Clips of the democrat ‘equality’ town hall debate are showing up on twitter, cut into bite sized bits so that you don’t have to endure the whole thing. You can scroll through and watch the pronoun extravaganza and Beto explain how churches should lose their tax-exempt status. Eventually you will come to a clip of a tall African American person taking the mic from a shorter Asian person and saying a lot of things about how trans black women are being systematically killed. No one on the stage asked for any proof of this. Instead they tried to instill calm by explaining that they desired very much to hear all that was being said. Goodness it’s hard to write without using all the pronouns. The interrupting person seemed vaguely disarmed, made a final angry stand, and then retreated back into the audience.
Two things said by this person caught my ear. The first was the claim of fatigue. “I am tired, I’m so tired,” said the person. The second thing the person said was, “I’m an extraordinary black trans woman and I deserve to be here.” Mr. Lemon began to try to get the microphone back, which he eventually did, while Beto stood by foolishly grinning and the audience applauded.
Fortunately for me, I had been glancing over the lections for this morning, as is my habit on a Saturday evening. I like to know what’s coming. I like to steel myself against the day. I like to know what kind of terrible things Jesus might say that will knock me over. This morning it’s the dark, cloud-laden sky threatening the lives of three bereft women—Ruth, Naomi, and Orpah. They stand there in the field, fatigued by grief, hopeless about the future, with nothing productive to do to climb out of the despair.
I said in my book (I’m working on it, I’m working on it) that Naomi and Ruth and Orpah are the perfect picture of women in our day. The men are all inclined to fail all the women. They either die, or leave on purpose, or wander away, or are essentially useless, or worse, malign. You can’t count on them to be there when you most need them.* One might note that now they can also abdicate by becoming women and being congratulated for their bravery. It’s a strange twisting way out. Of course, the husbands of these three women couldn’t help it. They didn’t die on purpose. It just happened, as death does. But their death makes Ruth and Naomi’s situation particularly modern in flavor. The single woman, alone, having to pull herself together and just cope, is there every day in every community, in every church, in every twitter feed.
Who will help? Well, lots of people want the government to. But the government is a helpless mess. Friends and neighbors should help. But the grief and the need are so great. The church should, and tries to, but the church is made up of broken, needy, sinful people. Who will help? Naomi tells her daughters in law to go home to the families they do have and try again to find husbands. The striking nature of their desolation, though, is there even in her plea—go back to your mother’s house. Have they lost their fathers also?Orpah goes, because women always do and always can survive whether or not there are any men around to help them. Grit, determination, sheer drive are what’s needed to overcome so much loss and poverty. Maybe help isn’t what’s needed, maybe we can all just help ourselves.
An alternate way is there, however. We can see it in the difference between Ruth—who does something contrary to the abiding inclinations of all of humanity—and the person on the stage shouting, “I am extraordinary…I deserve to be here.” What does Ruth say? Does she lash out in anger? Does she explain how everyone should see her and what they owe her? Does she demand something?
Her actual words are hauntingly beautiful. Traces of them are found all over the rest of the Bible. Around Eastertide I caught a glimpse of them falling even from the mouth of our Lord. ‘Don’t cling to me right now,’ he said to his grieving friend, Mary, ‘I am going to my God and your God.’ Ruth, though poor, though alone, though an outsider, pledges herself to what amounts to a sure and certain death. She will go away from her language, her family, her home. She will be a stranger in a strange land. She will adopt another people, will serve and worship their God. Naomi stops pressuring her to go and accepts her, and the two go together back to the land of what feels like a thousand broken promises.
Ruth is extraordinary but not because of who she is, not because of her grit and her glory. She is strange because she sees who God is and wants to be with him anyway. She feels the poverty, she tastes the grief and bitterness, and in a brilliant flash of understanding, she sees Naomi’s faith in a true and living God. Ruth is the one leper, from this morning’s gospel, who, on the way to the priests, discovers that he is well and immediately turns round to find Jesus, who he sees and knows is the true source of his healing. Of the ten, only one understood what kind of healing Jesus had accomplished.
It is the healing of salvation. It is the gleaning of hope. It’s the help of a God who “raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap,” a Man who didn’t just die, as all men so disappointingly do, but who rose up from the grave, overturning death forever.
If you only could be one person this morning, be Ruth. Grab hold of Jesus.
*I’m making a too broad generalization to illustrate both the way the culture feels about men, and the actual circumstances of actual women. Of course there are real men who show up and care for the weak, and for their families, and for the church. I’m married to one.