8 November 2015
Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 27B (RCL)
Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17
The story of Ruth seems to me to be a response to the edict of Ezra after the return from Exile that those who had remained behind and married foreign women must send them home. The author of Ruth seems to be saying, “Not so fast: the great grandmother of David was a Moabite.” It’s a charming and humorous story. Naomi tells her daughter-in-law to wash herself and perfume herself and then go out to the threshing floor, where the men will have been eating and drinking and notice where Boaz lies down. She tells him to uncover the man’s feed (a nice euphemism), “and he will tell you what to do.” Indeed, he will. As the story ends, and Boaz goes down to the gate to work out a deal with the nearer kinsman, who chooses not to buy Elimelech’s land, since Ruth comes with the deal, the elders at the gate wish that with the children Ruth will bear him, Boaz’s house may become like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah. Tamar, of course, played the harlot with Judah to force him to exercise his redemption of her. Matthew includes both Tamar and Ruth in his genealogy of Jesus.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus holds up another widow for emulation. All the prominent people like the trappings of social status, and give large sums to the Temple. In our day, they would be the ones who like brass plaques in the hospital lobby. Jesus sees a widow, whose house the scribes and pharisees have devoured (unlike Boaz, who has redeemed the widow’s house), puts in her two copper coins. The NRSV tells us that Jesus said, “She has put in everything she had, everything she had to live on.” The second phrase is, “her whole bios.” Bios means either life in the sense of a course of life (career) or manner of living; or means of living, livelihood. So, the NRSV translation is possible, but it misses the complexity of the point being made. She has offered everything about her life to God.
The passage from the letter to the Hebrews speaks of Christ having entered the heavenly sanctuary, on which the earthly sanctuary was modeled, and offering his very life as an offering to God on behalf of humanity. The author of the letter sees Jesus presence to God and intercession on our behalf as the archetype of which our eucharistic worship is the type. In our eucharist, we are to offer the very substance of our life, our bios, our livelihood and manner of living to be consecrated to God’s purposes. The widow does what the rich man who approached Jesus asking about entrance into the Kingdom failed to do — offer his substance to God. The existence of the widow is an indictment of his failure. Ruth’s nearer kinsman was unwilling to buy Naomi’s heritage, because in raising children for Ruth (and therefore heirs for Elimelech), he would decrease his own heritage. He missed his chance to be named in the genealogy of David, to be part of God’s larger plan.