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24th Sunday after Pentecost — November 7, 2021

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Ordinary 24B; Proper 27

Teri McDowell Ott’s lectionary reflections are sent to the Outlook’s email list every Monday.

“I put myself back in the narrative” sings Eliza in the closing song of the musical about her husband, Alexander Hamilton. This closing song centers on Eliza and includes the refrain, “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” It left me in tears as I watched “Hamilton” live in Chicago, a special Christmas gift for our family and our last trip before the pandemic. I was moved by creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s storytelling through contemporary lyrics, choreography and voices of people of color. “Hamilton” makes it clear whose voices aren’t included in the dominant narrative of American history and that it matters who tells your story.

Similarly, the book of Ruth gives us a unique voice in the Bible because it centers the women’s narrative and gives its female characters agency. In this Sunday’s lectionary passage, Naomi and Ruth act on a plan to secure their futures with the little power and resources they have. The reader of this text who is unfamiliar with biblical euphemisms will miss the provocative nature of Naomi’s plan. Ruth would go to Boaz when he was asleep, uncover his “feet” and lie down. “Feet” are often used as a euphemism for genitalia in the Bible and the word for “lie down” in Hebrew implies sexual intercourse. In her new commentary, “A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church,” Hebrew Bible Scholar Wilda Gafney translates “feet” in verse 4 as “thighs” and writes: “Romantic readings of Ruth often ignore Naomi’s grooming of her to sexually service Boaz – make herself attractive, wait until he is drunk, uncover his thighs, and do what he tells her – as a survival strategy for them both. It is likely that there was sexual contact between them, which, given Ruth’s vulnerable status, is problematic for contemporary readers. The story of Ruth can easily be read as a story of survival sex and draws our attention to the plight of vulnerable, hungry, desperate migrant women.”

Although the power dynamics in this text are complex and even disturbing, the beauty of this biblical narrative rests in the eventual redemption of two vulnerable women and the centering of their story. Not even God, as a character, has center stage in the book of Ruth. God is mentioned, and God’s covenantal relationship with Israel’s people is an underlying theme, but the Redeemer never speaks. When Ruth, a foreign Moabite, is embraced and included in Boaz’s family, it expands the possibilities for outsiders to be welcomed as the “people of God.” In her commentary on this text, Marcia Mount Shoop writes that Ruth is “a pivotal symbol of accessibility.” The birth of Obed not only secures Ruth and Naomi’s future through lineage and inheritance but also expands the accessibility of God’s overarching redemptive narrative. Obed, born to Ruth the Moabite, becomes the father of Jesse, who becomes the father of David — the ancestral line of a Messiah who saves us all.

As we consider this narrative and this lineage through the book of Ruth, it would serve us well to pause and consider who tells our story.

Questions for reflection:

  1. Whose voices are centered in our family or church narrative?
  2. Who is left out or marginalized?
  3. What new perspective could we gain by listening to those, like Eliza and Ruth, who put themselves back in the narrative?

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