The Adventurous Lectionary – Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – November 8 ,2015
Ruth 1:1-18; 3:1-5; 4:14-17
I believe that context is important in preaching and scripture study. Ruth 1:1-18 was read as part of last week’s lectionary , if the preacher chose to focus on the lectionary readings for November 1 rather than the All Saints readings. Regardless of whether or not the passage was read on November 1, it needs to be repeated, perhaps as a skit or readers’ theater, to understand the significance of Ruth and Naomi’s scheme and its ultimate success.
Naomi and Ruth are widows, without any means of support, in a patriarchal society. Their survival depends on the kindness of strangers, first, their friends and relatives in Bethlehem and then the securing of a husband for Ruth, who will provide for both widows. The situation is complicated by the fact that Ruth is a foreigner, a Moabite, and is by definition outside the Naomi’s tribe. When the two widows returned to Bethlehem, no doubt many of the locals fostered negative feelings toward Ruth and implicitly toward Naomi who, years before, fled the country in a time of draught. A stranger in a strange land, Naomi and her husband made a life for themselves and no doubt planned to stay in Moab. Then the deaths of all three males changed everything. They must return to Naomi and Elimelech’s hometown. Now, Ruth is a stranger in a strange land.
Their survival depends on finding a husband for Ruth, and there is a spark between Ruth and Boaz that Naomi wants to capitalize on. For all intents and purposes, Ruth seduces Boaz. A bond between them emerges after their night together, they marry, Ruth becomes pregnant and they have a child, whose grandson will be the great king David. Romance and obstetrics are present in this story, but also issues of economics, gender, and ancestry. Imagine, the greatest of Israel’s kings is the product of a mixed race marriage. Imagine, a foreigner giving birth to the Israel’s greatest military and political hero. Nationalists beware. Outsiders can change the world for the best and may be the vehicles of divine revelation.
Immigrants, documented or undocumented, invite us to become hospitable. Our hospitality affirms the divine image within the immigrant and God’s own vision for each person. In actuality, we are all pilgrims; the boundaries of our nations are important but relative. The earth belongs to God.Psalm 127 celebrates the birth of sons. They are the capstone of a father’s life. But, what do these words mean to mothers and daughters? We cannot perpetuate male superiority or sexism, even if enshrined in scripture. If this passage is read, the adventurous pastor must spend a moment challenging sexism and inviting the girl children of the church to claim their identity as God’s beloved. “God loves girls” can be affirmed, and it is good that the girls here in church and all women are gifted by God in unique ways, equal to the gifts of males.
The passage from Hebrews proclaims the all-sufficient, all-inclusive saving power of Christ. The cross and resurrection transform the world and open all yearning souls to God’s salvation. We don’t have to prove ourselves or save ourselves; God has already provided the pathways of healing and wholeness. Cling to Christ, the high priest, and you will have a sense of peace even in anxious times. Your salvation is in God’s hands and no one can take that away from you!
Jesus affirms a widow who gives everything she has to serve god’s realm. She is far from prudent. Others give more money, but they save the majority of their income for necessities and luxuries. They are not critiqued by Jesus. Still, Jesus affirms the absolute generosity and dependence of this widow. We know nothing about her, except that she is poor. To put this in perspective, this widow gives away her entire social security and IRA checks. This leaves nothing to live on. While we would roundly critique this behavior as unwise and imprudent, her generosity is a reflection of her gratitude and trust that God will supply her needs. Her life is more than financial security but is grounded in her relationship with God.
The adventurous preacher recognizes our ultimate dependence on God’s grace. God brings people into our lives, inspires our imaginations, and lures us toward unexpected but life-changing encounters. Our dependence on God inspires us generosity, knowing that when we open to divine energy and creativity, God will supply all our needs.