Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ruth - A Parable for Our Time

How in the world did Ruth, a woman from Moab of all places, get into the genealogy of Jesus?

Being a Moabite was completely incompatible with Jewish teaching. For Israelites, Moabites were irreconcilably deplorable. The tenets of their faith (meaning the Bible) permitted discrimination against Moabites “even to the tenth generation.”

So what is Ruth the Moabite doing there, in the family tree of the Lord and Savior?

Rewind: Moab was the son of Lot, and the story of his conception is definitely rated NC-17. It’s all there in Genesis chapter 19 if you want to read it. It comes right after the Sodom and Gomorrah story, which gets all the attention of course. But the story of how Moab and his half-brother Ben-ammi were conceived is … well let’s just say it’s not going to be the content of next year’s Vacation Bible School curriculum.

Because of this shameful story, the Moabites and the Ammonites were thought to be inferior by the Israelites. Of course, it’s quite possible that it happened the other way around (just sayin’). It could have been that there was animosity between Israel and their neighboring ethnic groups first, and then the story of those groups’ origin was composed to “confirm” that pre-existing animosity. Nevertheless, Israelites and Moabites didn’t hang out together.

So when Naomi and her family journey to Moab to find relief from the famine in Israel, it was an act of desperation. And when her sons married Moabite women, it must have been quite the scandal. And then when her sons died and Naomi returned to Israel with one of those Moabite women with her, her former friends and neighbors must have really flipped out.

But then Ruth gives birth to Obed, who becomes the father of Jesse, who is the father of David, who becomes the King. And in Matthew Chapter 1, there’s Ruth’s name, one of only four women in the whole paternalistic list that traces the birth of Jesus himself all the way back to Abraham.

Ruth the Moabite. “Wrong” in almost every sense of the word. Wrong ethnicity. Wrong religion. Wrong gender. Wrong family background.

But apparently, things that people think count as “wrong” aren’t necessarily what God counts as “wrong.”

By every human consideration Ruth should have been excluded. If a Jewish person would not have been permitted to exclude her, they could have complained about having their religious freedom infringed upon. If someone had referred to Moabites as a “basket of deplorables,” no one would have thought twice about it.

And yet … Ruth the flippin' Moabite. Right there, in Jesus’s family tree.

God just keeps on surprising us, huh?

I wonder what would happen if we just stopped painting one another with such broad brushes, and we actually treated people like people, instead of categories? I wonder...

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