“They lived happily ever after,” is the ending line in our childhood stories. Somehow we think that if we can create the right “long-term care-plan” happiness, perhaps peace, will follow and the future will be tolerable and good. Many people know that the “I do” seals the deal but is only the beginning of a new journey. I often say that I forgot to read the fine print in the “I do” contract. Boaz has stood at the city gate and publicly declared his commitment to take and care for Ruth, the foreigner, with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and their property and to do all he can so that her deceased husband will not be forgotten. The story that started in famine, death and bitterness, traveled through an eventful night at the threshing floor, and culminated with the elders and commitment at the city gate, still has more to it. The elders at the gate now have voice. They speak, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman is coming into your home like…” The wedding is perhaps between two people but the audience, the witnesses, play a strategic role. They are not just observers making sure all the rules of tradition are followed correctly, the elders “witnessed” and then they ”blessed.”
The elders give a three-fold blessing that I find one of the most fascinating speeches in the Bible. We say “bye” when we leave someone. It is thought to be a corruption of the 16-1700s “God be with you” farewell. In Kenya, the Swahili farewell was “Mungu akubarikia.” God bless you. What do we mean by these farewells? These elders spell it out and we shall ponder the blessings invoked.
The first blessing is that Ruth be “like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel.” Jacob, grandson of Abraham, renamed Israel, fled his twin brother’s wrath when he, Jacob, deceived their father Isaac and stole the birth right blessing of the eldest. He was twin two. He runs across the desert to his Uncle Laban who deceives him, sneaking Leah, the older sister with weak eyes, into the wedding chamber so that Jacob has to work another seven years for the bride of his choice, Rachel. Is this not polygamy, with sisters? How is this a blessing? It is a story of jealousy and competition for the love of the husband. The twelve sons born become the twelve tribes of Israel. What looked so conflict filled at the time is remembered through the eyes of history as unity.
“Together they built the house of Israel.” We make care plans that are often foiled by life and face all sorts of challenges and complications. Getting elected President is only the beginning, if we can even agree about that. Getting a vaccines created is only the beginning but getting it distributed is another process. Getting the job is then followed by work. Buying a house then needs to be decorated. Interestingly, these elders look back on Israel’s wives and see them as working together through all the complications. Boaz and Ruth, a cross-cultural marriage, are going to have to learn to work together as they face the people of Bethlehem and their unfolding future. The elders pray for unity.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and many of us how we have been blessed this year. It is good to make lists of what we are thankful for. Like the original Native and Anglo survivors of that first winter where many died of disease, a meal to celebrate might have happened. We look at the last year and all that has happened and we thank. The elders not only were thankful for this marriage of Boaz and Ruth but they looked forward and prayed for unity for these two people. They prayed they would be able to work together in the face of reality to create a better future. Certainly we need today the blessing of unity. God, may we find unity in all our struggles!
Take time tomorrow to make a list of perhaps five people you would like to bless this Thanksgiving and list what you would pray for them. Is it possible to list one not-so-liked acquaintance that you could pray a blessing for, a misunderstanding you would like to see worked out for a more a united future? Your blessing is important. Don’t just “witness,” “bless!”