“This week, we have been using a sheet of paper to help us to consider what the Bible says about marginalised people. We have imagined that this sheet of paper is society. Strength and status are found in the centre, and as you go further out, you leave power behind. Here on the margins are the people without voice or status or strength, the marginalised people.
As we read Matthew 1 and the genealogy of Christ, we’ve seen 4 women mentioned. Because of their sex, they’re already marginalised, but each of these women are also either outside of the people of Israeli, or forgotten, or the sort of person others don’t like. So together with their sex, they’re marginalised for other reasons too.
As we’ve considered this theme, we’ve been asking ourselves what the relationship is between marginalised people and our university. Who is powerless in our university? Who in our society is on the margins and how might university people help them? These are questions for our university, but there is one more question still. The question is this: if you feel that you are a marginalised person, how should you act?
Today, as we close our reflection, Ruth will help us to answer this question. She was outside of Israel in body and people. Ruth chapter 1: At this time when the judges rules Israel, there was a great famine. There was a man in Bethlemen in Judah who together with his wife and two sons went to live in the country of Moab. This man’s name was Elimelech and his wife’s name was Naomi.
This story starts outside Israel, outside the promised land, outside the land of God’s blessing at this time. Moab was a country of curse. The prohibition of the book of Deuteronomy 23 says, ‘Any Moabite or their offspring for 10 generations is forbidden to enter the gathering of the people of God because they refused to give food and water to the Israelites when they were coming out of Egypt.’ They are people rejected by God because of their actions in the past.
However, Elimelech went to Moab together with his wife and children and his sons married Moabite women. Ruth was one of these — not an Israelite, and, moreover, one of the people cursed by God. Outside of the country of blessing, the family of Elimelech passes through many struggle. The two sons, including Ruth’s husband, died and Elimelech did too. Ruth, her sister-in-law Orpah and their mother-in-law Naomi were on their own. They were all widows, without husbands to protect them or provide for them. They were completely on their own outside of the country of God’s blessing.
So Naomi told Ruth and Orpah to return to their fathers’ homes in order to begin their lives again. Naomi used good logic — that there would be no hope for Ruth and Oprah if they stayed with Naomi. They were in a terrible situation needing great help. In the end, Orpah agrees to return to her father’s house but Ruth refuses to return to her family or leave Naomi. She promises her, ‘Wherever you go I will go, where you live I will live, your people will be my people and your God will be my God.’ Ruth does not accept good logic; she has her own logic, God-given. She does not even have one bit of wealth and yet she renounces even her life in Moab. She leaves her country, her people and her gods for Naomi’s sake, her people and her God.
When they arrived in Bethlehem, Ruth immediately asked Naomi her mother-in-law for permission to go to the fields to gather the leftover from the harvest to provide for Naomi. Ruth is a foreigner in this place and yet her first thought is for Naomi’s sake instead of for herself. She works hard and the owner of the field called Boaz notices her. He asks his foreman, ‘Who is that girl?’ He’s told that she is a Moabite and that everyone is amazed because she does not act like a Moabite who doesn’t share with others. She is like a good Israelite, caring for her mother-in-law and helping her.
Later on, Ruth and Boaz marry and they restore Naomi by giving her a grandchild called Obed, the grandfather of King David and the ancestor of Jesus Christ. So, what shall we learn from Ruth?
Ruth is distinguished by her kindness. In her terrible situation, she takes control, but not for the sake of her own success. She shows Naomi kindness. She uses everything at her disposal to improve Naomi’s situation. She works hard to help her and see her best.
The amazing thing about Ruth’s actions is that she has plenty of reason to feel that she has nothing to give others. Remember that she is a widow, a foreigner, young and poor. She is marginalised, outside of the blessing of the society of Israel. If she had looked for a reason to receive help, it’s there. But Ruth is not a person of excuses. She is a person of initiative. Not initiative for her own wealth, but initiative to care for her mother-in-law.
If you feel that you are a marginalised person, Ruth is your example. Ruth and her kindness and care for others. In this story in Hebrew, there is a word used to describe Ruth, ‘hesed’ and it means steadfast love, the kind that endures. This word is used of God as well. Ruth is being like her God in her kindness. Remember these words from Exodus 34: The Lord the Lord the kind and compassionate one.’ The way Ruth loves Naomi is a picture of how God loves us.
Remember that Jesus was also a person on the margins. He was cursed as he hung on the cross; he was despised and rejected by others — just like Ruth, his grandma, was by others. However, like Ruth, he cares for others through his actions. This is the practice of Christians on the margins. Even in their terrible situations, they remember their God, the God who cares for us and knowing him strengthens them to care for others. They know the kindness of God so they show kindness to others.
This week we have considered how those in the centre must care for those on the margins. This is God’s way. However, if you are a person on the margins, nevertheless you are called to show kindness to others. Ruth is your example, as she was the example of Jesus, as she acted in the same way as God acts, may he be glorified.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.