Psalm 106:13–23; Ruth 2,3; Luke 23:13–31

Psalm 106:13–23: As it inevitably does, Israel, which sang God’s praises after crossing the sea falls away from God as they trek through the wilderness:  “Quickly they forgot His deeds,/ they did not await His counsel.” (13) Not awaiting God’s counsel seems a direct reference to when Moses struck the rock at Meribah.

The catalog of disobedience continues. The Israelites “felt a sharp craving in the wilderness,/ they put God to the test in the waste land” (14) asking for something to eat besides manna. God ferociously answers their prayers with the infamous quail as “He gave them what they had asked,/ sent food down their throats.” (15) A reminder that when we go to God with prayer requests we need to be thoughtful about what we’re asking for.

Then the famous attempt to overthrow Moses and Aaron as leaders: “They were jealous of Moses in the camp,/ of Aaron, the Lord’s holy one.” (16) The consequences of this disobedience were dire: “The earth opened and swallowed Dothan/ and covered Abriam’s band./ And fire burned through their band,/ flame consumed the wicked.” (18).

The catalog of disobedience comes to its climax at the foot of Sinai: “They made a calf at Horeb/ and bowed to a molten image.” (19) In an arresting statement that compares idol worship to the fulfilling beauty of worshipping the living God, our poet beautifully summarizes the futility of worshipping a dead image: “And they exchanged their glory for the image of a grass-eating bull.” (20)

But perhaps the greatest sin of all is the same one Israel continued to commit through its history and is also our own central sin: Forgetting God and putting ourselves above him:
They forgot the God their rescuer,
  Who did great things in Egypt,
  wonders in the land of Ham,
  awesome deeds at the Sea of Reeds.” (21,22)

The poet reminds us that only one man stood between hapless Israel and its destruction: “And He would have wiped them out/ were it not for Moses His chosen one—he stood in the breach before Him/ to turn back His wrath from destruction.” (23) Of course for us, it is Jesus Christ who stands between God and us and who has saved us not only from God’s demand for justice, but from ourselves.

Ruth 2,3: The beautiful story of Ruth continues. Desperately poor, Ruth supports Naomi and herself by gleaning leftovers in the field after the men have come through with their scythes. Boaz notices her and tells his workers to leave behind more grain for Ruth to pick up. He then invites her to lunch and then instructs his workers to poll out barley stalks they have picked, toss them on the ground and allow Ruth to collect them.

Ruth comes home to her mother with plenty of barley and tells her about Boaz. Naomi tells Ruth that Boaz is a kinsman. His act of kindness seems to erase Naomi’s bitterness toward God as she exclaims, “Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” (2:20) Naomi instructs Ruth to remain close  to the women working Boaz’ fields, telling her, “It is better, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, otherwise you might be bothered in another field.” (2:22) Ruth obeys, and “stayed close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests.” (2:23)

Naomi obviously has plans for Ruth and tells her to go and lie down next to Boaz as he is relaxing after lunch. Then, in what I take to be a custom of the time (and which seems very forward even in our age of sexual freedom), Naomi tells Ruth, “When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” (3:4)

She complies, and in one of the simultaneously romantic and funny verses in the Bible, “At midnight the man was startled, and turned over, and there, lying at his feet, was a woman!” (3:8) Ruth introduces herself and Boaz commends her for her probity, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; this last instance of your loyalty is better than the first; you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich.” (3:10)

Boaz invites her to remain until morning and offers to introduce her to a next-of-kin with the intent (I presume) of becoming her guardian, if not her husband. Boaz, who it appears is falling in love with Ruth, tells her, “If he is not willing to act as next-of-kin for you, then, as the Lord lives, I will act as next-of-kin for you.” (3:13)

Boaz sends Ruth back home with six measures of barley in her cloak. Naomi advises Ruth to not rush things with Boaz, but to “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest, but will settle the matter today.” (3:18)

This serene story is a testament to the virtues of loyalty and patience. And once again, it is women who are the key players in this story. Leaving me to ponder again the attitude toward women in the evangelical world. Were it not for Ruth’s loyalty and willingness to serve, the history of Israel would have turned out quite differently.

The other underlying message here is that even those who feel they are inconsequential actually can have enormous impact on the community and even entire nations.

Luke 23:13–31: The Moravians do not linger over the cruelty of Jesus’ trial and his crucifixion as this passage moves rapidly from Pilate to Golgotha.

Pilate’s frustration at the Jews for bringing Jesus back to him is obvious and he again asserts Jesus’ innocence: “I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him.” (14) He observes that Herod did not bring an indictment as well, but as a sop to the crowd, he offers to “have him flogged and release him.” (15)

But the crowd will have none of it, and its hysteria grows as they shout, “Crucify, crucify him!” (21) Again, Pilate asserts Jesus’ innocence, but in one of the saddest verses in this gospel, “they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed.” (23) Their voices prevailed and the mob wins. Just as they have down through history and do even today in our so-called “social media.”

Pilate thus goes down in history as the weak leader who wanted to prevent a riot and gave into the mob. Luke’s treatment of the Jews is even harsher as he makes it clear that it was the mob that triggered the crucifixion. And alas, what evil has been committed against the Jews by Christians ever since in vengeance for this act.

On the Via Dolorosa, Luke’s Jesus pronounces his final prophecy about the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and its inhabitants: Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’” (28)

Writing from his knowledge of what happened in Jerusalem in 70 CE, Luke knows that all of Jesus’ words were fulfilled. The juxtaposition of this prophecy and the crucifixion seems to be the Luke’s way of implying that the destruction of Jerusalem was a direct consequence of the evil committed by the Jews in rejecting their Messiah.

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