Reading Ramblings – August 10, 2014

Date:  Narrative Preaching #7—Ruth: August 10, 2014

Texts: Ruth 4:13-22; Psalm 146; Mark 5:5-15

Context: Ruth is a fascinating—some would say scandalous—book.  Yet it reminds us that God is fully capable of looking out for and incorporating even those that society is ready to write off.  Ultimately, the book of Ruth is far less about Ruth herself, and more about her mother-in-law, Naomi.  God’s faithfulness to this otherwise unremarkable widow brings her foreign-born daughter-in-law into the community of the faithful, and into the ancestry of David and Jesus. 

Ruth 4:13-22 — The remarkable story of Ruth culminates in Ruth’s marriage and the redemption of Naomi.  Naomi, who once was without hope as a widow with all her children dead, is looked after by God’s graciousness.  Ruth might have easily had hopes of remarrying, whether she remained in her homeland or not.  But Naomi’s prospects were truly harrowing.  Thus it is right that the book would end not with joy over Ruth’s new life, but with rejoicing over Naomi’s new life and hope.

Some consider Ruth’s behavior with Boaz scandalous. While she is certainly forward (on directions from her mother-in-law), it needn’t be read as adulterous.  Once again we are presented with a situation in the Bible where the actions of individuals are recounted and described, but not necessarily sanctioned or prescribed.  The God who does not forget Naomi is capable of working even through sinful people and situations to bring about his purposes—in this case, moving closer to the birth of King David, the ancestor of Jesus.

Psalm 146 — Who is the source of our hope?  All too often, it is ourselves.  We make our plans for our lives and for the lives of our children and grandchildren.  How often do those plans center around the right education, the right job, the right spouse, the right financial situation?  How often do we assume that our primary concern is to facilitate all of these things that are in large part out of our control?  Where does our hope come from?

While there’s certainly nothing wrong with making wise decisions for our future and the future of our descendants, we make these plans with the understanding that God is the ultimate source of our hope, not our 401K or the diploma hanging on the wall.  God’s promises are sure and secure—the promises the world extends and that we often emphasize are not.  Economies sink.  Governments rise and fall.  War comes and goes.  Drought strikes, followed by famine.  Hurricanes and tsunamis level cities and reduce citizens to savages.  We must always keep our hope in God through the changing circumstances and hopes of our lives.  It is God who ultimately gives us our most needed and cherished possessions—his own Son, Jesus the Messiah.

Mark 5:5-15— Restoration happens in many ways.  It might involve deliverance from the demonic as in the case of the man in today’s Gospel lesson.  It may involve financial deliverance as in the case of Naomi.  It might involve relational deliverance as in the case of both Boaz and Ruth.  Restoration ultimately resides in the incarnation, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.

But God is mindful of our need for more temporal deliverance as well.  The man in Mark’s Gospel truly could be considered without hope.  The efforts of his community to help him had failed.  He had been driven from the community of the living to the community of the dead.  He was reduced to a savage existence, naked and unable to control himself.  What hope could he have?  What hope could he have in doctors or family members or anyone else?

His deliverance comes in the unlikely arrival of Jesus.  This man lives in Gentile territory, not Jewish territory.  On the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, how likely would it be that a Jewish rabbi and his followers would land on shore to meet and save this man; save him from the madness of demon possession, and save him for eternity through faith in the Son of God?   The odds were phenomenally against him.  Yet Jesus arrives and the man is restored.

But restoration is often painful and messy.  In this man’s case, restoration comes at a steep price.  An entire herd of pigs is lost so that this man might be restored.  It is a price tag the man’s community finds too steep.  They ask Jesus to leave.  They can’t afford the price of his restorations.  As happy as they might be for this man, there is a limit to their joy, and that limit might be an issue of what other restorations might cost each of them.

Restoration comes at a price for the demoniac as well.  He seeks to become a disciple of Jesus (compare his request to how Mark describes the relationship of Jesus and his disciples in Mark 3:14).  But it is not the time for Gentile  disciples.  Jesus has come first to minister to the people of God, the Jews.  While He can provide healing and hope for the Gentiles, it isn’t appropriate yet for the Gentiles to be part of his inner circle.  The demoniac cannot accompany Jesus, but he can share what Jesus has done for him with his community.  Not just his city and hometown, but all the Gentile towns of the region known as the Decapolis.  As such, while his desire to be an apostle is refused, he might very well be sowing the seeds of wonder and curiosity and hope that will eventually find good soil in the Gospel of Jesus crucified and resurrected as Peter and others begin to preach it to the Gentiles after Pentecost.

We are prone to wonder why and how it is that God can work so mightily in the lives of people like Ruth and Naomi and the demoniac.  We might wonder how it is that some around us receive healing, receive restoration of body and mind and hope, while others do not.  We continually seek to know the mind of God, much as Adam and Eve did, rather than rejoicing with those who are blessed and standing firm in faith with those who continue to suffer.  In both of these situations, we testify to the glory of God, the God who is capable of restoring all things and all people, and who has promised to restore all those who will trust him in this rather than demanding that He accede to their terms.  God is far more than the djinni in a bottle who emerges to do our bidding.  He is the God who comes among us as one of us, not to punish and denigrate, but rather to suffer and die that we all might have hope of restoration in this life as well as in eternity.



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