Lectionary Commentaries for November 1, 2009
Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 12:28-34 

Paul S. Berge

The setting for the gospel text for Pentecost 22, November 1 (also All Saints Day), within the gospel of Mark is crucial to understanding of Mark 12:28-34.

The teaching of Jesus in Jerusalem is confrontational. He enters the temple three times (11:11, 15, 27), and each time the encounter with the present temple practice becomes more and more intense. The cursing of the fig tree occurs (11:12-14) between the first and second visit. The follow up on this event with the parable or the sign of the fig tree’s significance (11:20-26) occurs between the second and third visit to the temple.

As Jesus enters the temple for the third time, the question of his authority/power (Greek: exousia) is raised. Jesus confounds his hearers by asking a counter question: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” (11:30). Jesus’ hearers know they have been caught by either their denial or affirmation and so give a dishonest answer: “We do not know” (11:35). Jesus has gained the upper hand and responds: “Neither will I tell you by what authority/power (Greek: exousia) I am doing these things” (11:33).

Mark 12:1-12 continues Jesus’ teaching the religious leaders by setting the next stage with a parable. The parable of the wicked tenants is a graphic clue as to how confrontational Jesus’ teaching will be. The succession of the owner’s slaves to collect the share of the produce of the vineyard meets with beatings, insults and even death. Finally the owner sends “a son, the beloved” (12:6), thinking they will respect him. Knowing he is the heir they kill him and throw him out of the vineyard.

As a side note before we go any further, the identity of the owner’s son is the same as the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, “You are my Son, the Beloved” (Mark 1:11), and transfiguration, “This is my Son, the Beloved” (Mark 9:7). The identity of the owner as God and the son as Jesus in the parable is unmistakable.

Following the parable, Jesus asks of his hearers, “What will the owner of the vineyard do?”, and answers the question himself, “He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others” (12:9). Jesus confirms the judgment of the parable from Psalm 118:22: “Have you not read this scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?” (12:10-11).

Recognizing that Jesus’ parable and the Psalm have expressed the word of God the evangelist concludes: “When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away” (12:12).

All of this leads to our text as one by one the religious leaders come forth to put Jesus to the test with a series of questions: the Pharisees and Herodians (12:13-17); the Sadducees (12:18-27); and one of the scribes (12:28-34). Finally Jesus will turn tables on all of them and confound them with his question (12:35-37).

The Pharisees and Herodians are two groups that have nothing to do with each other politically and religiously. These unlikely foes join forces in an attempt to entrap Jesus with a question about taxes to the emperor. The Saducees likewise ask a question concerning the resurrection, even when they don’t believe in the resurrection. Finally a scribe comes the closest to an honest question concerning what is first and foremost in the Law: “Which commandment is the first of all?” (12:28). Jesus answers the question not only with the first commandment, citing Deuteronomy 6:4-5, but a second: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” from Leviticus 19:18. The scribe acknowledges Jesus’ response as true and is commended by Jesus with the words: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” The engagement in the temple is over and the evangelist Mark reports: “After that no one dared to ask him any question” (12:34).

We begin the specific focus on our text, Mark 12:28-34, from this last verse. The previous encounters with Jesus in his temple teaching have left the religious leaders, Pharisees and Saducees, and political sympathizers, Herodians, at a loss to entrap Jesus by their stealth. Jesus has silenced them and no one dares to put forth further questions.

The one person who breaks the pattern is the scribe of our text. He appears to be in on the wit and wisdom of Jesus as he responds to Jesus’ turning the table on his questioners: “and seeing that he answered them well (Pharisees, Herodians, Saducees), he asked him” (12:28). The question of the scribe concerning the first commandment leads Jesus’ reciting of the Shema (Hebrew: hear) which are the words that are still recited daily by persons of the Jewish faith. The text in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 is expanded by Jesus to include “with all your mind” (12:30). Jesus adds to his response by citing a second that is like this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” from Leviticus 19:18.

The beauty of our text is in the paraphrasing by the scribe of the words of the Law which Jesus has cited, adding, “this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (12:33). (See our note on this verse in our study of Hebrews 9:11-14, the companion text for this Sunday.) The scribe gets it and Jesus recognizes this as he commends and encourages him: “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (12:34).

If the scribe is not far, what will bring him closer or even into the kingdom of God? What if we are this scribe? Do you think the evangelist might have a catechetical purpose in our text by drawing us into this role of an observant bystander? Perhaps we not far from the truth either. The scribe, or rather us, have heard the teachings of Jesus responding one by one to the challenges, false as they may be, but we have heard something in these conflict laden encounters that has peaked our interest. How close are we now? Do we hear the master teacher bringing forth the truth of God’s Law of love to God and love to the neighbor?

In these two laws is the truth of freedom. Freedom not to attempt to be our own god but the call to worship the true God with all that God has given us to love God. Likewise a second gift is the call to live in freedom to love the other as God in Christ has loved us. In both commandments, we hear Jesus teaching us a selfless love. What a gift of word and deed. This is to live as God intended us to live in relationship with the God of all creation and the person whom God has created in God’s own image.

First Reading

Commentary on Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Brent A. Strawn

Chapter 6 begins a new unit in Deuteronomy that runs until 11:32.

Chapters 1-4 of the book set the stage by recounting key moments in Israel’s journey from Mount Horeb (Sinai) to the plains of Moab, across the Jordan from the long-promised land. Chapter 5 then re-presents the Decalogue (5:6-21; cf. Exodus 20:1-17) and discusses some of the events that transpired when the Ten Commandments were given (Deut 5:22-33).

The commandments are very much still the subject in 6:1-11:32. Or, as 6:1a puts it, perhaps it is the commandment (singular!) that is the point of this larger unit since many commentators believe it to be an extended exhortation or sermon based on the first commandment.1  Indeed, 6:5 can be seen as the positive (re)articulation of the prohibition against other gods (see further below).

Undoubtedly, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 are the most famous verses in this Sunday’s lection. But 6:1-3 should not be passed over too quickly. Note, first, that despite the singular “commandment” of 6:1a, Moses (who preaches Deuteronomy as his valedictory address) immediately glosses that singular with plural subjects: “statutes and ordinances.” These many “statutes and ordinances” can nevertheless be glossed as a singular “commandment,” and the singular “commandment” can be understood as many and various “statutes and ordinances”–which in Deuteronomy almost certainly refers to the detailed legislation in 12:1-26:15.

That bewildering amount of material is a singular entity: a commandment. If this strikes modern Christian readers (especially those with antinomian tendencies) as completely incomprehensible, we might recall how the many laws of the Pentateuch can still be called Torah, “law” (a suitable but not exhaustive or satisfying translation)–in the singular–though the rabbis delineated no less than 613 individual pieces of legislation. Or, we might consider another rabbi, who later (and with Deuteronomic precedent) epitomized the many laws of Scripture into one (plus “a second like it”) and that this “first and greatest commandment” comes from our very lection for this Sunday (see Matthew 22:34-40; cf. Luke 10:25-28; the texts are Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18).

This commandment, and these statutes and ordinances, are specifically for life in the land that Israel is entering (Deuteronomy 6:1b; see also 12:1). Life there will be different than it is in the wilderness; there, Israel will face new challenges and temptations (see, e.g., 7:1, 17; 8:7-20). Since Moses will not accompany Israel into Canaan (see 3:23-39), he is at pains to stress what is important before he dies. What he leaves ringing in Israel’s ears and written before Israel’s eyes for future reading and hearing (see Deuteronomy 31:10, 19, 24, 30; 32:44-45) is the importance of the Lord’s instruction, command, statutes and ordinances–in a word, the Lord’s Torah (see 1:5).

Moses proceeds to emphasize that this instruction is not only necessary, it is beneficial: it results in proper obedience, even into future generations, and eventuates in long life (6:2). Of course, things don’t always work out that way. The life of one of Israel’s greatest kings, Josiah, who is the only person in the entire Old Testament to incarnate, as it were, the words of Deuteronomy 6:5 (see 2 Kings 23:25), is tragically cut short (2 Kings 23:29; cf. 22:20).

But Moses is preaching right now. Moses is mid-sermon right now. He can’t be bothered by exceptions to the rule. And the rule, for Israel–especially for Israel in the land–is to keep the Lord’s Torah. If they do, good things (of whatever and various sorts) will happen (see Deuteronomy 6:3). If they don’t, all is, quite literally, lost (cf. 28:47-68; 29:18-28).

The first thing Israel must do, for things to go well, is “to hear” (6:3, 4). “To hear” means “to listen,” but also, in Deuteronomy’s idiom, it means to obey. The Hebrew imperative “Listen up!” or “Hear this!” is sema (pronounced sh’ma) and 6:4-9 is famously known as the Shema, after the first word of 6:4. Faithful Jews recite it at least twice a day, in the morning and at night, in compliance with the Shema itself (6:7b).

Verse 6:4 is notoriously difficult to translate (see the notes in virtually any English translation). The NRSV’s rendition “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone” is perfectly acceptable and connects with the exclusive worship that Deuteronomy, the Decalogue, and the Shema itself repeatedly emphasize (cf. 4:35, 39; 5:7-10; 6:5; 32:39). The other common translation–“The LORD our God is one LORD”–while perhaps not as felicitous in context, nevertheless captures aspects of God’s integrity and unity (cf. 1 John 1:5).

Much heat and light for preaching is found in 6:5-9. First, the Shema rearticulates the first commandment. How does one change the negatively put (“you shall not…”) prohibition of other gods and their idols in a positive way (“you shall…”)? (Preachers might note that even the best of negative construals can occasionally benefit from positive rearticulation.) “Loving God with everything” isn’t a bad attempt.

The “everything” is defined (in English, at least) as the “heart” (which in Hebrew anthropology corresponds mostly to our “mind”), the “soul” (perhaps better, in our understanding, the “self”), and the “might” (which could be taken, with the rabbis, as implying the love of God with one’s “stuff” or property as much as with one’s strength or capacity). However the terms are translated, it is clear that complete devotion is commended–better yet: commanded.

The emphasis here on obedience, even an obedience that can be dictated, should chasten overly-romantic notions of what it means to “love” God. To be sure, Deuteronomy employs a verb with many affective overtones, especially considering our own culture’s use of the term “love.” But, as important as the affect is (and it truly is!), one must not forget that in Deuteronomy love is never emotions-minus-ethics. One demonstrates love for God by what one does and what one does not do–that is, how they do or do not obey–not merely by how one does or does not feel.

It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that “love”-language was widely used throughout the ancient Near East in political treaties and covenants to mark the proper attitude and behavior of parties toward each other, especially vassal subjects to their overlords. Nevertheless, we (and Deuteronomy) are still talking about love, not cold, hard, unfeeling obedience.

If 6:4 is the undergirding proposition, with 6:5 a positive (re)articulation, then 6:6-9 comprise a blueprint for proper enactment. As important as love with the heart is (and it truly is!), there are words to consider. “These words” (6:6a) refer, at one level, to the entire book of Deuteronomy itself, the name of which, in Hebrew, is debarim (“words”). These words must be “on the heart”–or, in our parlance, “on the mind”–presumably that means always.

They are to be incisively taught to, perhaps even boiled down for, one’s children (the verb used has connotations of sharpening). And they are to be talked about at all times: After all, one is either at home or away, either lying down or rising. Even the body is marked by these words: they go on the hand and on the forehead, either symbolically or quite literally, as in the Jewish practice of praying with phylacteries. Finally, the words are to be written on the doorposts (Hebrew mezuzah) of one’s house and on the gates, which are probably best understood as the city gates, which often doubled as civic space in ancient Israel, where governing elders met and where justice was meted out.

In a word (or is it commandment?), Deuteronomy 6:4-9 indicates that all parts of the Israelite body, Israelite family, Israelite time and activity, and Israelite domestic and civic space are to be dominated by “these words” that Moses speaks and preaches. And, again, those words are, at one very important level, the entire book of Deuteronomy itself.

Readers will have to keep reading Deuteronomy to know what all these words comprise if they are to obey the Shema. Preachers will have to keep preaching Deuteronomy if they are to assist in that same process. Both acts are imperative, at least if Jesus is to be believed. He is the Reader of Israel’s Scripture and the Preacher like Moses who told us that on the Shema and the love of neighbor “hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40).

1In the Hebrew, the “first” commandment includes both the no other gods prohibition and the prohibition against idols as in Catholic and Lutheran numerations.  Contrast the Reformed and Orthodox numbering, which make these the first and second commandments, respectively.  The Jewish tradition also connects the prohibition of other gods and idols but counts it as the second commandment, the so-called “preface” (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6) being the first.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Ruth 1:1-18

Brent A. Strawn

Ruth is a story of biblical proportions including everything from famine, widows, gleaning in the fields, levirate marriage, and justice at the gate to the birth of children of destiny.

Ruth is also one of the few places in the male-dominated world of Scripture where women play the major roles and are the central characters. They must make their way, of course, amidst the men and the male-dominated world of ancient Israel, but the emphasis is squarely and resolutely on the women. This is a rather remarkable situation and no small gift to us and the canon.

This Sunday’s lection covers almost all of chapter one, but leaves out the scene when Naomi and Ruth arrive back in Bethlehem (Ruth 1:19-22). Although those verses do comprise a separate unit, they nevertheless cast light on Naomi–her character and her plight. Good preachers may want to include these verses, then, if not in the lesson, at least in their consideration of the story’s dynamics.

Regardless, verse 22’s notice that the women returned to Bethlehem “at the beginning of the barley harvest” is not to be missed. This is fortuitous timing; in the theology of Ruth, however, the better word is providential. This is but one instance of many throughout the book that shows God active behind the scenes in the circumstances of everyday life and among everyday kind of people. In the specific case of verse 22, the action is not altogether “behind the scenes,” however, insofar as this verse confirms what is indicated in verse 6: Naomi heard that “the LORD had considered his people and given them food.”

The first paragraph (verses 1-5) sets the scene and introduces the characters. After a chronological note fixing the book in the time of the judges (hence its canonical placement), the book begins with the problem of famine which moves a family from Bethlehem (somewhat ironically that name means “house of bread/food”) to Moab. This opening sounds familiar in many ways: the language and cadence of it, the famine that causes relocation of Israelites to foreign lands (cf. Genesis 12:10; 42:1-5; etc.), the family details and the special focus on the father, Elimelech, and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion.

But quickly the focus shifts; things become unfamiliar and disoriented. Elimelech dies, and, after taking Moabite wives, the two sons do the same. These details are consistently reported with reference to Naomi: Elimelech is described as Naomi’s husband (not vice versa), and the narrative twice stresses her bereft status (verses 3, 5b). It is as if the narrative is zooming in, slowly but surely, on this woman and her plight. We do not yet know much about Naomi, but her desperate circumstances are coming into tight focus.

That focus continues in the next paragraph (verses 6-14). Things seem to improve, if only for a moment. There is food back in Israel; so at least the childless widow can return to familiar surroundings. But then the narrowing in on Naomi comes back–now not a function of the narrative but of Naomi’s own character. Although her daughters-in-law at first accompany her–one must remember the desperate circumstances of widows (and orphans) in the ancient world (hence the injunctions to care for them; see Deuteronomy 26:12-13; 27:19; etc.) and their need to stick together–Naomi stops them up short.

She instructs them to go home and hopes that God will deal well with them before she kisses them goodbye (Ruth 1:8-9). At first they protest, but Naomi is convinced. There is no reason whatsoever for them to continue on with her. She can have no more children that might be husbands for them a la levirate marriage practices; even if she could the age-difference would make that situation impossible (verses 11-13).

Naomi is determined to be alone in her grief. Things are far more bitter for her, she states. (Back in Bethlehem, she will even ask to be renamed: she’s no longer “Sweet” [Naomi] but “Bitter” [Mara]; see verse 20). And Naomi knows who’s behind all this: it is the hand of the LORD that has turned against her (verse 13); it is the Almighty who has dealt bitterly and harshly with her, who has brought calamity on her, and who has brought her back from Moab empty (verses 20-21).

Naomi is not only convinced, she is convincing. Daughter-in-law #1, Orpah, turns back. But while the narrative has wanted to focus in on Naomi to the exclusion of all others–and Naomi herself has continued the trend with good reasons and evidence to back them up–Ruth will have none of it. She emerges as an acting agent in verse 14: she clings to Naomi, a term used in contexts of profound love, inalienable possession, unshakable commitment (see, e.g., Genesis 2:24; Numbers 36:7, 9; Deuteronomy 4:4; 10:20; 11:22). As Naomi remains convinced that her bitterness is solitary, she makes another appeal, urging Ruth to follow Orpah.

At that moment, Ruth adds speech to her action. Indeed, she utters what might be a speech-act, in which she actually does something in and by saying something (cf. “I do” in weddings or “I believe” in the Creed). What she says-does is powerful and it is poetic, lining out in nicely parallel lines like the best of Hebrew poetry.

In it she promises to go with Naomi, to lodge with her, to make Naomi’s people and Naomi’s God her own (Moabites had other gods; see, e.g., Judges 11:24), even to die and be buried with Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17a). As if this weren’t enough, Ruth then invokes a curse on herself–in Yahweh’s name! (the religious transition promised in verse 16 has already taken place)–if even death parts her from Naomi (verse 17b). Ruth is in it for the long haul. And, from what has transpired already in chapter 1, it is clear that is exactly what Naomi needs.

But, despite Ruth’s statement, verse 18 is enigmatic at best. Perhaps Naomi realizes she has been defeated in the quest to be alone. But it is far from clear that she is happy about it, or happy with Ruth. All we hear is that Naomi “said no more” to Ruth. Indeed, the rest of chapter one suggests that Naomi continues to take solitary refuge in her pain. Pain is not easily overcome, after all, nor is it easily shared, even by those with the best of intentions and with comparable pain (Ruth, too, is a widow who loved Naomi’s son).

The rest of the book, however, will show Ruth, in both word and deed, making slow progress in living life after grief with Naomi. Ruth’s clinging pays off for both of them. Naomi finds blessing from the Lord because of Ruth, who loves her, and who has proven of inestimable worth (4:14-15; contrast 1:13, 20-21). The “clinging” at the end of the story is Naomi’s, as she cradles Ruth’s newborn baby boy (4:16).


Commentary on Psalm 119:1-8

Wendell Frerichs

Christians generally have not been in love with Psalm 119.

It is too long: 187 verses, the longest chapter in the Bible. It has the “law” as its major interest or theme, repeatedly using synonyms to make the point. If taken seriously, it might undo all our efforts to set people free from the burdens which a law-oriented life might impose on its unfortunate victims. Besides, Ephesians 2:15 clearly says that, “we who are in Christ,” are set free from such obligations.

But the “law” was not an alien subject years ago when we old-timers went to seminary. Especially in homiletics class we were urged to preach both law and Gospel. Preferably, one should prepare the hearers for the Gospel by using the law to convict them of their sins. Then they would gladly hear the good news of God’s forgiveness. Perhaps that is why the catechism begins with an explanation of the Ten Commandments rather than with Baptism where our life of faith began.

Living with Psalm 119 for some weeks has opened up, for this writer, a more positive approach, one which probably is nearer that of our psalmist. Here we find one who was so in love with God, so full of joy and thankfulness, that the law is received as a special gift. It is as if a bride has been given a diamond ring from her groom. It is a sure sign of promises made and love freely given.

So, holding it up to the light is a continual source of joy and assurance. Even in times of sadness or tension, it is something to admire. The psalmist sees God as the Creator of all that exists, including the psalmist’s own life. Yahweh is the one who rescued Israel from slavery and has all human history in his hand. The covenant at Sinai was a special event when Israel became the chosen and covenanted people of God. The gift of a land, and the choosing of Zion as the Lord’s dwelling place on earth, combine with everything else to make the psalmist’s heart overfull of praise and thankfulness. No wonder those who put together Israel’s hymnal, the Psalter, included this outpouring of one person’s heart to be used by generations of worshipers since.

Can a Christian congregation appropriate this? Are we too antinomian to find a place in our theology or lives for such a great love song? Wouldn’t this endanger us into becoming law-oriented Christians? Would someone misunderstand and think that salvation is something for which to strive rather than a gift?

What would or did Jesus do? He obviously believed the law to be God-given. While he may, at times, have disagreed with some of his fellow Jews as to how to observe the law, he did not throw it out or live an ungodly life. He knew that even religious people needed guidance in their daily lives. The One who created life and the world was the only One wise enough to show people how to live here. Human laws, cultures, philosophies, left to themselves, always find ways to exonerate one or more of the seven deadly sins.

A cartoon in the St. Paul Dispatch some months ago depicted American culture as scratching out greed. Three theologians on TV recently classified greed as America’s chief virtue. So Christians need God’s guidance for their economic, political, social lives. Rather, than get rid of the law as an Old Testament relic, we are, in this psalm, invited to praise God for it. Where would we be without it?

Scholarly Aids:
As with the rest of the Bible, there are many commentaries on the Psalms. Not all of them show appreciation of Psalm 119. Some see it as a move toward legalism. Because Psalm 119 is so long, most commentaries have few helps on any one of its 8 line, 22 stanzas. We are dealing with only one of these (verses 1-8), whose every line begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Psalm 119 is thus called an acrostic psalm with each stanza moving up the alphabet one letter. The poet who wrote it thus shows considerable creativity which no translator has tried to follow. To do so would require us to begin each of the 8 lines of our text with a word beginning with ‘a,’ the next 8 lines with ‘b,’ and so on.

Of the many commentaries available, this writer recommends three:

  • Elmer A. Leslie, The Psalms. Abingdon Press. New York, 1949.
  • J. Clinton McCann Jr. The Book of Psalms. Abingdon Press. New York, 1996.
  • Samuel Terrien. The Psalms. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 2003.

None of the commentaries suggest an author for our psalm. Because there is no reference to the exile in Babylonia, it must come from the first Temple period or after Cyrus permitted exiles to return. Psalm 119 does not fit any one type of psalm such as individual lament, praise or thanksgiving. While the law is a continuing theological focus, using eight synonyms to express this, there are other foci as well: creation, sacred history, personal lament over persecution, praise for God’s presence and deliverance,

To gain these perspectives one must move beyond verses 1-8. But then, every pericope needs to be understood in its larger context. All writers emphasize the Temple worship led by musicians, priests and choruses as the place where this great piece found its home.

Second Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 9:11-14

Paul S. Berge

First of all, read Hebrews 9:1-10 for yourself and include these verses as part of your exposition of the Hebrews 9:11-14 text for this week.

The description of the Ark of the Covenant is something that most people don’t have a clue about as to its significance, what was contained in the ark, and the ritual associated with the ark. This background is critical to understanding the new “lid of the ark” or “mercy seat” present in Jesus.

Background reading on the tent shrines of the wilderness years is found in Exodus 25:1-26:37. The first tent was the Holy Place which included the lamp stand, the table, and the bread of the Presence (Leviticus 24:5-9). With the destruction of the First Temple in 587 BCE the items of the second tent behind the Holy Place, the Holy of Holies, were lost. Here was the altar of incense and the Ark of the Covenant “overlaid on all sides with gold” (9:4). The lid is called the “mercy seat” or “place of atonement” upon which the high priest sprinkled blood once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) “for himself and for the sins committed unintentionally by the people” (9:7). Overshadowing the mercy seat were “the cherubim of glory” (9:5).
Paul makes the connection of the “lid of the ark/mercy seat” to Christ, “whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement (Greek: hilasterion) by his blood, effective through faith” (Romans 3:25). Paul continues to show that God’s righteousness/justification (Greek: dikaiosuna) in Jesus Christ proves “at the present time that he himself (God) is righteous/just and that he makes right/justifies the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).

The author of Hebrews continues to show in our text (9:11-14) that “Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come.” The previous tents of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies are now a “perfect tent” in Jesus Christ. This is a tent “not made with hands, that is, not of this creation” (9:11). The connection to the Ark of the Covenant and sacrifice of atonement is unique in the New Testament and draws us into the rich history of the “first covenant” now brought to perfection in Jesus Christ.

The perfection in Christ is now spelled out: “He entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Greek: lutrosis) (9:12). The goat was used for the people’s sacrifice, and the calf was used for the sacrifice for the high priest and his house (Leviticus 16:5-11). Once again we have a connection to Paul in the same section in Romans: “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption (Greek: lutrosis) that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-23). Christ’s act of atonement (Greek: hilasterion) on the cross secures an eternal redemption. Christ has entered into the perfect heavenly sanctuary after he provided an eternal redemption, thus securing our eternal redemption by his blood/death on the cross.

The analogy to the first covenant sacrificial system has provided a remarkable way in which the author of Hebrews has drawn us into the history and meaning of the way in which the first covenant attempted to bring the gift of redemption to the people. It was not a perfect system, but it foreshadows the perfect redemption of the blood of the cross in Jesus’ redeeming and atoning death.

Our text now brings us to a resounding conclusion: “For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God” (9:13-14). This is only one sentence!

What is present in these words stands through all eternity! The imperfection of previous sacrifices is past. There is no more meaning to all things previous. They have had their place in the history of God’s salvation for the people, but now all things are new. The blood of Christ is the complete sacrifice. In Christ Jesus redemption is accomplished.

Jesus’ final word from the cross in the gospel of John is the word of fulfillment: “It is completed” (John 19:30). The verb (Greek: tetelestai) is in the perfect passive tense. This Greek tense signifies that Christ’s redemption has been made for all times. It is completed/accomplished/finished in the past and it remains completed/accomplished/finished into the eons of eons.

The evangelist of the fourth gospel and the author of Hebrews have brought us to the final word of Jesus from the cross. The truth for all time has been spoken. This is the word of life in the midst of death. This is the word of proclamation on this Twenty–second Sunday after Pentecost.

Our text from Hebrews is also the word for All Saints Day. In the gospel text assigned with this text from Mark 12:28-34, we hear the confession of the scribe who proclaims the truth of our Hebrews text. Jesus had taught him the truth of the first and second commandment, and he responds: “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he (God) is one, and beside 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” (Mark 12:32-33).

Jesus commends the scribe for answering wisely: “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). This unknown scribe bears witness to the truth that it is not through the blood of animals or the sprinkling of ashes by burning a red heifer that there is ceremonial sacrifice for sinful and defiled persons (9:13-14). Only through the perfect sacrifice of Christ is God’s work of salvation brought to perfection or completion: “It is completed/accomplished/finished” (John 19:30). This is the word from the cross for all the saints in Christ Jesus for all eternity. Amen.