words of my mouth

Pentecost XXV

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but He entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the Presence of God on our behalf.

Back when my husband and I were first married, my mother-in-law, who has since gone home to God, used to visit us regularly. I’m one of those women who was blessed with a wonderful mother-in-law, and she and I enjoyed doing things together. Momma was born into a poor family, but she’d made a success of her life and her business ventures, and as a result, by the time I knew her she had real financial security. On one of her visits we went up to a posh shopping center in Boston, where, in one window, Momma spotted a purse she liked. We went in, and there, on display, was one she liked even better – it didn’t hurt that that second purse was also on sale.

While the salesperson scurried to get the bag out of the display and all wrapped and ready, Momma leaned over to me and in a whisper she asked, “What is this store?” There’d been a lot on the news back then about people getting stuck with fake bags, and she didn’t want to take any chances. “This is Gucci,” I assured her. “Oh! That’s all right then,” she said, and smiled.

We live in a world where people are always on guard. We don’t want a copy, a fake. We want the genuine article, the real thing.

Naomi her mother-in-law said to Ruth, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you.” 

Naomi, who is Jewish, is Ruth’s mother-in-law. Ruth, however, is a Moabite. All Naomi’s sons have married Moabite women, and then, a true horror for any mother, the sons have died. In ancient times, for a woman not to have a son to take her in when she is old, to protect her and care for her, can mean that the woman may end up on the street. Nonetheless, at Naomi’s bidding, all the wives, except Ruth, have returned to their own people. But Ruth is steadfast and will not leave her mother-in-law, knowing that to do so would mean that Naomi had no one to protect and care for her in her old age. Not surprisingly, Naomi wants to see to it that when she is gone, Ruth will have someone to look after and care for her.

For protection, the women have gone to be near their kinsman Boaz, and Ruth has been working with other young women on the threshing floor. But Naomi has a plan, and this is where we are treated to one of those surprising little risqué bits of Bible that sneak in and, due to the use of polite language, we might miss entirely.

In the Bible, “feet” is the accepted euphemism for what we politely call our “private parts”. Naomi must have believed that Boaz was a man of honour, for she tells Ruth, “When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” And Ruth obeys her. Fortunately for all concerned, Naomi is right about Boaz, and we are told, so Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife.

Why is there such a story in our Bible? This isn’t the sort of thing one talk about in polite company, let alone in sacred scripture, but it is a reminder that sometimes questionable beginnings produce unexpected results. Ruth is married to Boaz and bears a son. Now she and Naomi have a male next-of-kin, someone who will insure their safety. And Ruth will also have a grandson, David, who will become King David from who the Gospel writers go to great lengths to prove Jesus is descended, as they say, from the House and lineage of David.

Jesus is the genuine article, but look at the origins of the royal bloodline to which the Gospel writers so carefully connect Him. The Messiah will come from a lineage with questionable origins. This isn’t exactly the spotless pedigree our society appreciates, but it is for us a reminder that the worldly things we prize and the yardstick by which we measure excellence, really don’t count for much. They count for even less in the eyes of God.

Jesus was, of course, only too aware of what people tend to prize and respect and look up to, and of how foolish and mislead we can be in the face of wealth and posturing.

Teaching in the temple, Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Not only is Jesus not impressed with money or prestige, He appears to warn against them, but what He is truly warning us about is our tendency to see these things as better, as worthier, as more desirable. It isn’t prestige or money that is evil. What is evil is what happens to us when we seek them, grasp for them, taken hold of them. The scribes have everything, power, prestige, wealth. They have taken hold of these things, and these things have possessed them. They have become preoccupied with flaunting themselves, with taking care of what they have and finding ways of getting more. This is what happens to us when we revere the world. We reach out to grasp material wealth and power, and we lose touch with God.

Then Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 

The widow is a nobody, no blue bloodline, no fortune, and the fact that she is so desperately poor indicates she has no sons to take her in and care for her. She comes to the temple and must make a choice. Certainly that morning she must have considered carefully what she would do when the time came to make her offering. She had two tiny coins worth about 1/8 cent each. That was all! If the decision was ours, it would be simple. One coin for God, one for me – but the widow chose differently.

With great faith in God’s power to sustain and care for her, she chose to give everything she had. She had nothing left at all. We know this is true because, Jesus called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Is this what God expects of us? Absolutely! Our worldly success, our fortune, our bloodlines, none of them matter to God. For us, we who struggle to be holy people, the widow is our example. She is the genuine article. We are not called to give of our surplus, storing up the rest in barns against a rainy day. We are not called to love only those we deem loveable, to help those we feel are worthy, to give what is comfortable for us to give. We are called to have total faith in a man who, while He lived on earth, was little more than a beggar Himself. A Lord whose life ended in what, in worldly terms, can only be considered total failure on a cross.

He waits for us. He waits for us to discard our worldly standards, to realize that worldly success means nothing to Him. We are called not to be successful, but to be faithful, to, like the widow in the temple, give all we have in faith that all we need has already been provided for us. We are called to give not just our money, but like Him to surrender our precious time, our unconditional love, our very lives. We are called to love and give until it hurts. Jesus waits for us to, with eager hearts, choose to let go of the world, to hold fast to Him, and to surrender to God.

Let us pray:

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with Your most gracious favour, and further us with Your continual help, that in all out woks begun, continued, and ended in You, we may glorify Your Holy Name and finally, by Your mercy, obtain everlasting life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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