Welcoming the Stranger – Devotions
During my internship year at seminary I was a part of a seminar on how to use the Serendipity Bible. The Serendipity Bible is designed to be a study that asks questions of the text as well as participants so that people in Bible study groups both learn about the Bible and get to know one another. It is designed for lay people to lead lay people.
One of the issues that develop when people get to know one another well is that we want the feeling of community to continue on. We don't want it to be interrupted by outsiders. As a way to remind us that the Word of God is to be shared by everyone and that the gift of community is to be shared by all – in the circle of chairs, we were instructed to always leave one empty – as a reminder that it is to be filled next week. The speaker was trying to inculcate the importance of continuously welcoming the stranger. We need to be intentional about making a place for the newcomer.
The Bible speaks of how we are to treat strangers: welcome them in. The Bible study you looked at today contains a number of Bible passages. One that was not part of the study is the Old Testament book of Ruth.
Ruth is a only four chapters long. It tells about how famine led Elimelech and Naomi and their two sons to leave Judah and live in Moab. During this period of the Judges, Moab and Israel were at peace, but usually there was discord and war between the two entities.
The sons of Elimelech and Naomi grew up and married Moabite women: Orpah and Ruth. The story is so sad because all the men died. What were they to do? A question tied into what comes next is what do you do when the stranger is married into the family?
Naomi’s advice to the daughters in law was to leave her and find other husbands. She was going to return home to Judah. Orpah followed Naomi’s advice. Ruth clung to Naomi and accompanied her to Naomi’s homeland.
Ruth’s words are recorded for us. Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die-there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!
Ruth was a stranger, a foreigner, to Naomi. Now she was going to become even more of a stranger as she returned to Judah.
I find endlessly fascinating the practical ways in which Israel codified an attitude of reception to the stranger. One of those practical ways is that people who owned and worked in fields were not supposed to harvest every single grain and stalk. They were supposed to leave some on the edges and elsewhere so that the stranger - whether that be foreigner or poor - will have access to food to eat and live. Coming after the harvesters is called gleaning.
So Naomi heads to Boaz’s fields in order to glean so that they can have something to eat. Ruth 2:2 and says: “And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor.” She said to her, “Go my daughter.”
Gleaning, making use of the gift of hospitality, is how Boaz and Ruth meet. As the story of Ruth progresses, Boaz and Ruth fall in love. They have a child. Ruth 4:13 and 17, “So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. …. They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.”
Ruth is King David’s great grandmother.
One of the reasons I think the book of Ruth is in the Bible is because it points us to David and then onward to Jesus. For Jesus is part of the family tree of King David.
Jesus may be the Son of God, but he is not pure. Jesus has foreign blood in him. Jesus is the product of a union with a stranger, a foreigner. Not only that, Jesus insists that the salvation he offers is not for one nation or ethnic group. The salvation of God is for all people. “For God so loved the world that he gave his Son so that all who believe in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
As we talk about the large issues of racism, immigration, and appropriate hospitality, we remember that what Christians bring to the conversation table is a deep awareness that our Savior is the product of hospitality toward strangers. And, he offers hospitality to all of us who were once strangers to God. Jesus welcomes us into the kingdom of God.