October 7, 2022 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills
Proper 23/C [Pent. 18] 10/09/22: Ps. 111; Ruth 1:1-19a; 2 Timothy 2:1-13; Luke 17:11-19.
[Naomi] arose with her daughters-in-law and returned from the region of Moab, for she had heard … that the LORD had graciously visited his people to give them food” (v. 6).
Three women, Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth were in search of security. Formerly, security centered in hearth and home with sons and husbands in pagan Moab near Judah’s Bethlehem-Ephrathah, former Naomi’s land-hold.
After ten years peace and domesticity in Moab on the border of Judah; security evaporated; the women’s men-folk died. In the ancient world a woman, especially a foreign woman as Naomi beyond childbearing years, absent a husband or father could only expect to exist on society’s margins.
Naomi, an Israelite with two Moabite daughters-in-law in tow were as marginal a collection as were the Ten Lepers who approached Jesus between heretical Samaria and Jewish Galilee.
All of us need and seek a place of security. Many, like the Pharisees (Lk. 16:14), fixed that security in money putting themselves in more than comfortable, even luxuriant surroundings, and companionship with the world. Earlier Jesus analogized himself toward the rich man, we call “Dives”, as impoverished, diseased, and rejected Lazarus on “the margins” at “Dives’ gate”; so close, yet a chasm in this life.
Apart from creature comforts, some derive security from faux praises of men; worldly wisdom and other associations. Sinners, we all, live on one of these extremes, or desire so to do. In the end however, we are in a chasm (v. 26) between heaven and hell, where the only security is with Lazarus upon his Father’s bosom (v. 22a).
“The elect” (2 Tim. 2:10) discerns God’s word and favor in “the place of his visitation”. Naomi heard of bread in her former home of Bethlehem; she would return to the Land of Israel’s promise. So too, the Samaritan leper, upon his healing, returned to Jesus, the source of his security.
All of us experience suffering and desperate straits; we either trust, or not, and hear admonition, “do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage … For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12:5, 6). St. Paul therefor encourages, “be strong”, “share in suffering” that the Lord “grant understanding” for us to “endure” (2 Tim. 2:3, 7, 12).
Chastisement from God comes, not only by calamity, but by his word of crisis and judgment for return to the place of his gracious healing and release; the precincts where he instructs and provides of our Security. When we respond to God inviting us to partake of his Bread, we grasp the place of eternal security; election in Christ.
On entering Israel, Ruth, like the Samaritan leper before Jesus, was a foreigner; she was faithful daughter-in-law and catechized of Israel’s one true God. When Naomi intended to return to Bethlehem, Ruth for love of Naomi and her God, would follow to the place of God’s visitation, signaled by a barley harvest in the town called “house of bread”.
In today’s Gospel only one of the Ten Lepers crying-out to Jesus for “mercy” was a Samaritan; the others were Jews. Unlike Naomi, who called herself “Bitter” for her sufferings, the Lepers got it right; they didn’t ask Jesus for physical healing; why would they; in loss of fleshly purity, they comprehended the corruption on flesh, a visible sign of sin.
Sinners, sometimes self-delude as being entitled, from whatever “god” we serve, to freedom from suffering. Not so, Christians are enrolled into God’s school of faith under the cross by which Christ suffered; the way of the cross. Either we embrace the Man of the cross with the returning Leper, or complain in bitterness.
The Lepers sought grace that the OT priesthood could not bestow. God is holy; The Ten, diseased without any claim on anything more than what sinners deserve, consummation to dust; and so, rather than petition Jesus to “glorify” of their own flesh; they sought his “mercy”.
If Naomi was embittered about her circumstance, she held her faith in returning to the Land of Presence; Ruth discerned hope of a secure place among Naomi’s people and their God. So also, the healed Samaritan, recognized mercy by God’s visitation with the community following Christ.
Jesus directed the Lepers to the temple for witness’ authenticating Jesus’ healings and authority. But the Samaritan, like Ruth disobeying her mother-in-law, returned to Jesus, for a better thing than physical healing; rather the locus of “God’s mercy” and true “Bread” for restored relations with the Creator.
Showing himself to temple priests offered the Samaritan leper no advantage. The priests could affirm Jesus’ miracle all day long, but the Samaritan would be denied their graces from animal sacrifices.
The Samaritan, discerned in Jesus, the place of God’s visitation; no longer at Jerusalem, but with the Man of Bethlehem, who sates all need for security in mercy (Gen. 15:6; Hab. 2:4b).
The Samaritan, returned, prostrated himself before Jesus in thanksgiving. Today, by the power of Jesus’ word, continue in our Flesh-Bread. Formerly we were lepers, taken into Jesus’ flesh for our Absolution and release. So too, we offer the sacrifice of praise in Christ for our provision and security; “Your Hand, O Lord, in Days of Old” (LSB 846).
Orpah’s remained in Moab; it was the self-interested, common-sense thing to do. Orpah abandoning Naomi new authority, hoping for “security” in with union with a Moabite man.
Ruth however, remained with Naomi in covenantal love and care toward her “embittered” mother-in-law. Ruth for Naomi was a figure of “Christ”; Ruth, having no relations in the Land had no rational hope of marriage and salvation, she could not assert the Mosaic law’s “levirate marriage” through kin. Yet, marginal life in Israel or not, Ruth for love of Naomi and trust in Israel’s God, she would abandon neither (Ruth 1:16, 17).
Mosaic law provided a few social safety-nets, e.g., sojourners had gleaning rights; but only marriage to an Israelite could reverse the fortunes of an unattached destitute woman. A husband might legally redeem Naomi’s land. Such however, required a “volunteer” to put aside self-interest.
Boaz, was a close, but not immediate relation of Naomi. Appraising the women’s distress, he volunteered to be their “savior”; even as God asked his only Son to sacrificially act beyond the law for the Woman, his church.
Boaz’ redemptive marriage to Ruth redeemed Naomi’s land, so that the women were no longer marginal in the community of God. Ruth is we prophesy of universal salvation through begetting by David’s seed, Jesus. St. Paul observes, “the Woman will be saved though child bearing — if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Tim. 2:15).
Mercy and forgiveness are the Church’s prime directives; it is what she does because it is what Boaz like, her Lord volunteered. Lazarus from the “bosom of Abraham” does not relieve those consigned to hell; still the Church is the place of God’s visitation for those returning to heaven’s gate in repentance.