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“Concerning the Bible’s Conversation With Itself”
Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17
The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
So, Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife . . . And when Ruth bore a son, the women of the neighborhood named him Obed; and Obed became the father of Jesse, who became the father of David.
Every three years, when the lectionary asks the church, throughout the world, to read those words from today’s Old Testament lesson, the announcement that Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David seems not to be particularly eventful news, until we remember that Ruth has already been identified, no less than seven times, in the book of Ruth, as a Moabite. Which would not matter so much, were it not for the fact that the book of Deuteronomy says that under no circumstances are Israelites to associate with Moabites. So, when today’s passage makes a Moabite the great-grandmother of Israel’s greatest king, it places one book of the Bible, Ruth, beyond the boundaries which another book of the Bible, Deuteronomy, established to keep Israelites separate from Moabites.
Which is one example of the Bible’s conversation with itself concerning the size of the circumference of the circle of the welcome of God. In addition to the books of Deuteronomy and Ruth talking to one another about whether or not Israelites should welcome Moabites, there’s a similar conversation going on in the Bible concerning whether or not the people of God should welcome eunuchs; Deuteronomy 23:1 saying that eunuchs are not welcome in the family of God, while Isaiah 56:5 says, “Oh, yes, eunuchs are welcome in the family of God.” Then, there is Ezra 9:1, which commands the people of God to exclude foreigners from their lives, while Isaiah 56:7 singles out those same foreigners for a special welcome to the house of God; the book of Ezra circling the wagons to keep some people out, the book of Isaiah opening the door to let all people in, another layer of the Bible’s conversation with itself concerning the size of the circumference of the circle of the welcome of God; a conversation which continues in the New Testament, where Matthew 15:24 limits the orbit of Jesus’ embrace to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, while Acts 15:17 says that to make that kind of distinction between Jews and Gentiles is to oppose the work of the Spirit of God.
It’s a Bible-wide conversation; these pages talking to those pages, these verses versus those verses. Over here, Moabites and eunuchs are out; over there, they are in. Over here, God’s embrace is only as wide as the Jews; over there, the circle of God’s welcome takes in Gentiles, too. The Bible, in conversation with itself, a conversation between fear of the other and love for the other; here, fear casting out love; there, love casting out fear, the Bible’s long, difficult, beautiful, spiritual journey, from did mind to don’t mind.
In Deuteronomy, the Bible did mind if Israelites welcomed Moabites, but, by the book of Ruth, the Bible had replaced its original did mind with its eventual don’t mind. Same with eunuchs, Gentiles, Samaritans, and every other human difference you can name; the Bible, taking down the same barriers it once erected, until, at last, we get over near the end, where, in Revelation 5:13, the Bible’s welcome finally catches up to the welcome of God, which, according to Revelation 5:13, is a welcome as wide as the whole creation; “Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea,” eventually, ultimately, finally at home with God; the Bible’s long spiritual journey, at last, complete; from, once upon a time, saying “No” to Moabites, eunuchs, Gentiles and Samaritans, to, eventually, saying a “Yes” as wide with love and welcome as the “Yes” of God.
I cannot speak for you, but, as for me, there is no greater sign of the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of the writers of the Bible than the way the Bible keeps redrawing the map of its embrace to more nearly match the size of the circumference of the circle of the welcome of God, because that is the direction in which the Holy Spirit always leads; never inward, always outward.
And, more importantly, what happened, then, in the lives of the writers of the Bible, happens, now, in the lives of the readers of the Bible. The longer we walk in the Spirit, the wider we draw our circle of welcome; the arc of our spiritual journey matching the trajectory of the Bible’s spiritual journey, from fear casting out love, to love casting out fear, until the size of the circumference of the circle of our welcome measures the same as the size of the circumference of the circle of the welcome of God.