with literally no hope for her future. Instead of expecting her daughters-in-law to assume care for her, she selflessly seeks their best by bidding them to return home. Ruth refuses. Through Naomi she gained a family and a God, and she will not let these things go through the death of her husband. She pledges herself to be as a son to Naomi, binding herself not just to Naomi but Naomi’s God and her people. It’s obvious Ruth has received much, and therefore clings to what she has received. Yet she has no certainty about the future. She must act in faith, trusting the God she now worships – the God of Israel – will tend to her better than the gods of her own people.

Psalm 111 – God’s faithful works to his people are cause to exhort one another to praise and thanksgiving to him. God alone can be perfectly trusted as the source of all good things, including a faithfulness that remains even when we are faithless. As such, He has redeemed his people (v.9), a prophetic verse about the coming Messiah who will institute a new covenant (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24). God is the source of all we have, and daily provides his entire creation with enough that all might live and be satisfied. Those who would point to examples of famine and other human crises as evidence these verses lie need to take into account human sinfulness. When nations pay their farmers not to grow food, when we determine trade agreements or dismiss them, when warlords or even elected rulers prevent humanitarian aid from reaching their people, should God be held accountable for such sinfulness? It is not God who is stingy with what He provides, but we who receive it often are. Those who reject the wisdom of the world to cling to God’s Word as truth truly will have a good understanding, one that transcends some personal pride of knowledge and extends to a wise use of all God entrusts to us.

2 Timothy 2:1-13 – Paul calls Timothy to a renewed focus on his calling in Christ. Despite the stigma of preaching a messiah publicly executed by crucifixion and a mentor in chains bound for trial before the Emperor, Timothy is to cling to the truth as he has received it. What matters is to remain strong in Christ’s grace, not the approbation of the world. Followers of Jesus should expect to suffer and Timothy will not suffer alone. External circumstances may seem hopeless and bleak, yet Christ was raised from death itself – there is no situation beyond the power of God the Holy Spirit to reverse or deliver us from. But He may call us to suffer, even unto death, as a witness to the truth of Christ crucified and resurrected. And if so, we have nothing to fear still, though we certainly don’t seek out martyrdom. Likely quoting from an early Christian hymn or catechetical teaching, Paul reminds Timothy that should we die with Christ we will rise and live with him, that our endurance is not for nothing but earns us life everlasting (as opposed to rejecting Christ when called to suffer for him). While God is always faithful to us, it is possible for us to reject him and lose the hope and calling we received through the Holy Spirit,

Luke 17:11-19 – Jesus sends ten lepers to the priests. The priests acted as doctors, diagnosing various skin diseases and indicating when it was serious enough to require exclusion from the community for either a short or a long period of time. The lepers could not be admitted back into the community without the priests giving them a clean bill of health. But they lepers aren’t healed yet. Jesus doesn’t wave his hands or do anything that would indicate He was going to heal them, He simply tells them to go to the priests. It must have been a strange command, and yet they obey. And on the way, no doubt talking with one another about what this could mean, and peeking into their robes to see if anything had changed, they suddenly realized they were healed. Healed! Can you imagine them breaking into a run? Rushing to the priests to be declared whole and healed. A miracle!

In the midst of all of this only one has the presence of mind to come back to Jesus first and thank him for healing him. And he wasn’t even a Jew, but one of the much hated Samaritans. This is the third time Luke mentions Jesus referring to Samaritans. In Luke 9 a Samaritan village rejects the disciples and their message, but Jesus spares the town from divine wrath the disciples were willing to call down on it. In Luke 10 a Samaritan becomes the unlikely good neighbor to the beaten Jewish man. And now a Samaritan demonstrates gratitude to God when his peers – likely Jewish – do not.

Jesus called the lepers to act in faith. With little to lose, we might imagine they had no reason not to. Having asked Jesus to help them, how foolish would it be to reject his instructions? Yet perhaps we are prone to this, asking for God’s help yet disregarding the promises He has made us in his Word – promises that transcend today while not excluding it, and point us to look forwards always in faith to what lies ahead, the return of our Lord.

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