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Mothers of Jesus: Ruth, the foreigner

I love the book of Ruth. It is only four chapters, so if you haven't read it you can do so now. I'll wait.


The following passage was read at our wedding:


“Entreat me not to leave you,

Or to turn back from following after you;

For wherever you go, I will go;

And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;

Your people shall be my people,

And your God, my God.

Where you die, I will die,

And there will I be buried.

The Lord do so to me, and more also,

If anything but death parts you and me.” (Ruth 1:17, NKJV)


Isn't that beautiful?


So the story of Ruth is a short one, but I'll recap it for you here. Naomi was married to Elimelech, and they had 2 sons. There was a famine in their hometown of Bethlehem, so they moved to Moab, a community that did not worship the Hebrew God. The boys, Mahlon and Chilion, grew up and married Ruth and Orpah, two women of Moab.


Elimilech died and before too long Mahlon and Chilion died too. This was disaster for Naomi. She had no husband and no sons to support her in her old age. She decided to return to Bethlehem and Ruth and Orpah accompanied her at the start of her journey. Naomi suggested that they return to the homes of their mothers (interesting!) because she had nothing to offer them. Orpah left, but Ruth stayed, with the words quoted above. (Even though they were words spoken from a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law, I still think they are perfect for a wedding).


Naomi and Ruth continued on to Bethlehem. Naomi was recognized, but Ruth was a foreigner. The next day Ruth went out to the fields to glean for barley. She worked hard and caught the eye of Boaz, who was a cousin of Elimelech. Boaz invited Ruth to glean with the young women of his family and expressed concern for her safety if she should leave and glean in another field.


When Ruth went home, with plenty of barley for dinner for herself and Naomi, she told Naomi that she had met Boaz. Naomi began to have hope that all was not lost, and that they had indeed found favor with God.


Because Boaz was a relative, he had some responsibility for the well-being of Naomi and Ruth. Because he was a relative, and because Naomi knew he was on the threshing floor, she suggested that Ruth make herself desirable (my word) and go to the threshing floor to wait for Boaz to relax after eating and drinking. Ruth obeyed, and once Boaz had fallen asleep, Ruth went and "uncovered his feet" and lay down beside him.


Feet is a Hebrew euphemism for genitals, so the implication is that Ruth and Boaz had been intimate, whether they truly had or hadn't.


Boaz startled awake to find an attractive young woman at his side, his "feet" uncovered, and asked who she was. She introduced herself as Ruth, who needed to be taken under his wing as he was a close relative.


Boaz had some work to do because there was another, closer relative, who could lay claim to Ruth. The other relative declined, so Boaz married Ruth. She conceived a child, who Naomi loved dearly. The child was named Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David. Follow the line and it leads directly to Jesus.




The problem is that Ruth probably never existed - which doesn't make her "Entreat me not to leave you," verses any less powerful. According to Bishop John Shelby Spong in his book, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, the book of Ruth is protest literature.


Let me just say right now that whether Ruth was a real person or not, her story has lessons to teach us. The fact that SHE, a Moabite woman, is listed by name in the geneology of Jesus (see Matthew 1) is significant.


Ruth was a Moabite. She had learned from Naomi to worship the God of Israel, but she was not an Israelite. Yet Naomi loved her as she would have loved a daughter, and Ruth gave up everything to go with Naomi. Why didn't Ruth return to her mother's house? The story doesn't say. Usually, she would have been directed to return to her father's house, so perhaps she had no father. Maybe Ruth loved Naomi more, or maybe her mother had no home for her to return to, or maybe Ruth's mother had others to care for her, while Naomi had no one. Who knows? It doesn't really matter - just interesting to wonder about.


Naomi embraced Ruth, Boaz embraced Ruth, and the people of Bethlehem embraced Ruth when they saw how hard she worked and cared for their old friend, Naomi. But still and all, Ruth was a foreigner. At the time that the story was written, the Jewish people believed that because they had been chosen by God, they couldn't, shouldn't, and wouldn't pollute their blood. Those who did were responsible for all the bad things that happened to the Jews - things like exile - that separated them from their homeland and, they believed, God. Anyone who was not "ethnically pure" had to be banished, and you can imagine that created all kinds of chaos. According to Bishop Spong, it was a crime to live in Judah unless you could prove that you were a full-blooded Jew to the 10th generation.


So the writer shares the story of Ruth, a foreign woman who embodied the Torah by caring for her widowed mother-in-law.


Does any of this sound familiar? White supremacy, anyone? Walls at the border? "Go back where you came from!" None of this is new, but the story of Ruth teaches us that it should have been discarded generations ago. No one is better than another. Anyone can demonstrate the love of God and obey the laws of God. God does not discriminate. Those who insist on American exceptionalism, white supremacy, and Christianity as the one true religion are getting it all wrong.


Here's something a little mind-blowing: if Ruth was real, and if King David was real, and if Jesus was real (not saying he wasn't!), none of them were full-blooded Jews. David was the adored king who solidified the Jewish state. He was chosen by God to fulfill God's plan. He was human (more on him next week) and he was the Jewish hero. But he wasn't a pure-blooded Jew.


The other thing that strikes me about Ruth (and Naomi) is how manipulative they were. They essentially tricked Boaz into marrying Ruth, although from reading the story I suspect Boaz might have come to the same conclusion on his own, just not quite so quickly.


It strikes me that women are still derided as being manipulative, shrill, emotional bitches. Just look at the ways that Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi have been treated. Both are exceptionally intelligent skilled leaders. My mother HATED Hillary Clinton - hated with a capital H. When I asked her why, she couldn't tell me. Nancy Pelosi, according to my parents, was just this side of the devil incarnate. Disagree with their politics if you will, but they have worked and represented Americans with intelligence, fortitude and grace.


Anyway, back to the manipulation. I was thinking about women being manipulative a couple of weeks ago - I can't remember why. It occurred to me that when a group of people are powerless, they do what they must to gain some power. Women have been powerless for centuries. The first draft of the Equal Rights Amendment was written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman and presented to Congress in 1923. That was only 100 years ago, but here's the thing: the ERA still hasn't been ratified. It was brought up for ratification in the 1970s, but only 35 of the required 38 states ratified it. Now, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. women are once again deprived of the rights we have enjoyed for only a few short years. To gain power, some women are going to have to rely on manipulation.


"You want sex? Sure, but if I conceive, you're going to have to marry me."

"I want you so I'll have sex with you, get pregnant and then you'll have to marry me."

"I am ambitious so I'll appeal to your male ego to get what I want."

"I am a beautiful, slender, sexy woman who will flirt with you until you bend to my will."


Barf, and of course I am grossly exaggerating and generalizing. My point is that women, for generations, have had to rely on their "feminine wiles," to get what they want - which might not be much more than survival, as in Naomi and Ruth's case. Rahab the prostitute sold her body to survive or get power (see my post on Rahab here).


And what does Ruth's inclusion, whether she was real or imagined, say about Jesus? Jesus was not who he was expected to be - he wasn't even fully Jewish, by blood anyway. Jesus is descended from people on the margins - people that even today, we consider "less than." Jesus teaches us to love one another, regardless of the rules. Do you think we will ever learn that?


Jesus was God's kingdom come. Now it is up to us to bring God's kingdom into full fruition. We won't do it by disempowering people, by marginalizing people, by unmarked greed, a "NIMBY" attitude, and by destroying the earth. The rich and powerful white people aren't going to be the first to suffer with climate change. It will be the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the powerless. Are women going to allow that to happen to our children and grandchildren? Not if we can help it, because we, like Rahab and Ruth, are BADASS.


Today is the 2nd week of Advent. Christian churches will light the candle of Peace. Merriam Webster defines peace as 1. a state of tranquility; 2. freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions; 3. harmony in personal relations; 4. a state or period of mutual concord between governments. I was taught that to have peace, I must submit, be quiet, never get angry (or at least not express that anger), and never challenge the powers that are. But by definition, if I am just keeping my thoughts to myself to present a false image of harmony in personal relations, then I am not at peace. Therefore, there is no peace. Sisters of faith, it is time to write letters, vote, advocate, and work for justice for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Jesus asks nothing less.


You can access previous posts about Peace here and here.





Image. ruth-naomi_credit-wikicommons.jpg (800×600) (beliefnet.com). Accessed 4 Dec. 2022.


“Peace.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/peace. Accessed 4 Dec. 2022.


Spong, John Shelby. Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. New York: HarperOne. 1991.


Wikipedia contributors, "Equal Rights Amendment," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Equal_Rights_Amendment&oldid=1125226422 (accessed December 4, 2022).

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