Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel!
‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect…
They devour widows’ houses…
Mark 12:38, 40
The two readings that I have taken as my starting point suggest to me three questions.
- Do we subconsciously judge people?
- Have we succumbed to the seductions of wealth and prosperity?
- Where is God in our life?
The two women in the story of Ruth are both widows. In that culture at that time men were very much the bread winners and women were dependant on them. That is why the women of Bethlehem rejoiced when Ruth had a son. Widows and their children were very vulnerable and often lived in desperate poverty.
Fortunately for Ruth her kinsman Boaz did more than the bare minimum he warned his farm hands not to molest her and to let her glean anywhere in his field. Naomi saw this as a sign to hatch a cunning plot. Wait till Boaz has finished the harvest feasted and drunk plenty of wine, then having bathed and put on perfume go and snuggle up beside him. Again Boaz did more than the bare minimum he sought her hand in marriage. Naomi was a good judge of character. Boaz was, as she had guessed, a noble man. He not only protected the vulnerable foreign widow but respected and saw her as a possible bride.
Jesus comments in the Gospel, the scribes like all the honour but are capable of dishonouring the vulnerable widows. As I said, these stories make me wonder, do we subconsciously judge people? If people have a good job and a good house, do we assume they are good? If people are poor and even homeless, perhaps reduced to living in the local caravan park, do we assume they are bad?
One of the most common reasons why women and children end up homeless is because either the mum or the children are being abused. In this past 15 years the Church has become painfully aware of those in positions of honour and trust who have devoured the vulnerable.
Let’s bring out of our subconscious this temptation to falsely judge. Let’s no longer assume if people have wealth and status and honour that they are there by good people. And let’s not assume the poor and homeless are bad. Instead let’s try to respect all people recognising that all of us have the potential for both good and bad. May be like the honourable Boaz we will seek to protect the vulnerable seeing them as our next of kin.
My second question comes from the widow in Mark’s Gospel putting in the two copper coins. Jesus said “she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” This always sounds like a horrendous thing to say. We need to hold this part of the story alongside the first part. This woman is a direct contrast to the Scribes in positions of honour who happily devour the vulnerable. Not only that she stands in contrast to the rich man just two chapters earlier who wanted to know what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus had said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mk 10:21)
Have we, like the rich man become so accustomed to our gazillion things that the thought of giving them up gives us grief? May be worse, when we go shopping, we wear blinkers that mean we don’t see the people who made our clothes, our cheap tools and our appliances in the kitchen. Do we devour the vulnerable factory workers in Bangladesh and other parts of the world? I bought a film on St Francis of Assisi recently and tucked in with it was a little book on ethical eating. I am hesitant to read it because I suspect it will challenge my addiction to sugar, fancy coffee and load of meat. The little bit I have read suggests that while we may not become saints overnight we can take little steps on the journey of care for the earth and the people who produce our food. Shall we at least begin the journey of simplicity in our consumption beginning the journey of care? Explore fair-trade options for Christmas presents.
My last question is where is God in our life? Now may be there are some who have come for the baptism who think, “God” there is no such thing, so no it is not in my life. May be the question for you is, what is in my life that gives me meaning, direction and the capacity to look out at others? My question comes out of the two stories of the widows. Where was the God that Naomi believed in when her husband and two sons died? Sure when Ruth gave birth to Obed, the village women could see God’s action blessing Naomi. She has a daughter-in-law worth more than seven sons. But where was God when deep pain overwhelmed Naomi and Ruth. Where is God when we are retrenched, when we are abused, when we are diagnosed with cancer?
And today as we commemorate the end of World War one, we might ask, where is God when humanity descends into total madness? The bloodbath to end all bloodbaths! Only 21 years later we unleashed an even more catastrophic war with even more “refined” weapons. Where was God when those women were on their knees night and day praying that their husbands and sons and daughters would come home safely?
It is not surprising that a generation floating prosperity, with excellent health care and time to reflect on the evil of war, should declare that God does not exist. If we give glib answers to pain and violence and suffering we should expect people to reject our God. Equally if we have a soft Gospel of prosperity that celebrates superficial success we can expect people to reject God. The Christian Gospel speaks of God who we encounter in Jesus a human being. When people are suffering profoundly the only words we can bring are Jesus prayer from the cross, my God my God why have you forsaken me? With the war widows and anyone coping with deep pain let’s sit in silence and simply be with them. For me God is present in those situations with silent tears. And when the time is right let’s do what we can to bring new life in whatever shape that may take. I am not sure if Naomi’s cunning plan to marry off Ruth to Boaz is the best model to use for finding new life. Healing and new life come in unexpected ways.