Pastor’s Desk

Worship Reflection Sunday, October 31, 2021

“Back in Bethlehem”

Scripture: Ruth 2

Last week we delved and some of the stereotypes the Ruth and Naomi faced.

As chapter 2 begins we recognize Ruth is still facing stereotypes. She’s a foreign woman described as so irresistible because of her ethnicity. She’s poor. She doesn’t have family except for Naomi who is deep in grief. Ruth is gleaning the fields, the edges corners, nooks and crannies while the other servants harvested. As a woman with no family, she’s doing this at great risk to herself, especially given the stereotypes the community had towards her, as a foreigner from a despised and prohibited region.

Remember Ruth is a Moabite prohibited to the 10th generation. Not only that, gleaning fields was dangerous work. The people listening to the story would have known these things. They would have been surprised by Boaz’s actions, at least to some extent, because of Ruth’s ethnicity.

However, the story, has given a few details into her dedication towards Naomi, setting Ruth up as someone who might be a little better than the typical stereotypes with which she was associated. We’ve heard Ruth say, where you go I will go, and will the Holy One to punish her if she didn’t. Then in chapter 2, we hear that Ruth is working harder at harvest, in the dangerous conditions, than many of those present.

Boaz represents the shift the people listening are being challenged to make about the stereotypes and the people they represent. But Ruth is still facing another challenge, she must overcome the belief that she isn’t worthy of this grace, and neither is Naomi because of who she was and where she came from. In other words, The story must convince its listeners that Ruth is worthy of grace. She must show and be the right kind of poor person. She knows this, as does every person ever in need of assistance, help, and compassion.

A challenge is being issued to those listening, who is worthy of aid? It’s a challenge we still struggle with today. Every time someone asks us for help, we make quick decisions about our ability and their worthiness.

We make these decisions against the backdrop of stereotypes about those in need and all the tropes society spouts. Is their story real? Are they scamming me? Do I care enough to help? Do they deserve help or did their own choices cause the misfortune they now face? Then and now the questions are the same, and we still seek answers, as though we are capable of determining the worthiness of another person, as though being a living human wasn’t not enough to qualify them for their need.

We do these things, because like the Israelites sharing this story, we have been taught to make these judgments by our peers, our experiences, our cultural norms, and even our laws.

Ruth’s story serves as a counter narrative to the prohibitions of her existence in the community. Multiple places she is banned for all time, and probably as this story circulated there was an ongoing debate as recorded in the prophets admonishing those who would allow her, because of concerns for ritual purity.

But what we find in this chapter is full witness of Ruth’s humanity being put on display, and matched against those understandings, to challenge them and those listening, in order to examine who deserves help?

We understand the need for this challenge. Too often it is an ongoing issue within human nature. Right now, we hear people questioning whether or not the Afghan refugees deserve to be welcomed. We hear whether or not the refugees seeking safety south of our borders deserve refuge or not.  We even hear questions about the worthiness of the people who are homeless who live among us as though they weren’t people. So, who is worthy? Who deserves protection? Who among us deserves safety, food, and shelter?

The fact that Boaz has to give explicit directions to his servants suggested that without them, Ruth would be in danger, at risk for harassment in the least.

But isn’t she a human? Sojourner Truth shared her story asking, now famously, “Ain’t I a woman?”

Boaz extends a word to support the evidence that suggests Ruth is indeed human, and worthy of kindness, generosity and safety.

Why do we need that word of support? Can’t we see that Ruth is human simply with our own eyes? Can’t we see the person standing on the corner is a human? What more do we need? Do our stereotypes matter? What if there’s truth in them, does it matter then?

The story is challenging us to recognize the ways in which we fail and fall short of extending human kindness to those in need.

Too often we ask people to justify their need rather than simply acknowledging that as humans they have needs and as humans when those need to go on met then we are called to share, to give, to offer kindness.

I believe the challenge this week that we are being invited to undertake it’s to see one another as human, as worthy, in spite of our circumstances, choices, backgrounds, and bad habits. We aren’t called to be responsible for our gifts after we give them only while they are ours is the responsibility on us. A rabbi teaches is that it’s not ours determine if the receiver uses our gift appropriately that responsibility lies on the receiver it is only ours to share what we are able with those who have need. So, you give somebody 20 bucks, it’s not on you anymore to determine if they use that $20 responsibly. The responsibility was taught relies on the receiver. It’s only ours to fulfill the responsibility to share what we are able with those who have need

so how do we see one another as human?

This week, and in the weeks ahead, a challenge to each of us is to remember that belovedness is not something we get to determine. It is in every single person we encounter, including ourselves. And because of that belovedness we are all worthy of kindness, of compassion, of support and safety, and protection, and food and shelter. When those needs aren’t being met, those of us who are able to meet them are called to respond, not with stereotypes or tropes about the poor or about backgrounds and ethnicities, and not with suspicion, but with open hands, and generosity that surpasses what we can determine for ourselves. Because we are all beloved.

You are loved. So is she, and so is they, and so is he. We are beloved. Remember that belovedness when you see a need and remember the ways that you are called to share and that we are called to share and do your best. Because when we do this, we challenge those stereotypes and those understandings. We give people opportunities and most of all, we simply acknowledge their belovedness.

May it be so, Amen