Ruth: casualty of a ruthless lectionary

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

The short story, Ruth, sadly gets no use in the normal Sunday lectionary. It is tempting, following on from the absence of Deborah and Jael (see yesterday’s post), to wonder if the men who compiled the lectionary were giving in to a little bit of unconscious bias against women’s stories!

Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners. Ruth meets her future husband while gleaning.

To be fair, however, it is hard to pull out a single excerpt from a very tightly written short story. The book tells the story of an Israelite family who go to live in the neighbouring country of Moab. The husband dies, leaving his widow Naomi and two sons. The sons marry Moabite women, and then the sons die. Naomi, accompanied by her loyal daughter-in-law Ruth, goes back to Israel. There Ruth attracts the attention of a wealthy and kind man, and ends up marrying him. Their child is named as the grandfather of King David.

The story is placed between the books of Judges and Samuel, because of when it is set, in the time of the Judges and two generations before David. However, it seems likely it was written much later, although as a self-contained short story it is very hard to put a date on it.

As time developed, David’s name became a kind of shorthand for all the nationalist hopes and traditions of Israel. The story of Ruth is a quietly subversive rebuke to such exclusive nationalism as it gives David a foreign grandmother who is nonetheless devoted to the God of Israel.

If your church ever uses the Anglican provision for alternative locally developed readings and sermon series in Ordinary Time, or isn’t one bound by the lectionary at all, the book of Ruth has an important message to counter the rise in nationalist sentiments we see today.

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