Inclusive and Unconditional

Inclusive and Unconditional
Clarkston United Methodist Church's Bridges Out of Poverty training

Ruth 1:6-18

The Book of Ruth is about inclusion, unconditional love, and redemption. It is about how God works through the most unlikely people to further God’s plan. In today’s scripture, Naomi, Ruth's mother-in-law, emerges as the central figure. Years earlier, she had experienced her community being driven from Bethlehem by famine to the country of Moab. Not only were the Moabites longtime enemies of the Israelites, they also represented a race and culture totally different than that of Judah. The CEB says of their arrival in Moab, that Elimilech and his family "settled in and made their home there. They made the best of the situation."

Making the best of a bad situation is common to communities of people who are driven from their homelands. History shows that these communities are prone to huddle tightly with one another when they are in foreign and, sometimes hostile, lands. For this reason the people from Judah would not have dreamed of their sons intermarrying while they were in Moab. Nonetheless, Naomi and her husband, Elimilech find that that is just what their sons did! Mahlon and Kilion wed Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. If Levitical law had been observed by Elimilech and Naomi, these parents were within their rights to disown both sons and any of their offspring. But, wait! These parents didn't follow the rules! Most likely, they didn't go along with the majority, either.

The Moabite wives were loved deeply by their in-laws. Subsequently, by the time that news came to Moab that the Lord had blessed Judah with crops, Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah were widows, and the rest of the story is one that Jews and Christians know by heart. It was to be a heart-wrenching decision for the three women. Ultimately, Orpah would return to the "community" with which she was familiar. (Some commentaries like to say that God had work for Orpah to do in Moab.) Ruth would claim a new, unfamiliar community, with its ways, its culture, and its God. This foreigner allowed the God of Israel to work in her in all His ways.

The scripture says that "when Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, the entire town was excited at their arrival."

From all that we read in Ruth's story, the community in Bethlehem embraced, included, and nurtured her. At the same time, they certainly would have nurtured Naomi through the season of bitterness that had befallen her.

Love permeates the story of Ruth. Every decision of the mortals in the story is grounded in unconditional love. God is at work, setting His plan for His future. Is it any wonder, then, that Ruth, with her Moabite lineage, is grafted into lineage of Jesus Christ, when Boaz works diligently to acquire the status of Ruth's "kinsman-redeemer" and marries her? Their son, Obed becomes the father of Jesse, and Jesse becomes the father of David!

Shortly after the birth of Jesus, Joseph is visited by an angel who tells him that he must take his wife and child into the land of Egypt to escape King Herod. The Holy Family leaves Bethlehem. They go to Egypt to escape Herod's edict to kill all firstborn sons in Hebrew households. Yes, they are refugees. Looking back to Jesus's earthly ancestors, who left Bethlehem and went to Moab to escape famine, one can see the parallel. In neither case was anyone told how long their exile would be, nor what adverse conditions they might have to face. They were simply told to, "Go." They would hold fast to each other and to the One Who Sent Them, knowing that He was in control and working all for His Good.

Prayer: Lord, we ask that you will enable us work to tear down walls that divide and exclude, that we are instruments in Your radical welcoming. Amen.

Virginia Mohundro is a member of the Program Advisory Group from the Memphis Conference United Methodist Women.

Posted or updated: 12/8/2016 11:00:00 PM

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Thanks to the support of the faith community, each Christmas season, children in our centers receive a special gift chosen just for them. Joy and excitement fill the room as each child receives their gift. Every now and then, you notice a child who pauses – perhaps to reflect upon the blessedness of the holy season. -Dave Howery, InterServ-St. Joseph, Mo.
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