← back to list

    Aug 18, 2019

    Escape, Heartache, and A Strange Covenant

    Escape, Heartache, and A Strange Covenant

    Passage: Ruth 1:1-4:21

    Speaker: Vivian McCarthy

    Ruth is Jesus’ 28th great-grandmother (if I counted right!), one of 5 women mentioned by Matthew in his genealogy of Jesus, every one of whom had an unusual past and a very interesting story. ~Pastor Vivian

    In The Book and the story of Ruth we find ourselves rather warm and fuzzy, don’t we?  Ruth makes a commitment to her mother-in-law that seems born of deep family bonds and Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi’s God, so she returns to Bethlehem (bells should be ringing and light bulbs should be going off) with Naomi where everything works out just beautifully for these 2 widowed women – so much so that Ruth finds a great husband and the women have plenty to eat and a baby is born to be the grandfather of King David. 

    On this level, there is a great deal to celebrate and a heroine to emulate.  Ruth is brave.  She puts herself out there in an unfamiliar culture among unfamiliar people with the purpose of first making sure that she and Naomi have enough to eat and then to find a more permanent solution to a truly serious problem.

    We could make quite a bit of just this.  Ruth’s wisdom in cleaving to Naomi and most especially to Naomi’s God, the God of the Israelites, is a model for all of us.  Ruth’s faithfulness and loyalty to Naomi show her stellar character and give us a model for family relationships today.  And so on and so on.

    These are certainly the traits and values that are usually lifted up when we tell the story – or part of the story anyway – in Sunday School.

    What we may have missed along the way is that this story is also one of scandal and surprise – and how God uses scandal, subversion and surprise for God’s purposes.

    Ruth is a Moabite.  Yeah, yeah, we know that – right???  The first surprise is that Naomi’s family was able to live what appears to have been a peaceful existence with the Moabites.  Those of us who weren’t around in the days of Moses to hear the oral sacred stories told each night around the campfires might be surprised to learn that Moab was Israel’s sworn enemy!   It is certainly not obvious when you read the Book of Ruth!

    In the 25th chapter of Numbers (vss 1-5), scripture reports that the Moabite women tried to corrupt the Israelite men using their feminine wiles, moving way beyond flirtation, if you get my drift, and then inviting them to dinner and verrry special sacrifice to their god – one of the Baals.  Moses was, shall we say, more than a little angry!  He decreed that all of the men who had attached themselves to this Baal were to be executed.  And then in Deuteronomy 23 (vss 2-6), Moabites are specifically forbidden to be part of the Israelite community – “not even the tenth generation” says the scripture.  That just might be Bible code for never ever.  Then if that wasn’t enough, the restriction was specifically reiterated several hundred years later.

    They were serious enemies!  Yet Ruth, a Moabite, is one of the very few women to have a whole book of scripture with her name on it and she is the 28th great-grandmother (if I counted correctly) of Jesus!  If you’re not surprised by that, you’re not paying attention.  A Moabite as the hero of this story is just crazy.  Unless, of course you think that Boaz is the hero – which would also be more than a little odd.

    It is just such stories in scripture that are meant to challenge the world as we know it – to challenge human wisdom with Godly.  God again uses the “wrong” heroine – one of several in Jesus’ geneaology – to bring about a godly end.  Did you catch that?  God again uses the “wrong” heroine.  Did you just let that go by?

    Let me explain.  You may recall that there are 2 genealogies of Jesus in the gospels.  Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3:23-38) focuses entirely on the male ancestry of Jesus.  Son of, son of, son of – from God through Adam through Joseph of Nazareth.  The Matthean genealogy (Matthew 1:2-16) is curiously different.  There are 5 women in Matthew’s list, and his list begins not with Adam but with Abraham.  The women are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, “the wife of Uriah” and of course, Mary.

    What do you know about these women? 

          The wife of Uriah – aka Bathsheba?

    Inheritance laws were based on the father.  To have women and especially these particular women with shady or shaky resumes was scandalous – totally outside of the morals and values of the day.  When we know and understand fully the background of characters like this in our sacred story, we have to open our minds and hearts to question what we take for granted – what we accept from our own culture and practice.  God’s wisdom is not our wisdom.  God’s ways are so different from our ways. 

    On yet another surprising note, there’s Boaz who “bends the rules to establish a higher justice”[1] for Ruth and Naomi.  I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of Boaz’s actions in this story, but suffice it to say that he was very smart and he used his smarts and his street-smarts to get what he wanted.  (In case you’re wondering, Boaz’s role in this story is the inspiration for the last element in the message title, A Strange Covenant – the marriage covenant.)

    The story of Ruth is a story of human beings who act like humans, “yet out of the tangle of [their human interactions] God’s redemption occurs.”[2]

    So, what might this story be saying to us today?

    Perhaps we can reflect on the fact that both Naomi and Ruth were immigrant women who left home in order to give their family a chance for a better existence.  Just consider how Ruth must have been viewed as a Moabite woman in Bethlehem.

    Perhaps your reflections will move you in the direction of empowerment.  How many people give up when the odds are stacked so high against them?  When I read a commentator who pointed out Ruth and Naomi’s resilience and persistence and creativity, I thought of that horrible practice in India of Sati and of so many people who just give up, resigning themselves to a dead-end job or to destitution or to an unhealthy relationship. 

    This may seem a weird segue, but I met a young man on Facebook a little over a year ago, and within a couple of months from the day he friended me, he posted that he had been catastrophically injured in a horrific accident.  He has posted updates from time to time, but they have changed from frequent posts of dogged determination and hope to infrequent posts that reflect a flagging spirit.

    As I wrote today’s message, a post from him popped up.  I have never met this young man, so all I know is what I’ve seen occasionally on Facebook, but there has been enough self-revelation for me to think that he is one of those guys who thinks he can do everything on his own.  He is a man of faith, but he believes that his faith will make everything okay as long as he just works himself to get it done.  The post on Monday reads:

    Time to stop talking about it and be about it. Acting like I can get through this by myself when I kno I cant. faith without works is dead so therefore I need to get the help I need to get through this traumatic situation so I can really get better!!!! pray for me yaw I dont like doing this but its doctors orders !!!!

    I believe that he now realizes that he needs help – that he has resources to lean on and it’s okay to lean on them.

    Friends, we all have resources to support us through tough times.  Ruth and Naomi and even Boaz took stock of the resources available to them and acted – just like my young friend.

    Today I’m thanking God for biblical heroes and SHEroes that let us know that they were wise and that we can be wise by assessing the resources available to live our best lives!