But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died… (Ruth 1:3)
That’s it. I mean, he comes in with this awesome name, meaning “My God is King,” and he’s out of the story about a verse later.
But his work-a-day life and mundane death are part of a plan of divine choices, prophetic promises and historic and eternal fulfillment in which you and I exist. Elimelech’s decision to move south to Moab and the events following his death result in… well, one of those boring Bible family trees that’s anything but boring once you understand it,
Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron,Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab,Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon,Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed,Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. (Ruth 4:19-22)
Are you feeling a bit Elimilech-ish today? Like God or the universe or something is great and regal, and you are passing trivia? Just remember that if you are in Christ your name is written, spoken and anticipated in heaven. Somehow, some way, you are part of the great plan by which God is bringing that eternal kingdom to be.
Even if you don’t yet understand the significance of who you are,
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)
Ah, Valentine’s Day. Remember when romantic rejection – somebody didn’t “like” you – felt like a fatal injury? I guess I’m getting old enough to look back and… OK, not laugh, but not cringe with as much gravity. “Can’t we just be friends?” is funny now; it used to be injurious to my soul.
Rejection. I prayed Psalm 71 this morning and the word came to mind.
For you are my hope, O LORD God, my confidence since I was young. I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; my praise shall be always of you. I have become a portent to many; but you are my refuge and my strength. (Verses 5-7)
The Psalms, according to Jesus himself, point to him. With that understanding, these verses are so painful; the eternal Son who dwelt in eternal glory spent his 33-ish years from conception to crucifixion on the bad end of rejection. His fidelity to his divine nature and mission were things the world wanted to keep at arm’s length, to say the least.
The Prophets saw it coming,
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account. (Isaiah 53:3 NRSV)
The Evangelists recorded the fulfillment,
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. (John 1:10-11)
Wow, at least those we court try to let us down easy. They offer a cool (in temperature, not social standing) friendship. Jesus gave his heart and got the cross.
Makes today’s shenanigans seem a bit less urgent, I hope.
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘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.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and…
went on social media and posted a meme that showed the hypocrisy of the rich fellow and his religion;
got in a cutting last word as the man walked away, then gestured a mic drop;
followed the rich guy down the road, yelling at him about living in a rich people bubble and questioning his sanity;
militated for a law to limit the possessions held by any one person;
organized his disciples to picket the man’s house and boycott his businesses until he agreed to liquidate his holdings and give to the poor.
Bible readers know that Jesus did none of the above. The honest among us might confess to having dabbled in one or more of those behaviors.
The striking thing about this lesson is the non-coercive example set by Jesus. He doesn’t do anything to compel the rich man to do the right thing. He allows him to walk away.
And, although he says some very clear things to his disciples about how riches can keep people out of God’s kingdom, Jesus frames this as concern for the spiritual hardship faced by the affluent. He doesn’t mock the man who walked away, he worries about him and holds out hope that God can overcome the man’s enmeshment in passing possessions.
The culture wars, in which the church has chewed up so much time, treasure and so many people, are based on proving “our side” right and the other wrong. More emphatically, it is a quest to justify our side and demonize theirs or, to put it in secular speak, to demonstrate our enlightened state and their stupidity (or even insanity).
What “victory” can Jesus have when people fight on terms dictated by the world, the flesh and the devil? As St. Paul warned the church,
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:13-15)
The culture wars are yet another mockery of the Eucharist, a “Black Mass” in which we bite and consume others to exalt ourselves as righteous rather than share the bread and the cup that proclaim the self-sacrifice of Christ for sinners, including ourselves and our perceived enemies.