Friday, September 23, 2011

Do You Fit In?

In the middle of the Bible history books, we come to a little 4-chapter book called Ruth. Scholars don't know what to do with it, even in reading assignments for Old Testament Theology class, Ruth doesn't have an overall theme to explore. The book becomes incorporated into the history book section but simply because it doesn't fit into any other category. It is a book that tells a story but doesn't necessarily move the whole of the Bible story forward. It just sits there, taunting scholars to define it.

Ironically, Ruth and Esther, another book that stumps scholars into easily categorizing, are my favourite Bible stories. Perhaps I like them because the entire books are written about women. In a chauvinistic culture, these books elevate the status and role of women in God's story. I am a woman on mission to find significance and influence and I'm passionate about women roles within leadership, church and the world, but I think there is more.

Ruth gives value and a voice to those who feel like they don't fit in. About a year ago, I was at a wedding. I can't remember a time when I've felt so acutely out of place. There was a lot of self-talk in the car before I was able to walk into the room with confidence. As one of the only friends within a small crowd of family, I was asked how I fit into the story of the wedding couple's story. I don't think it was a coincidence that my Scripture reading plan brought me to the book of Ruth. Unable to clearly define the book of Ruth brings comfort to me when seemingly random events outside of the 'bigger picture' take place. It brings comfort when my entire life seems outside the larger story of God's story.

Ruth also offers us insight and hope. The book of Judges ends the narrative with the words, "everyone did as he saw fit," and Ruth begins, "In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land." Famine wasn't supposed to happen in the Promised Land. Famine was a curse that would come to pass if the people failed to keep the covenant. A sure indication that the covenant was not kept was found in the last line of Judges, "everyone did as he saw fit."

The covenant was built on community. Women, by nature, are community-driven and community-focussed. I think Ruth is an example of hope that community still exists within the larger story, when the rest of the evidence isn't so obvious.

Without dwelling on the obvious negative actions: famine, Elimelech moving his family to the Godless country of Moab, and taking Moabite women as wives for his sons, the story of Ruth is an expression of covenant community lived at the ideal level. It is hopeful. The story binds woman to woman, foreigner to national; it seeks the best interest of the widow and the needy. And once again, God brings a covenant community out of a culture that didn't acknowledge him. Once again, God calls us first into a relationship with him.

Ruth may be a side-step for scholars but I think Ruth provides a dialogue and an invitation for the outsider.
I'm an outsider by choice, she said, but I'm hoping that won't be my choice forever. ~Brian Andreas

What do you like about the book of Ruth?

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