Summary: The relationship of Ruth and Naomi show us a glowing example of covenant love.
For the past four weeks, we’ve been putting women in their place! Over these four weeks we’ve discovered Sarah’s faithfulness. Natalie Johnson showed us how God used an unnamed Samaritan woman to become a powerful example of evangelism, and last week we saw how Mary of Bethany modeled true discipleship even before the men who were called Jesus’ disciples.
I’m still not sure how women came to be seen as not having a prominent place in the Kingdom of God. I mean, seriously, if it weren’t for women, nothing would ever get done around the church. Trust me…I’m a pastor…I know! Throughout the Bible, God has used women in powerful, life-changing ways. They are integral to the story of God’s salvation, and Jesus was never one to limit the capacity of any person, male or female, Gentile or Jew to be used in his kingdom. Jesus had an entourage of women who were his disciples just as he had the twelve. It was the women who stayed with him around the cross when the men bolted out of fear. It was the women who were early to the tomb on resurrection morning, and without them, the disciples might still be cowering in a room. A woman told them, “Come, see. He’s alive.”
And, I believe the Apostle Paul gets a bad rap from a serious misreading of his directives concerning the place of women in the body of Christ. When we look at the women who were engaged in ministry around Paul, and especially in the Roman church, we find it almost impossible to believe that Paul had an issue with women in ministry. He names, specifically, no less than ten women who were active in the church in Romans 16—Phoebe heads the list. It is believed that Phoebe delivered Paul’s letter to the Romans, so Paul introduces her to the Roman church, and, rather than a greeting, he gives her a glowing recommendation. Paul refers to her as “our sister” and he tells the Romans that she is a deacon of the Church in Cenchrea—a port city in Corinth. Paul asks the Roman Church to welcome her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and to give her whatever assistance she may need. The list also includes Priscilla, Mary, Junia, Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis, as well as Julia, and the mothers of Rufus and Nereus. Perhaps it has been our own misunderstanding of women in ministry, and our own misreading and misinterpretation of Scripture that have led us to think that women were somehow less in the Kingdom of God.
This year, United Methodists celebrate the 75th anniversary of the ordination of women. Methodists have led the way in offering a place for women in ministry. Wesley’s earliest class meetings actually had more women leaders than men (47 – 19), and Grace Murray, Sarah Crosby, Elizabeth Ritchie and Mary Bosanquet were early traveling preachers. Additionally, much of the success and cohesion of the early Methodist movement in America may be attributed not only to its itinerant preachers, but also to the often lifelong support of a host of women in and outside the church. And, we can’t forget that our very own Rev. Lea Joyner was one of the first women ever ordained in the Methodist Church.
I offer this long introduction just as a reminder that the body of Christ is nothing without women. It’s a reminder that God uses all of us to impact the Kingdom, and God incorporates all whom He chooses to bring about His salvation—even going so far as to incorporate a foreigner, a Gentile woman into the lineage of the Messiah. Of course, I’m talking about a woman named Ruth, and we find her story (and that of her mother-in-law, Naomi) in the book of Ruth in the Old Testament. Did you know that the book of Ruth is the only book in the Bible named after a Gentile?
Ruth’s story actually begins with the story of her mother-in-law, Naomi. Uh oh! A story that begins with a mother-in-law? That can’t be good, right? We’ve all got a mother-in-law story, don’t we? Like the man who took his wife and mother-in-law on a vacation to the Holy Land. Tragically, the mother-in-law died while in the Holy Land. The man went to the undertaker and asked how much it would cost to have her body shipped back to the States. “Five thousand dollars,” said the undertaker, “but we can provide a very nice burial here in the Holy Land for only $150.”
The man thought for a while and said, “No, I’ll pay the $5,000.”
“Why?” asked the undertaker.
“Well,” said the man, “two thousand years ago a man died over here, and they buried him. Three days later he rose from the dead. I simply can’t take that chance.”