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Text: Mark 12: 38 – 44
I’m going to be a nerd again and talk about Star Trek. The original series episode, “The Omega Glory” has Captain Kirk and the Enterprise coming across a planet with two warring factions, the Yangs and the Kohms. Eventually, it’s discovered that “Yang” is a corruption of “Yankee,” and they have a battered copy of the American Declaration of Independence, and “Kohm” is a corruption of “Communist.”
The episode aired in 1968. At the time, the differences between West and East seemed intractable. The Berlin Wall would never come down, there would be no peace even if there was no actual war, and everybody had a sneaking suspicion it would end only one way. And that even 300 years into the future, “Yankees” and “Communists” would still be at each others’ throats.
But Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry wanted to believe that there was a future where differences were reconciled; that’s what the show is about. It included a Russian character with American, Asian, and African characters to show that distinctions of race, nationality, and any other identity could be overcome. Even those that seem the most intractable. Like West and East; or Israelite and Moabite for that matter.
We missed the first part of Ruth. The key thing is: Ruth was a Moabite, one of the traditional enemies of the Israelite people. She emigrates to Israel, following her mother-in-law Naomi, who is originally from there, after the death of her husband. She is an outsider, a foreigner, one of the “others” that are looked on with such suspicion in our society just as 3000 years ago.
This story of Ruth marrying Boaz, is a “just so” sort of story. It is meant to be a prelude to the story of King David. It is the tale of his great grandparents, one of whom is an Israelite, and the other of whom is a Moabite. Enemies. The Israelites hated the Moabites.
The Israelites told the myth that the Moabites were the product of incest. It’s in the Bible; after the destruction of Sodom, Lot and his daughters are the only ones to escape, Lot’s wife having been turned into salt for looking back. Lot’s daughters get him drunk and have children with him, the oldest having a son named Moab. The sort of story you tell about your enemies, about their immorality and perversion.
The Israelites told the story of how, as they travelled 40 years from Egypt to the promised land, they passed through the land of Moab and King Balak tried to stop them. Maybe the Moabites told a different story; Balak is fearful that the Israelites will come in and conquer them all. The Moabites might have told the story of the bloodthirsty Israelites who would go from place to place conquering, like a great horde.
The Israelites had a lot of traditional enemies. The Egyptians, the Amonites, the Phillistines, the Caananites, other Israelites . . . but none so hated as the Moabites.
Deuteronomy 23: 3 – 6 says, “No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord, because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey out of Egypt . . . You shall never promote their welfare or their prosperity as long as you live.”
But David is well within the 10th generation from a Moabite, from Ruth. So is Solomon. Jesus is a bit beyond the 10th generation, but he is a descendant of a Moabite. He should not be permitted to the assembly of the Lord. And yet he is the Lord himself.
The Book of Ruth’s location in the Bible is pretty important. The previous book, the book of Judges, ends with a horrific story of sexual assault and murder and a resulting war, with the moral of the story being, “look what happens when there’s no king in charge.” The next book, the first book of Samuel, is “How Israel got its kings.” Ruth, then, serves as a bridge, and the fact that the bridge is two enemies, forbidden by the Law from coming together, coming together is monumental.
(Note, this is not the order it appears in in the Jewish Bible, where it goes directly from Judges to Samuel, and Ruth is instead placed near the end)
God’s love triumphs over all divisions. Because God is love, and all creation is made in the image of God, love will always triumph. Even when it seems like it never will.
Remembrance Day happens on Nov 11 because that was when WWI ended. We fall silent for a minute at 11 AM because that is when the armistice began. We say this is about remembering fallen heroes who defended our freedoms.
Maybe that case can be made for WWII. WWI, for anyone who has even just glanced at the history, was a monumental screw-up of an ego contest between pigheaded European aristocrats who were dead set on throwing away hundreds of thousands of lives in what amounted to a family feud, and had very little if anything to do with freedom. No one was free, at the end of it. No one’s freedoms were at risk. Just a bunch of poor people who were trampled underfoot and died in disgusting trenches.
And the bad blood of WWI became the fuel for the hatred, racism, and injustice that was the European move to fascism and WWII.
God knows that justice is achieved only through love; only though enemies being brought together. Where that has happened, the world has become a better place for it. Where it has not, the world has only become a worse place.
Muslims and Christians and Jews are the most obvious example of where this needs to happen in our world. But in so many things, we allow hatred of “them” to overcome us. I see a future where there are two tribes, “Lebals” and “Consets” and any ideological distinction of politics between has long since disappeared, only cared about by historians; there’s only “us” and “them.” Because that’s the only thing that matters. And we’ll need William Shatner to come and read the US Declaration of Independence in his very distinctive Shatnerian way. “We . . . the people . . . in order to form . . . a more . . . perfect union . . .” to remind us what we’re about.
I grew up in Guelph, ON, the birthplace of John McCrae. I went to the same high school he did. I did a 2-page splash in the 150th anniversary yearbook on GCVI’s war heroes, including McCrae. Remembrance Day was a big deal; I remember. Everyone went to the downtown ceremony at the hockey arena. I was in Sea Cadets and one year was the appointed guard for the cenotaph, so there was me, on the front page of the paper, dress blues, rifle in hand. I have . . . nostalgia I guess is the right word for Remembrance Day. And I try to hold it in tension with a worldview where I believe that violence, especially on an industrial national level, is never justified. I have friends in the forces, including a chaplain who talks about how he holds that worldview in tension with his job.
An American friend I went to school with once said she found the difference between Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the US to be stark, that Veterans Day was about celebrating the military as a concept, but Remembrance Day had an almost confessional, funeral aspect to it that she really appreciated.
I think we need to hold on to that, not get swept up into militarism, and understand that the foundation of peace is not a pile of dead soldiers; the foundation of peace is God’s love.
I don’t know. I worry about the arguments over whether white poppies are disrespectful turning into the sort of arguments that will have us in 300 years divided into “Lebals” and “Consets,” one side with a white poppy and one side with a red. And no one having any idea why that is.
God’s love brings together Boaz and Ruth. God’s love admits Moabites to the assembly. God’s love lays the foundation for the salvation of humanity through Jesus Christ. God’s love overcomes rules, ethnic and religious hatred, and ignores the human-made barriers of borders, nationality, and race. God’s love is found in every person, because every person is made in the image of God. And if we are to be channels of Christ’s peace, we have to love as close to that divine love as we can. Amen.