20Aug 20 Aug, Saturday of Week 20

Ruth 2-4, passim. Ruth works hard in the field, is married to Boaz. She bears a son who will be the grandfather of King David.

Matt 23:1ff. Through humility we are absorbed into God who exalts us in his loving power.

Providence and Prudence

Ruth points to a divine providence which functions through human activity yet reaches new heights for the humble and kindly of heart. Jesus contrasts these humble people with others who are proud and selfish. Although Ruth worked and reached decisions based on her healthy, common-sense instincts, she left the larger direction of her life to be determined by charity and fidelity. Yesterday spoke of the persevering love between her and Naomi, a love that drew her, a Moabite, into the land of foreigners. In Today’s text this aspect of her character receives special attention from Boaz, who heard what the young widow had done for her mother-in-law, “how you left your parents and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know.”

Ruth’s actions were not blind and naive. A careful reading of the book shows a growing awareness that Boaz was a kinsman or go’el and under some social obligation to marry and care for Ruth. His field was chosen deliberately. Ruth also indicated her desire for marriage. Yet Ruth and Naomi were something more than clever match-makers. Human precaution is always at the service of love and fidelity, and through human goodness God was directing events according to a mysterious divine providence. Providence was achieving more than a happy marriage for Ruth and Boaz, more than continuity of a bloodline that will reach King David. God was directing the attention of Israel to a foreign woman to teach them how to live as his chosen people. It is strange how election, which separated Israel from foreigners, would be secured and explained by a foreigner.

In Jesus’ time, about a millenium later, another group of Jewish people also worked strenuously; but while the ingenuity of the Scribes and Pharisees can be compared with Ruth’s, their actions were thwarting God’s plans and so were in direct contrast with Ruth. It was not their bad theology that twisted the overall results of their lives. Their theology, as Jesus admitted, was correct: The Scribes and the Pharisees are Moses’ successors as teachers; therefore, observe everything they tell you. But do not follow their example. Their words are bold but their deeds are few. Pride and selfishness, greed for honour and power, destroyed them. Jesus condemned their haughty practices: widening their phylacteries, boxes containing parchments of scripture, worn on forehead and left wrist at prayer; places of honour at banquets and the front seats in synagogues; delighting in honourary titles like rabbi, teacher and father.

Jesus is not branding these practices as evil of themselves. The Scriptures told the devout Israelite to wear the phylactery. After speaking of loving God with all one’s heart, soul and strength (Deut 6:4-5), the Torah continues: Take to heart these words… drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad… bind them at your wrist… on your forehead (Deut 6:6-8). It is not the actions but the spirit with which they are performed that draws attention in Ruth and in the words of Jesus. He may seem to absolutely forbid the use of such titles as rabbi, teacher and father; but he was speaking with semitic eloquence and exaggeration (cf., Luke 14:26). In his explanation Jesus at once refers to the inner spirit that directs and motivates external actions: The greatest among you must be the one who serves the rest. Those who exalt themselves shall be humbled, but those who humble themselves shall be exalted.

First Reading: Rt 2:1-3, 8-11; 4:13-17

Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favour.” She said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.” Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?” But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before.

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. 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 a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighbourhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father – the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.