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Sunday, November 05, 2006
Courage can arise in the most ordinary of lives. Faithful human actions in the book of Ruth restore two widows, and through them the whole people of Israel. The texts this Sunday invite us to consider what puts survival at risk. Ruth 3:1–5; 4: 13–17 At the beginning of this book, Ruth chose to join her life and path with Naomi’s. In the focus passage for today, this following reaches a decisive turn. Earlier, chapter 2 told of an encounter between Ruth and a relative of Naomi named Boaz. Verse 20 identified him as “nearest kin.” The Hebrew word used here is goel. Elsewhere translated as “redeemer,” goel is a family member who is supposed to restore something that another family member has lost because of debt or poverty. Now, need and opportunity meet in the plans of Naomi and Ruth. In 3:3, Naomi proposes action filled with double meanings. “Do not make yourself known…” uses a verb that can also mean sexual intimacy (Genesis 4:1).“Feet” can be a euphemism in Hebrew for genitals. “Threshing floor” has an association with sexual activity (Hosea 9:1). These sexual undertones move the text’s interpretation into a reflection on the courage to risk offence for the sake of life. Ruth follows Naomi’s counsel. Boaz acts with honour as “next of kin” (goel – “one who redeems”). God gives conception. Throughout this book, Naomi and Ruth act with loyalty. As the narrative closes, we learn how their relationship expands into a larger community of women. These women recognize the child’s importance to Naomi. “He shall be to you a restorer of life” (4:15). “Restorer” is a translation of the Hebrew shub, that word of “turning” used throughout the book of Ruth. The women, not father or mother, name the child Obed. A story of widows who have no living children becomes a story of birth. A struggle to survive becomes the means by which God delivers hope to these women and to Israel’s unborn generations. God sets into motion the promise, who will be David, through the courage and faithfulness of Ruth, the Moabite. Many scholars date the writing of Ruth to the post-exilic era, known for its disdain of foreigners and especially foreign wives. The book of Ruth affirms: God will work through whomever God chooses. Psalm 127 also asserts that children are a gift of heritage and hope. The balance to the psalm’s male imagery comes in the role played by women and daughters (in law) in Ruth. God will build the “house” (the word can mean “dynasty”) by whomever God chooses. There is a sense of eager waiting for the unborn David at the close of Ruth. The writer of Hebrews 9:24–28 also conveys a longing, a sense of “eagerly waiting”– looking forward to the salvation Christ will bring. The sacrificial imagery in Hebrews has a common backdrop with the temple scene in Mark. Jesus, in Mark 12:38–44, warns against shows of religious devotion that cloak actions and systems that are devouring the most vulnerable persons in that day, widows. Whether by requirement or social conditioning, the widow who placed her coins in the treasury may have felt she had little choice. This woman shows courage by entrusting all that she has as a gift to God, trusting God’s providence to keep her. Economic injustice and racial and gender prejudice still jeopardize life. Yet, covenant and hope still call forth acts of courage. Courage is shown in any action that would bring safety and wholeness to another. When and through whom have you found your life restored, nourished, and (en)couraged? What offence might we need to risk in order to secure the welfare of those with whom covenant binds us?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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