- The Revd Canon Camellia Flanagan, TSSF
Widows of faith
211107 Pentecost 24B Ruth 3 1-5. 4 3-17 Psalm 127 Hebrews 9 23-28 Mark 12. 38-44
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen.
Even in Australia, the death rate statistics of men and women show that men die earlier than women. This means there are still women, daughters, mothers, and daughters-in-law who live out their lives as widows. But thankfully the gap is closing slowly, and our pension system does provide some helpful support. However, a widow’s future in ancient Israel could mean a life of poverty if she did not find another husband. When a woman’s husband died, the law as set out in Deuteronomy 25: 5-10 suggested that she could marry a brother of her dead husband or if there were no brothers, she could marry the closest next of kin willing to take her. As widows, Ruth and Naomi could only look forward to difficult times, but when Naomi heard the news that Ruth had been treated kindly by Boaz, her hope for the future was renewed. Typical of her character, she thought first of Ruth, encouraging her to see if Boaz would take the responsibility of being a kinsman redeemer for her. A kinsman redeemer was a relative who volunteered to take responsibility for the extended family.
As Naomi had no more sons, the nearest relative to her deceased husband could become a kinsman redeemer and marry the widow. The nearest relative did not have to marry the widow, if he chose not to, but then the next nearest relative could take his place. If no one chose to help the widow she would probably live in poverty the rest of her life because in Israelite culture an inheritance was usually passed on to the son or nearest male relative, - not to the wife, or daughters.
To take the sting out of these inheritance rules, there were laws for gleaning and kinsman redeemers.
When we read the story of Ruth, the advice that Naomi gave Ruth may seem strange, but she was not suggesting a seductive act in telling her to go to Boaz at night and creep under the covers with him. In reality Naomi was telling Ruth to act in accordance with Israelite custom and law. Farmers would harvest in the daytime and threshing was often done at night at a community threshing floor, a flat area just outside the village where the wind would catch the chaff and separate it from the grain. Farmers waiting for their turn to use the space to winnow grain would eat, drink and sleep a little. It was common for a servant to lie at the feet of a master and even share a part of his covering. By observing this custom, Ruth would inform Boaz that he could be her kinsman redeemer – that he could find someone to marry her or marry her himself. This was family business. But the story later became beautifully romantic as Ruth and Boaz found love and deep respect for each other. As a foreigner, Ruth may have thought that Naomi’s advice was odd. But Ruth followed the advice because she knew Naomi was kind, trustworthy, and filled with moral integrity. Each of us knows someone, a parent, an older friend or relative who is always looking out for our best interests. Can we be willing to listen to the advice of those older and wiser than we are? The experience and knowledge of such a person can be invaluable. Imagine what Ruth’s life would have been like had she ignored her mother-in-law.
Ruth’s love for her mother-in-law was known and recognized throughout the village. From the beginning of the book of Ruth to the end, her kindness toward others remained unchanged. God brought great blessings out of Naomi’s tragedy, even greater than, “seven sons” or an abundance of heirs. Throughout her tough times, Naomi continued to trust God. God, in his time, blessed her greatly.
If we think of our own lives, or the lives of those known to us, even in sorrow and calamity, God can bring great blessings. Can we be like Naomi, and not turn our backs on God when tragedy strikes, and instead of asking, “How can God allow this to happen to me”? - trust him. He will be with you in the hard times. For some, the story of Ruth may be just a nice story about a girl who was fortunate. But in reality, the events recorded in Ruth were part of God’s preparations for the births of David and of Jesus, the promised Messiah. Ruth was unaware of the larger purpose in her life, and we will not know the full purpose and importance of our own lives either, until we are able to look back from the perspective of hindsight or eternity. Remembering the possibilities, can we make our lifestyle choices with God’s eternal view in mind. Taking moral shortcuts and living for short range pleasures are not good ways to move ahead. Because of Ruth’s faithful obedience, her life and legacy were significant even though she couldn’t see all the results.
Looking at our own history, people who have given their lives for justice, in devotion to Christ, who have stood for what is right regarding the plight of refugees, immigrants, the poor and marginalised, have left us a significant legacy to emulate. Can we live in faithfulness to God, knowing that the significance of our lives will extend beyond our lifetime?
The rewards will outweigh any sacrifice we may need to make. St. Mark reminds us that Jesus found the Temple buzzing with religious activity, but it was as fruitless as the barren fig tree. The scribes were described as those who devour the estates of widows. But was the widow who gave her last penny, understood as a tragic example of the oppression that the Temple establishment inflicted upon the poor? Or was she a faithful and obedient disciple who gave her all?
Can we realise that we have a kinsman redeemer in Jesus Christ, who even though he was God, gave all by living as a human being? By his death on the cross, he has redeemed us from sin and hopelessness and there-by purchased us to be his own possession. This guarantees our eternal inheritance.
In the gospel story today, the poor widow gave more than all the others put together, although her gift was the smallest coin. The value of the gift is not determined by its amount but by the spirit in which it is given, and gifts of any size are pleasing to God when they are given out of gratitude and a spirit of generosity.
Eternal life is Christ’s gift to us. Given in a spirit of love, generosity, humility, and obedience. Can our gifts to Christ and to others be given in a spirit of gratitude and generosity, and can we be active with love in justice and compassion?
The Reverend Canon Camellia Flanagan TSSF