Sunday, July 19, 2009

Marriages and Marriages

After participating in two more weddings this summer I can confidently say that marriage is a mysteriously GOOD thing. I don't profess to understand it, but there is something incredible (and beautiful, and bizarre, and life-changing, and marvelous) about the act of marriage. It is certainly the most profound expression of love that I (and all humans for that matter!) can imagine.

Because marriage is such a powerful expression of love, the book of Ruth has recently caught my attention. It's a short book found just after Judges and before 1 Samuel and it recounts the story of Ruth, a Moabite woman. The long and short of the story is that Ruth, recently widowed, finds a husband, Boaz, during a difficult time of famine. But what makes this story so beautiful is the fact that Ruth is a foreigner - a Moabitess - and would not have normally been married to Boaz, a man from Bethlehem of Judah - a Jew. In fact, Moab was actually on the other side of the Salt (Dead) Sea. Marrying foreigners was not only frowned upon in the Jewish culture but it was often strictly prohibited.

This is what makes the story so good: Boaz the Jew marries Ruth the Moabitess. But why? Deeper in the story we find Ruth practicing the old custom of gleaning (gathering ears of grain that have fallen to the ground) from Boaz's field. So not only is Ruth a foreigner in Judah, but she is boldly gleaning food from the field of a Jew! And this is precisely when Boaz notices Ruth. So he goes on to tell her to continue gleaning from his field.

Long story short: Boaz marries Ruth because of Ruth's humility and courage. But there's more. There's more to the story because, as we know, this is just one story among many other stories in the Bible. In fact, there are many, many stories all within one Grand Narrative; and that is the Grand Narrative of God's marriage with the Cosmos, specifically Humankind.

This little story of Ruth and Boaz would have little value if it didn't so appropriately display the marriage that God has entered into with humankind through Jesus. I find it no small coincidence that Jesus was particularly adamant about welcoming foreigners into the family of God. What better way to foreshadow this cosmic event than to share the story of Ruth being welcomed into the family of Boaz?

I also find it quite fascinating that Boaz invites Ruth to share bread dipped in wine (v. 2:14) in the very same way that Jesus offered bread and wine to His disciples at the Last Supper.

And is it any coincidence that Jesus would tell so many parables about vineyards and fields? So many of those Kingdom Parables portray the Kingdom in which God invites Israel to maintain and enjoy creation in a new, righteous way. Surely there is a parallel in this story for the Moabitess who boldly leaves her home on the other side of the sea to work in the field of the Jew.

It is truly something special to witness two human beings leaving their families to enter into a marriage covenant together. Seeing so many of my friends recently do this has been an awesome experience. I cannot fathom another way to express love better than through marriage. Perhaps that is because I cannot fully understand love in the first place. Or perhaps because there is no better human way to express love.

Or, maybe marriage is really what love is all about. Maybe marriage is what the whole Story is about - a marriage between a wealthy landowner and a foreigner in need.

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