Speaking Of Life 3050 | Like Kin
When I was 18 years old, I met someone who would change my life for the better. Here’s the catch: we couldn’t have been more different as people. John was a white man from Great Britain; I was a black kid from Cincinnati, Ohio. He was old enough to be my father, and I played more basketball in one weekend than he had his entire life. I called July 4th Independence Day; he called it Rebellion Day. But we both loved the Proverbs and we both called Jesus, Lord.
John would regularly stand up on my behalf to tear down manmade barriers that tried to keep me from being who God destined me to be. Over the next 30 years, we would transcend cultural norms and become family despite our racial, ethnic, and generational differences.
In America, the pandemic and political or racial tensions of recent months have made it easy to feel disconnected or fragmented from others. It’s been hard to stay connected with people close to us and even harder to connect with those who might be different. But discovering how God can help people move from fragmented to family is an important practice that we should look at more closely.
One biblical example of an outsider becoming family can be found in the book of Ruth. The story begins with the Israelite family of Elimelech and Naomi who left Judah and moved to Moab with their two sons to escape a famine. They lived there a long time; their sons grew up and decided to marry two Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth.
The relationship between Israel and Moab was complicated and broken. Relational betrayals had left spiritual scars and historical animosity between them. These differences could have very easily created a fracture in the relationship between Naomi and her daughters-in-law.
The story takes a sad turn when the father Elimelech and the two sons become sick and die, leaving three widows and no children behind. Naomi urges the two daughters-in-law to go back to their families and remarry, and Orpah does. But Ruth insists on staying with Naomi, even leaving Moab and her family to go back to Judah with Naomi. Ruth works hard to find food for the two of them until Naomi realizes there is a distant relative named Boaz who could marry Ruth as part of Israel’s legal system to care for widows. Boaz marries Ruth, and she bears a son named Obed. Let’s read how Naomi’s friends celebrated Obed’s birth:
Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.”
Ruth 4:14-15 (NRSV)
This son was the grandfather of King David and part of the lineage of Christ.
The foreign woman Ruth was an outsider, not part of Israel’s culture or religion, but God chose to include her in Jesus’ ancestry. In a society where sons were prized, the Israelite women praised the outsider Ruth, saying that she was better “than seven sons” (v. 15). Ruth’s love for Naomi was widely recognized and appreciated, and Ruth became like kin to Naomi, regardless of their religious and cultural differences.
This example of love and kinship between two women from different cultures can instruct us today. Because God saw fit to include an outsider in Jesus’ heritage, we understand that love transcends differences.
Family isn’t just restricted to blood relatives. Because of Christ’s Divine love, we are united into one human family.
Filled with the Spirit, may you have the heart of the Father to love one another, including the outsider, and embrace our diverse representation of the imago Dei (the image of God).
I’m Jeff Broadnax, Speaking of Life.