Two Minority Reports from the Hebrew Bible, V: Royalty
This Summer Katie, Christine, and I are preaching the sermon series, “Two Minority Reports from the Hebrew Bible” about the two small books in the Hebrew Bible about Ruth and Jonah. This is the fifth and last sermon from the Book of Ruth chapter four.
So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.
Ruth is a 24-year-old childless widow from Moab who followed her mother-in-law to Bethlehem and makes her living in Judea by gleaning in the fields of a prominent, 40-year-old landowner named Boaz. Securing her future, Ruth scandalously seduces Boaz. This makes him so happy he marries her.
This union is improbable, improper, impolitic, and imprudent, because Jews hate Moabites and vice-versa. No one—and I mean no one—on either side of that international border will approve of this marriage.
However the story of Ruth is about crossing almost impenetrable international boundaries and embracing the other as your own.
We’ve been calling the small books of Ruth and Jonah Two Minority Reports from the Hebrew Bible, but we haven’t told you yet what we mean by that nor what the Majority Report is.
Here’s the Majority Report. Almost the entire Hebrew Bible is singularly focused on the unique status of the Jewish tribe and the exclusive blessing God has reserved for it. The Jews are the chosen people. Israel is the favored nation. Canaan is the promised land. And Yahweh is the one true God. Don’t have any truck with Gentiles, and certainly don’t marry them, for God’s sake.
For instance, in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells the Hebrews: “When you enter the Promised Land, do not intermarry with the people who are living there. Destroy them. Break down their altars, smash their pillars, and burn their idols with fire.” Destroy them, says Moses.
Ruth is an antidote to the exclusivism, tribalism, nationalism, and parochialism practiced by so many people of the world so much of the time. Ruth is a tiny, microscopic counter-witness to the attitude which says, “If you are not my color, be my slave. If you don’t speak my language, don’t talk to me. If you are not from here, go back to where you came from. If you eat rice instead of pasta, don’t sit at my table. If you wear a sari instead of Levi’s, leave me alone away from me. If you wear scarlet and gray instead of maize and blue, stay in Columbus. If you don’t worship my god exactly the same way I do, stay away from my church and wallow in your shabby heresies. If you are a Jew, wear a yellow star, live in the ghetto, and get on the train headed for Auschwitz.”
John Updike’s 1994 novel Brazil is about an interracial relationship between a black man and a white woman in, you guessed it, Brazil. In my opinion, the novel Brazil has the greatest opening line of any American novel written in the last 30 years: “Black is a shade of brown. So is white if you look.” Yes? Black is a shade of brown. So is white if you look.
The novel goes on. “On Copacabana, the most democratic, crowded, and dangerous of Rio de Janeiro’s beaches, all colors merge into one joyous, sun-stunned, flesh-color, coating the sand with a second, living skin.” Oh my goodness, John Updike. He’s been dead for 15 years, but I still miss him so.
Both the Book of Ruth and the novel Brazil know that interracial, interfaith, and international marriages are the best hope the world has for a happy future. And friendships.
I can’t remember where I heard this story. It might be apocryphal, but it is beautiful. A Navy cruiser is anchored in Mobile, Alabama, for a week of shore leave.
The first evening, the ship's Captain receives a note from a wealthy Mobile plantation owner. She writes: "Dear Captain, Thursday will be my daughter Melinda's Debutante Ball. I would like you to send four polite, handsome, unmarried officers in dress uniforms to attend the dance. They should arrive promptly at 8 p.m. They should be excellent dancers, as they will be escorting lovely refined young ladies. One last point: No Jews please."
The captain sent a message back. “Madam, thank you for your invitation. I am sending four of my best and most prized officers.
One is a lieutenant commander, and a graduate of the Naval Academy. He also has a master’s degree from MIT.
The second is a Lieutenant and a helicopter pilot. He graduated from Texas A&M and has a Ph.D. degree from Texas Tech. He is also an astronaut candidate.
The third officer is also a lieutenant, with a degree from SMU. He’s just completed his doctoral dissertation at the University of Texas.
Finally, the fourth officer, also a lieutenant commander, is our ship’s doctor, with a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Texas and a medical degree from the University of Tennessee. He’s a senior fellow in trauma surgery at the Walter Reed Medical Center. They will be there at your place at 8 p.m. on Thursday.”
This made Melinda’s mother very happy. “The girls will have a blast, and the other mothers will go insane with jealousy,” she thought to herself.
At exactly 8 p.m. on Thursday, Melinda's mother hears a polite rap at the door and when she opens it, she sees four dangerously handsome Black Naval officers, stunning in their dress blues. Her mouth falls open, and she stammers, "There must be some mistake."
“No, Ma’am," said the first officer. "Captain Goldberg never makes mistakes."
Kathy and I watched the most remarkable television series. It’s called A Small Light, and you can watch it on National Geographic, Disney, or Hulu. It’s eight hours long, but worth every minute.
A Small Light is about Miep Gies, who hid Anne Frank and her family for two years in a hidden room behind a false wall in her office in Amsterdam. Miep Gies is one of the most extraordinary women of the twentieth century. Playing her, Bel Powley is a movie star. I hope she gets an Emmy.
Miep Gies was not actually from Amsterdam. She was born in 1909 in Vienna, but when she turned 11 in 1920 there were severe food shortages in Austria after the First World War.
Miep’s mother was too poor to feed her, so Miep’s mother shipped her to Amsterdam, where she was adopted by a large, kind Dutch family. When she grew up, she became Otto Frank’s secretary.
That’s why Miep Gies risked her neck to hide the Franks for two years: she always remembered that when she came to Amsterdam years before, she was an immigrant and an alien.
She thinks to herself, “I was hungry, and you gave me to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.” So Miep made sure to pay it forward.
When the Nazis occupy Amsterdam and it is looking very grim for the Jews, Otto Frank asks Miep to hide eight people in a hidden room at their workplace and bring them food every single day till the war is over, and the most touching moment of A Small Light for me is when Miep instantly says, “Tell me what to do.”
Instantly, immediately, without pause, without thought, without consideration, almost before Otto is finished talking. “Tell me what to do.”
When the Franks have been hiding for two years, a craven, rapacious Dutchman betrays them to the Nazis, in August of 1944, two months after the Allied invasion at Normandy, eight months before Hitler dies and Germany surrenders.
When a Nazi Stormtrooper shows up at that hidden room in Amsterdam to ship the Franks off to the death camps, Miep notices the Stormtrooper’s accent, and she knows that he is from Vienna, like she is, and she starts talking to him in German.
She is just the tiniest little thing, and he towers over her with his pistol strapped to his hip, but she looks him straight in the eye and says, “You don’t have to do this. You know this is wrong.” And just the tiniest flicker of his eyes and the fallen features of his face tell you he knows she is right.
Miep Gies is on the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
Kathy and I are very proud of our Dutch heritage. We are very Dutch. Kathy’s maiden name is Van Dyken, and you can’t get any Dutcher than that unless you live in Amsterdam.
Did you know that among all the nations of the world, the Dutch have the second most names on the Avenue of the Righteous: 5,910 Dutch names, just behind 7,177 Polish names on the Avenue?
But with a population of only nine million, the Dutch are first per capita; one in 1,700 Dutch people are on the Avenue of the Righteous.
When The Diary of Anne Frank was published, Miep Gies was embarrassed by all the adulation that rained down on her. She refused to think of herself as a hero. But she’s my hero.
Eventually, Boaz and Ruth have a son. They call him Obed. Eventually Obed has a son. They call him Jesse. Eventually, Jesse has a son. They call him David. David, to the amazement of every Hebrew in the land, becomes the greatest regent in Israelite history and its most celebrated rock star.
Eventually, David has a son, and David calls him Solomon. Solomon has a son, and Solomon’s son has a son, and eventually, 42 generations later, a baby is born in Bethlehem, where all this happening, where Ruth and Naomi and Boaz live, and they call him Joshua, or Yeshua, Jesus in Greek, Jesus the Christ. Wonder of Wonders, Jesus the Christ has a Gentile great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother. That’s why Ruth is so important to both the Hebrew and the Christian Bibles.
We don’t know if the story of Ruth is historical or fictional. We don’t know if any of this ever really happened. Maybe the Book of Ruth is just a charming, fictional short story a family would share with each other to entertain themselves around the fireplace on a cold winter night.
On the other hand, one scholar pointed out that if David didn’t actually, really, truly have a Gentile great-grandmother, no self-respecting loyal Jewish storyteller would ever make it up in a million years. And they certainly wouldn’t put it in their Bible. If it didn’t happen, nobody would have made it up. Good point.
So this beautiful woman, this splendid soul, probably, actually, truly, really lived, gleaned, married, had babies, and died in Bethlehem a thousand years before Jesus was born there. I like to think so anyway.
John Updike, Brazil (New York: Knopf, 1994), p. 3.
Edward. F. Campbell, Ruth, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1975), vol. 7, p. 169.
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