Thursday, August 30, 2012

Some Reflections on Ruth

In preparing for preaching out of the story of Ruth a week ago I did some side writing; thinking about things that did not make it into the sermon. Here are some of those thoughts.

The significance of the whole Ruth story reminds me of a multi-layered salad my aunt brings to family gatherings, this is a story packed with significance and zest.

A Thanksgiving Liturgy – a reminder that God is the Lord of the harvest
The text opens with news that Naomi has received; there is food again in the land of Israel. The reason that Naomi and her family went to the land of Moab was a famine. The return of Naomi takes places because she has heard that the Lord has visited his people, there is a crop to be harvested. The events of the whole story unpack through the season of harvest. Because the story connects deeply to the harvest, its placement in Israelite worship was during the season of harvest. It stood as a reminder that God was visiting his people and actively caring for them. Think of it like a liturgy you might have at Thanksgiving. In re-telling the story of Ruth you were reminded that God is the giver of all good gifts; food, life, children, and love. And those gifts may at times be sparse, but God is always faithful.    

A Challenge to Ethno-centrism – a reminder that David came from non-Hebrews
If you turn to the last chapter of Ruth you will find that from this covenant of faithfulness that Ruth pledges to her mother-in-law Naomi, this Moabites, this outsider, will become the great-grandmother of King David. The scriptures are showing a lineage of God’s people and in that line are non-Hebrews. This reality would be significant in the history of Israel when a revival broke out and some prophets were saying (Ezra & Nehemiah – 450 bc); we need to be a pure people, we should not have non-Hebrews among us. There was pressure to put divorce spouses who were non-Hebrews. The story of Ruth confronted those assertions with humble tenacity and said, our revered King David descended from a faithful non-Hebrew. 

Included in the way of Jesus and early Church
If you turn in your Bibles to the opening chapter of Gospel of Matthew you will find that Ruth is in the genealogy of Jesus, named there with three other women; all of them having some kind of moral or religious scandal associated with their story, and all of them included in the work of God.

An Exemplar to the Early Church
Within the life of the early church, Ruth became an incredible example of God’s enfolding gentiles into His Kingdom. It was also an example of the kind of confession one would make if they were going to follow Jesus, for in the time of persecution, you had to be ready to go and live and die. Ruth’s comment of faithfulness to Naomi was redirected, even as Chris Tomlin has done in his song, “I Will Follow,” to be a covenant with Jesus and the Church. Today there are followers of Jesus who make similar covenants because they live in lands that are hostile to the person of Jesus and his followers. To pledge faith in Christ is to make an all-in declaration.

Course correction without shame
Throughout the story there are comments or actions that people take which are corrected, because they are out of step or out of line at the moment, but correcting course is accomplished without shame.

In chapter 1 Naomi declares her new name to be Marrah – bitter because of the loss of her family and stability. The reply of Ruth and the women of Bethlehem is silence. They are willing to let her assessment stand even though they may have a different perspective. The different perspective will be born out when she welcomes Obed, her grandson, in chapter 4.

In chapter 2 Ruth heads out to Boaz’ field to glean some barley. While there Boaz instructs her to go along with the women who are in the field (v8). When she recounts her day to Naomi she says he told me to stay with the men (21). Ruth contradicts or twists what Boaz has said.  Naomi seems to catch that something is not right about what Ruth has said. She adds a course correction, it is best if you stay among his women (22). Ruth may have had many reasons for going among the men, possibly more barely to gather, or drawing close to a man for protection. Naomi corrects her and without shame.

In chapter 3 Naomi sends Ruth to the threshing floor of Boaz for a rendezvous that could take advantage of Boaz’ state of tiredness so that Ruth and Naomi would be under his care. However when Ruth makes an overt offer of bonding, Boaz corrects the course. He is honored (maybe blushing) at the offer (v.12), but insists that things must be done in proper order (13). Boaz corrects course, recognizing that the goal is honorable; he intends to see that the way to the goal is likewise honorable. In doing so he adds no shame to Ruth or Naomi, instead he blesses with a great amount of grain (14-16).

In chapter 1 and chapter 4 we find people who opt out of the story. In Chapter 1 Orpah, the other daughter-in-law of Naomi, decides to return to her home country after Naomi has urged her to do so twice. Many commentators speak ill of Orpah because she turned her neck on Naomi. Interestingly the text makes no such judgment; she has honored the request of her mother-in-law. The text is also silent on the man in chapter 4 who decides not to “redeem” Naomi’s land and her daughter-in-law. These two acts are recorded as if the people gave full consideration to what might be involved and their action is honored with no shame.

Running through Ruth is a description of actions and course corrections that are done without shame, but add honor to all the characters involved.

There are some of the layers within the story of Ruth, many more can and should be written about.

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