Titus 2: 9-10Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to answer back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Saviour. Reflection
I was horrified to learn that in 1791, when a bill to abolish the slave trade lost in the House of Commons, Church bells rang out in celebration. This piece of Scripture is a real challenge.
At the time that it was written, perhaps, a third of people in the Roman world were slaves. Many were born into slavery – members of an underclass who were often treated more as animals than as people. Yet this letter to Titus seems to tell them to accept their lot.
Perhaps it helps to hear in these verses an echo of Romans 12: 1 “..present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God..”. Just as the Christian lives to serve God, so the Christian slave lives to serve others, but always as a child of God, with choice and dignity.
Maybe the best we can do is to see these verses as a reminder that what is true for those slaves is true for all of us. “You might be the only Jesus someone ever sees” may seem like a faded old preacher’s phrase, but how those of us who call ourselves ‘Christian’ behave can have a lasting impact on the people around us.
This is a verse of its time, not our time. Perhaps that is all we need to say.
And yet how to defeat evil and how to be good surely belong together. As we fight against the horrors of injustice, we do well to remember both that our behaviour should bring glory to God, and that those for whom we fight are worthy of being treated with dignity and not merely as those to be helped by us.
We need to fight against slavery and all injustice in our world. We also need to act as those whose lives glorify God.
PrayerGod of justice,
Give us eyes to see the needs of our world
and courage to fight where there is evil.
Yet give us, too, grace to serve others
as we would serve you,
and to treat each person
as your beloved child,
as Jesus did
Titus 2: 6-8Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us. Reflection When Dr Billy Graham died, full of years, the news was full of his integrity in his relationships and in his care in the way he used money. He understood that the message had to be modelled by the messenger. He answered every letter, even when it was from those who disagreed with his ministry. He faced disagreement with dignity. He made mistakes of course, but apologised for them. His intention was to avoid the Gospel being brought into disrepute by his words or actions.
This section of the letter to Titus concerns itself with pastoral advice on how to live as a community of Christ’s people. The rashness of young men is known to the writer and therefore he counsels self control. Thus healthy community rests on each section of the community having concern for the others, rather than simply giving way to the impulse of the moment.
In Jesus we see the Word centred life.
May our words and actions
point beyond ourselves.
Deliver us from hasty speech
and shallow judgements.
By your spirit, grant us wisdom,
Enable us to face opponents with grace
And model good works unselfconsciously,
For your name’s sake,
Titus 2: 3-5Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behaviour, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited. Reflection The writer of this ‘instruction leaflet’ is certainly going through a long list of who should do what and how, so that Titus, as leader of the new and struggling Christian community in Crete has definite guidelines on how Christians could stand out in the community in which they live and work.
Having told the old men how to behave, it is now the turn of older women. I am an ‘older woman’– though it comes as a shock to think of myself in that way and I’m usually in denial! Nevertheless, I want to ask how we ‘older women’ feel about the instructions given for our behaviour? Is it relevant for us today?
I’m not sure about reverent behaviour – in fact I tend to agree with Jennie Joseph who wrote: ‘When I am old I shall wear purple, with a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me….and I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves…...I shall run my stick along the public railings and make up for the sobriety of my youth…..’
But one of the things we women need is a good chat. To have a gossip. It’s good to share news and views but there’s a thin line between gossiping with someone and about someone else. Oh dear, I know I fall short on that one…. What about you?
The one that gets me at the core of my being is the exhortation to encourage the young women. As a grandmother, I would love to be able to encourage young parents how to deal more appropriately with their children and how my daughters-in-law should care for my sons! I know, however, such wisdom would not be appreciated, welcomed or appropriate.
Perhaps more apt advice to us older women could be: have fun, keep friends and love the next generations just as God loves us.
PrayerThank you for the wisdom
that comes with age
the freedom to play and rest
and the choice of how to spend time.
Thank you for the wisdom
of younger people
who grow and develop new approaches
and teach us older ones a thing or two!
Forgive us when we fail
to live up to the standards set for us
and help us to be gracious
and accepting of difference.
Titus 2: 1-2But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine. Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance. Reflection This shortest of short passages raises many questions and challenging ideas for me, not least is how to address them in a short reflection.
Just how might we identify what is sound doctrine or what might be consistent with it?
Then follows the challenge, for me, that it is to the older men that the responsibility for championing ethical and moral behaviours is given. I baulk at the comparison between such responsibilities and those we shall see proffered to other groupings in society.
This does not seem to fit with Jesus’ teaching about God’s realm or his modelled behaviour which is inclusive of all those diversities in his circle which we can identify. (Some will be hidden or invisible).
There are signs of inclusion in the Epistle too. Titus himself, Paul’s proven trusted colleague over a number of years, did not come from a Jewish background thus representing a tension between those who might be seen to belong to and be part of the once prevailing culture and norms and those who might bring new and differing perspectives. Titus, in terms of the regard in which he is held by Paul, represents the value of embracing change, tolerance and the celebration of diversity.
Sound doctrine, for me, is disclosed in behaviour which is Christlike – scripturally-based, challenging but welcoming and open to persuasion. Sound doctrine demonstrates a gentle strength and discloses love in action and does not seem to me the exclusive prerogative of any segment of humankind.
My sense that sound doctrine has more to do with being than knowing, more pastoral than didactic, is growing. So whilst I covet the gifts of articulation and dialogical discourse my intuition is inclined to value the, perhaps softer, fruits of the Spirit as listed in a well known song mnemonic “the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self control”
PrayerGod in Trinity,
holy in one
lead us through the mazes and tanglewood of our own construction
following the paths you have laid for us.
May we recognise our sisters and brothers not necessarily by words but actions
Psalm 541 Save me, O God, by your great name;
with pow’r deliver me.
2 Hear, O my God, the words I speak
and listen to my plea.
3 For strangers are attacking me;
the ruthless seek my life,
For they have no regard for God
and always stir up strife.
4 Consider this: God is my help;
the Lord upholds my way.
5 In faithfulness destroy my foes;
their slander, Lord, repay.
6 I’ll bring a sacrifice to you,
a free-will offering;
Because your name, O LORD, is good,
your praises I will sing.
7 For you, O LORD, have rescued me
from my distress and woe;
My eyes have looked in victory
upon my cruel foe.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune St Andrew here.
This Psalm moves us from lament over the cruelty and ruthlessness of humanity to an awareness of our own vulnerability and need. But more than that it connects us with the reality of God as the one and only saviour. It begins with the desperate plea, ‘Save me, O God, by your name’ and then leads us to a place of assurance, with the phrases, ‘God is my help’ and ‘the Lord upholds my way’. The personal tone deepens as the Psalmists turns from describing God’s ways to speaking to God directly, thankfully praying ‘you, O Lord, have rescued me’.
In all this, the goodness of God is underlined and this in turn leads onto a offering of praise and thanksgiving. God’s name is not an oppressive one, stirring up fear or guilt. Instead God’s name rescues, liberates and lifts up the oppressed. May God’s name be praised.
PrayerName above all names,
we praise you.
The I am of all time,
we praise you.
The One named in the child Jesus,
we praise you.
The One who is good above all good,
we praise you.
The One who brings justice to the oppressed,
we praise you.
The one whose victory we glimpse,
we praise you.
Name above all names,
we praise you.
Titus 1: 10-16There are also many rebellious people, idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision; they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for sordid gain what it is not right to teach. It was one of them, their very own prophet, who said, ‘Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.’ That testimony is true. For this reason rebuke them sharply, so that they may become sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths or to commandments of those who reject the truth. To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure. Their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. Reflection I find it reassuring that the majority of Biblical scholars attribute Titus to the second generation of Epistles. In other words they believe it was not written by Paul but by one of his followers or a sympathetic commentator on his heritage, several years after the apostle’s death. The careful diplomatic work which Titus carried out on Paul’s behalf with the church in Corinth described so tactfully by him elsewhere (Galatians 7.5-16 and 8.16-24) is completely contradicted in this passage – unless we have here the equivalent of an internal, personal communication from Paul to Titus that was never intended to be made public.
As the Church struggles to establish some order and stability in a society where all sorts of beliefs get mixed together, the letter to Titus lays down the line and creates an all-purpose attack on any false teaching which may come along. It is polemical, generalised and, frankly, quite nasty, drawing on the Cretan philosopher Epimenides’ views from 600 BCE. Christians today would never write such things in letters, e-mails or on social media, would we?
It is understandable that the leader of a community would seek to bolster stability and continuity at a time of flux and insecurity. This fledgling religious movement was vulnerable to different interpretations of its core beliefs, and it was vital to establish some clear irrefutable doctrines. Unfortunately in the process the emphasis tended to be on maintaining the institution through proper behaviour rather than encouraging people to explore the meaning for themselves of the truth of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Christians today would never fall into that pit, would we?
PrayerGod of grace and truth,
when we perceive threats to our beliefs
bless us with stillness,
and the ability to pause.
Give us patience and fortitude
to choose words and actions
that are powerful and persuasive
so that people will turn to the Way because it offers life.
Titus 1: 7-9For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it. Reflection We could perhaps too easily gloss over these verses when we see that they are about Bishops (literally overseers). We are more used to mutual accountability than hierarchy. However, mutual accountability requires us all to play the part of overseers, as well as to be overseen. Not only that, but we are also all called to be God’s stewards, so that the goals listed in these verses are set before each one of us.
I say goals, because we all fall short of them. The trouble is that because we know we’ll never be blameless, it’s too easy to read these verses without reflecting seriously on how to apply them afresh in our lives. Nevertheless, if we feel that there is a yawning gap between our reality and these goals, then there must surely be something that we can do to get closer to them.
This can be where mutual accountability really comes into its own. One of the best ways to keep our goals in sight is to be part of a small confidential group of people, who can work together on their discipleship, pray for one another, and hold each other accountable.
Our goals need to include a firmer grasp of the word, otherwise how can we can live our lives according to it or hold one another to account (which is tantamount to teaching one another)? Consequently, by using these Daily Devotions you have taken a step towards the goals that the writer has set before us. What will your next one be?
How can we be blameless?
Sometimes following you
too big an ask – too big a task.
Help us to have the courage
to aspire to perfection
and daily to take the next small step
in that direction:
to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
For we ask it in his name
Titus 1: 5-6I left you behind in Crete for this reason, that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you: someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious Reflection Paul’s mandate to Titus. I left you behind …to put in order what needs to be done to find the right leaders for Christ’s emerging church. Commendable as the list of standards for appointment to the Eldership is, what strikes me is that there is no room for manoeuvre. There are a number of passages in Paul’s letters which give similar requirements and I have heard Elders today say ‘so what am I doing as an Elder if that is the standard?’
But what this reminded me of more than anything is that tendency in many of us to want to control, whether that is in our church life, our home life or our work life. We have been doing a task for some time, we have had responsibility for some event and there is a suggestion that it is time someone else took on the task, do the organising. Our reaction is to think that ‘they’ will not do it like we did – the implication being ‘they’ will not do it as well as we did. It is true that someone else is unlikely to do whatever it is like we did it but, given the opportunity, they may not just do it differently they may even do it better!
When God calls us to his tasks he doesn’t give us detailed instructions, he challenges us to work with him through the guidance of the Holy Spirit to fulfil that task. He trusts us to use all our life experience and some of that may include experiences of which we are not proud, to enable us to give Him the glory as we serve him.
If God can trust us then surely we should be able to trust each other.
we confess that we can be
arrogant enough to think we are
the only ones with the ability
to undertake the tasks you set us.
We thank you for your trust in us
and ask that we may have
the same trust in others
so that everyone,
using their whole life experience,
may serve you in all they do.
Titus 1: 1- 4Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness, in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began— in due time he revealed his word through the proclamation with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Saviour, to Titus, my loyal child in the faith we share: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour. Reflection How many of us have pondered the questions – ‘who am I?’ and ‘why am I here?’ We can think about these questions on a basic level, each of us has a name, each our own personal story and each one of us will have goals and aspirations which can help to form our identity. But when we think about our being, our personal identity and the meaning of our lives, do we do so with God at the centre; is God’s will firmly in mind at all times?
The letter to Titus sets a challenge to us. It was written to a very ordinary set of believers and encourages them, and us, to consider their (and our) lives as an expression of the will of God. Once we do this, any sense of ordinariness is out of the picture, no matter which direction God has led us in. We are all a vital piece of the puzzle of God’s plan for the world and each piece has meaning and value.
In this salutation, Paul tries to set out what he believes is his purpose. He speaks of himself as God’s ‘servant’. This is unique to this Epistle, although in other writing he does refer to himself as a servant of Christ Jesus. A servant is someone who is committed to their master, they are compelled to act for them and will be submissive to their masters will. Paul’s ministry focused on salvation and the spiritual growth of others. He lived to bring God’s people to faith and maturity in Christ. He did this by encouraging them, not only did he sow the seed, he cultivated it. God’s purpose remained at the centre and Paul was keen to encourage this way of life. Let us commit to trying to live our lives seeking God’s will and placing it at the centre of all we do and all we are.
we often ask ourselves,
who are we and why are we here?
Your purpose for us
can seem fuzzy and unclear.
Help us to refocus our minds
and to set you at the centre of our lives.
Help us, with the help of others,
to discern where it is
you might be leading us,
and may we always truly mean
the words we often pray,
your will be done. Amen.
The Epistle to Titus
Dear <<First Name>>
Having read through the Book of Ruth together we are going to turn now to one of the lesser known Epistles in the New Testament - Titus.
Titus isn't mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, but is noted in Galatians (2:1, 3) where Paul wrote of journeying to Jerusalem with Barnabas, accompanied by Titus. He was then dispatched to Corinth, Greece, where he successfully reconciled the Christian community there with Paul, its founder. Titus was later left on the island of Crete to help organize the Church, and later met back with the Apostle Paul in Nicopolis. He soon went to Dalmatia (now Croatia). According to Eusebius of Caesarea in the Ecclesiastical History, he served as the first bishop of Crete and remained there in his old years. He was buried in Crete but his head was, later, moved to Venice.
At one point everyone thought that Paul wrote this epistle but now that view is is disputed by many scholars now. The Epistle deals with issues in the Early Church - false doctrine and the responsibilities of Elders and Bishops.
We hope you find the Epistle interesting as we journey through it together.
with every good wish
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project
Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list
Ruth 4: 13 - 22So 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. Now these are the descendants of Perez: Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron of Ram, Ram of Amminadab, Amminadab of Nahshon, Nahshon of Salmon, Salmon of Boaz, Boaz of Obed, Obed of Jesse, and Jesse of David. Reflection Hands up… who just glanced over those names at the end of today’s reading?
You may have seen the many adverts for websites which allow one to research one’s family, and others which will reveal our origins though a DNA sample. Ancestry and family heritage have always held a fascination for many. For example, a friend of mine has recently discovered a half-brother in Texas.
The Bible contains many such lists, and while the historicity of them cannot be verified, they do bolster the arc of Scripture, support prophecy and provide valuable insight.
As yesterday’s author mentioned, the book of Ruth speaks powerfully about how the marginalised should be treated: the poor, the immigrant, the disenfranchised. You might not be aware that Ruth also speaks to a group of people who often feel rejected by church: the LGBT community. The connection between these two women, Ruth and Naomi, is a very special one. Ruth 1:16-17 is often used at weddings!
Looking backwards into Ruth’s ancestry, we find the Moabites’ beginnings in Genesis 19: Moab born to one of Lot’s daughters, sired by her own father, an account which itself revolts us. Looking forward from Ruth, we find Israel’s great King David with his notable personal relationships with Saul, Jonathan, Michal and Bathsheba. We might find these unsettling.
At Christmas, our readings about Jesus’ birth begin with Matthew 1:18, missing out the first 17 verses. But if you read them, you will find another genealogy - for Jesus. (A similar list can be found in Luke 3:23-38.) There, you will find both Ruth and David.
Many people have felt judged harshly by the Church because of whom they love. If those same judgemental standards were to be applied to some of Jesus’ ancestors…
Those very relationships recorded in the Bible that stand out from the normal can be found in the very ancestry of Jesus Himself!
PrayerLord Jesus, You say to us:
“Do not judge,
and you will not be judged.”
Forgive us when we judge others.
Forgive us when we suddenly
grow cold towards others,
when we learn something about them
that unsettles us.
We pray for those hurt by those
who claim to speak in Your name,
but have separated others from Your love.
Give us the strength to speak Your unconditional love afresh.
Lord, in your mercy:
Hear our prayer, and let our cry go unto You. Amen.
Ruth 4: 1-12No sooner had Boaz gone up to the gate and sat down there than the next-of-kin, of whom Boaz had spoken, came passing by. So Boaz said, ‘Come over, friend; sit down here.’ And he went over and sat down. Then Boaz took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, ‘Sit down here’; so they sat down. He then said to the next-of-kin, ‘Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our kinsman Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you of it, and say: Buy it in the presence of those sitting here, and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not, tell me, so that I may know; for there is no one prior to you to redeem it, and I come after you.’ So he said, ‘I will redeem it.’ Then Boaz said, ‘The day you acquire the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquiring Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead man, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance.’ At this, the next-of-kin said, ‘I cannot redeem it for myself without damaging my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.’
Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, one party took off a sandal and gave it to the other; this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the next-of-kin said to Boaz, ‘Acquire it for yourself’, he took off his sandal. Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, ‘Today you are witnesses that I have acquired from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, to be my wife, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance, in order that the name of the dead may not be cut off from his kindred and from the gate of his native place; today you are witnesses.’ Then all the people who were at the gate, along with the elders, said, ‘We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you produce children in Ephrathah and bestow a name in Bethlehem; and, through the children that the Lord will give you by this young woman, may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.’
Ruth's words to Naomi are fulfilled: 'Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.' The public affirmation and blessing of Ruth and Boaz by the people and the elders (4:11-12) places her among some of the great women of Israel. Today she is remembered as an ancestor of David, and named in the lineage of Jesus.
Ruth's story is about hunger and fear, love and commitment; it is about courage and risk – walking into an unknown place needing bread and welcome. This is the reality of life for many people today, fleeing hunger, poverty and war. The story is also about a society providing ways for people to survive: wheat left at the edge of the fields; laws which give support and security to widows, including Ruth the woman of Moab, ancient enemy of Israel.
Today in the UK our politicians have deliberately set out to create 'a hostile environment' for immigrants. Companies and councils drive spikes into the ground to prevent homeless people from sleeping in shelter. What welcome would Ruth find here today?
PrayerGod who looked on all that you made
and declared it good,
Christ who spread out your arms
on a cross in loving embrace,
Spirit who came in wind and flame
to inspire and empower:
teach us again that your love is for all
and inspire us to challenge
injustice and prejudice
wherever we find it. Amen
Psalm 531 The fool speaks in his heart;
“There is no God,” he says.
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
none walk in godly ways.
2 The LORD looks down from heaven
upon the human race
To see if any understand,
if any seek God’s face.
3 They all have turned aside;
corrupt they have become.
Not one of them does any good—
no, not a single one.
4 Will sinners never learn?
My people they’ve devoured
As if they were consuming bread;
they never seek the LORD.
5 But see that evil crowd!
They are struck down with dread,
Although they thought within their hearts
they would have ease instead.
The bones of all your foes
were scattered far abroad;
And you have put them all to shame—
they were despised by God.
6 May help from Zion come!
The LORD his captives bring!
And then let Jacob’s tribes be glad;
for joy let Israel sing!
We are told that only a fool denies the existence of God, the sovereignty of God, and the goodness of God; the results for the fool are not good.
We’re not fools, however. Here we are, reading His Word, taking in what He says, meditating on it in our hearts. No, the fool is that other person, the atheist, the humanist, the one who thinks they’re too clever to need God.
A friend suggested her son pray about something and was told sharply that he didn’t need a crutch. Such are the overt atheists. But even we can fall into the pitfall of functional atheism.
When life’s troubles come thick and fast, when governments threaten to plunge the world into disaster, when things have got so bad we fall into despair and give up on hope and trust in a God big enough to sort everything out, in a loving God caring enough and involved enough to intervene… that’s when we are perilously close to functional atheism. Simply not believing who He is, what He can do, that He will… That’s when we are in danger of being fools.
‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ Trusting in Him regardless of what the world looks like, refusing to accept the world’s explanations and so-called solutions, and pinning all of our hopes on God – that is true wisdom.
Anything else is the way of the fool.
PrayerLord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief.
Ruth 3: 14 - 18So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before one person could recognize another; for he said, ‘It must not be known that the woman came to the threshing-floor.’ Then he said, ‘Bring the cloak you are wearing and hold it out.’ So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley, and put it on her back; then he went into the city. She came to her mother-in-law, who said, ‘How did things go with you, my daughter?’ Then she told her all that the man had done for her, saying, ‘He gave me these six measures of barley, for he said, “Do not go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.”’ She replied, ‘Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest, but will settle the matter today.’ Reflection The other night I was watching the old film ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner’ where a blonde brings home her black boyfriend. Both parents have to grapple with this. Her mom says, ‘We’ve brought her up to believe that all are equal, the colour of someone’s skin is no more important than the colour of their eyes, but we didn’t say marry one!’ His mom says, ‘They are so in love, we are old we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be in love.’ The young man says of his girlfriend ‘It’s not that she minds the colour difference; she doesn’t even notice it.’
Race relations are happening right here in the book of Ruth. The last few verses remind us that a foreigner, a Moabite, despised and detested by the Jews was the great-grandmother of their greatest King, So what is all that about? Naomi sees something in her Moabite daughter-in-law that could bring two cultures together.
Ruth had said, ‘Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.’ Naomi encouraged her daughter-in-law to seduce Boaz then she was sent away in secrecy, but not empty handed, sent away with provisions. Naomi obviously knew Boaz well, she says ‘For the man will not rest, but will settle the matter today.’ A shrewd mother-in-law, a willing daughter-in-law and a man in love! The way is paved for the shaping of Jewish history as of course it is from this lineage that Jesus himself is born.
If ever a passage speaks into our relationships today it’s this. Blue Mink did it well many years ago when they sang ‘What we need is a great big melting pot, big enough to take the world and all we’ve got and keep it stirring for a hundred years or more and turn out coffee coloured people by the score.'
PrayerLord we live in mixed up times,
people of all colours, cultures,
shapes and sizes
make up our communities
and you know and love each one of us.
Help us to love each other
with genuine acceptance
not mere tolerance.
Help us to learn that love
is greater than religion
Ruth 3: 6 - 13So she went down to the threshing-floor and did just as her mother-in-law had instructed her. When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and he was in a contented mood, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came quietly and uncovered his feet, and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and there, lying at his feet, was a woman! He said, ‘Who are you?’ And she answered, ‘I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin.’ He said, ‘May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; this last instance of your loyalty is better than the first; you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not be afraid; I will do for you all that you ask, for all the assembly of my people know that you are a worthy woman. But now, though it is true that I am a near kinsman, there is another kinsman more closely related than I. Remain this night, and in the morning, if he will act as next-of-kin for you, good; let him do so. If he is not willing to act as next-of-kin for you, then, as the Lord lives, I will act as next-of-kin for you. Lie down until the morning.’ Reflection If written for today’s market, this would be a story full of sexual overtones, or else a documentary about a vulnerable woman in great danger of abuse. However, it is of a time and culture with very different morals and customs. Even so, we still cringe, maybe even offended at the submissiveness of woman to man, of Ruth being treated like a chattel, and the paternalistic way she is treated, even in Boaz’ kindness. But let us celebrate the qualities of a good man, Boaz; sensitive to Ruth’s predicament, urging her to go before daylight in case of scandal, and giving her grain to take away; honourable and gentle in the way he deals with her; faithful and determined to fulfil any responsibility he has towards her. Related by marriage, Ruth is still a foreign immigrant, and yet Boaz sees her as family. As for Ruth, each time I read her story, she is a hero of mine – such devotion and loyalty to Naomi, such courage every step of the way, and determination and commitment to do everything she is asked, however dangerous, embarrassing, even damaging to her reputation. Here is amazing love, in whatever society and lifestyle.
Among today’s vulnerable, those at the edge of society and especially asylum seekers and migrant workers, we can often see the same courage and determination, loyalty and devotion as so many risk danger and humiliation to find a safer and better life for their family. In our own families and culture, whether our “Pilgrim Fathers” seeking religious freedom, or generations of forebears crossing the world for a better life, it saddens me when they are honoured as great heroes, whereas today’s travellers are dismissed as foreign rubbish, or the poorest as scroungers. Let us find the heart of Boaz to welcome strangers from overseas, and strange ones from our neighbourhood, and the will of Boaz to make a difference in their lives.
PrayerLiberating God, set us free:
to act honourably and fairly
in dealing with the vulnerable;
to seek ways to lift up
those fallen on hard times,
or those with less advantages than us;
to recognise the stranger
as a fellow traveller,
as a friend yet to be made;
to discern the experience
and talents of others,
as a gift rather than a threat;
to look out today for an opportunity
to share your grace with someone;
to be generous of Spirit
in using your gifts to us. Amen
Ruth 3: 1 - 5Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, ‘My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing-floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing-floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.’ She said to her, ‘All that you tell me I will do.’ Reflection I remember, when I began training for ministry, becoming aware that there were different views on approaching Scripture: Conservative Evangelical, Liberal, feminist, Liberation Theology…and so on. I realised I needed to be aware when reading that this was the case.
We develop our views according to the life we have led and the people we have engaged with. Imagine being a woman who has been forced to live a life dictated by family? Imagine being forced to flee your home, and everything you have worked for, and being made to live in a refugee camp? Imagine being marginalised due to your sexuality or gender? One comes to the texts in the Bible with these experiences and sees texts in a different way to those for whom life has been straightforward or uncomplicated.
Last year I led a Bible Study in two different churches and got two different responses to this text. In one church there was horror and outrage that a woman was expected to give herself sexually to a man in order to find security; in the other there was a sense of the benevolence of Boaz and his kindness, with no hint of sexual favour or male power. I think this is something we all experience: how we approach texts depends on our life experience, learning and the image of God we relate to. In this text, for me, a woman had no choice but to submit to male power. This was of its time; what is horrifying is that this still happens today for people.
Whatever approach we take to Scripture it should speak to us and change us. It is important that we do not just read the texts, but we allow them to challenge us and inspire us to be sharers of light and love where we find ourselves, and as we are able.
so often we come with preconceptions
and no idea that we carry
so much baggage.
Help us to approach
the words of Scripture
with open hearts,
ears to hear
and eyes to see.
May we then make time to be changed
by what we have experienced
and share this with those
alongside whom we walk.
Songs of Praise iPlayer Link
BBC's Songs of Praise featured the Daily Devotions last Sunday. The episode was entitled The Power of Prayer and the programme included a short piece on the Devotions showing how they can be used on various electronic devices.
The Rev'd Dr Susan Durber, left, was interviewed about her use of the Devotions (she also writes for them) alongside myself, below. We are grateful to Songs of Praise for featuring the devotions and sending these pictures of myself and Susan.
We've had a big increase in the number of subscribers to the Devotions since then which is lovely.
In case you missed the programme you can see it, if you are in the UK, via the BBC iPlayer here.
with every good wish
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project
Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list
Ruth 2: 14 - 23At mealtime Boaz said to her, ‘Come here, and eat some of this bread, and dip your morsel in the sour wine.’ So she sat beside the reapers, and he heaped up for her some parched grain. She ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. When she got up to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, ‘Let her glean even among the standing sheaves, and do not reproach her. You must also pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.’ So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. She picked it up and came into the town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gleaned. Then she took out and gave her what was left over after she herself had been satisfied. Her mother-in-law said to her, ‘Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.’ So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, ‘The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.’ Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, ‘Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!’ Naomi also said to her, ‘The man is a relative of ours, one of our nearest kin.’ Then Ruth the Moabite said, ‘He even said to me, “Stay close by my servants, until they have finished all my harvest.”’ Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, ‘It is better, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, otherwise you might be bothered in another field.’ So she stayed close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests; and she lived with her mother-in-law. Reflection Kindness is a key element of this passage, and it’s a gift we sometimes forget in this modern and fast-moving age. Boaz’s kindness to a stranger is the catalyst for his eventual marriage and is also an echo of God’s kindness to us as ‘strangers in the world’. It is interesting to note that Ruth has leftovers to the meal provided by Boaz, which reminds us of the leftovers found when Jesus fed the multitudes. Kindness is always more than enough in our lives.
Boaz’s kindness to Ruth doesn’t end with just a meal. He also gives his men instructions for keeping her safe and helping her as she carries out her work during the day. A kindness, once offered, gives birth to many more of the same. In our own working lives, how kind are we to those around us? And what more can we do for them to help and respect their contributions?
When Ruth returns home, she doesn’t keep all her spoils to herself but offers them to Naomi as well so that both women have what they need. When Naomi realises who has protected her daughter-in-law, she is the first to praise Boaz for his kindness, and beyond that to acknowledge that it is the Lord who has made this miracle possible. It is indeed God who offers His kindness and grace to us every day of our lives.
PrayerDear Lord, thank You for the gift of kindness and indeed for all Your many kindnesses to us. Open our eyes to the opportunities to show kindness and care to those around us, in our work and in our home lives, and through our acts of charity, may the eyes of many ‘strangers’ be opened to Your wonderful love. Amen.
Ruth 2: 8 - 13Then 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. May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!’ Then she said, ‘May I continue to find favour in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.’ Reflection Perhaps this passage is meant to be comforting. We discover that Ruth has a protector watching over her as she works. But I don’t find comfort here. When Boaz tells his men not to lay a hand on Ruth, I am angry that he did not have a more universal rule that kept any woman safe in his fields. His non-molestation order is a sign of a toxic culture in which abuse of the vulnerable is apparently inevitable.
Sometimes, sexual harassment is explained away as a spontaneous expression of desire. If we believe this, we advise potential victims to be less desirable and let the harasser off the hook for their actions. It may be more helpful to understand that unwanted words, unwanted touch, and sexual violence are ways to gain power over someone else and to feel powerful.
Victim blaming and gossip also satisfy a desire for power. I am better than the person whose behaviour causes me to raise my eyebrows. I am wiser than the person who became a victim. Shaming someone is a way to demean them. Too often we shame victims of sexual violence, finding ways to consider them complicit in their unwanted experience. If Ruth’s field work had ended in rape, would it be assumed to be her fault? Unwanted touch is not the victim’s fault.
Paul the Apostle wrote “God chose the weak things of this world to shame the powerful” (1 Corinthians 1:27). God takes the side of the powerless. When God exposes shame, it is not those we shame but the powerful who must hang their heads. Test yourself against these questions: who am I taking power from? whose shame do I enjoy? If they stir an answer bring this to God in prayer.
PrayerI pray for those who say “me too”
when hearing stories of women in danger.
I pray for those who say “me too”
when they hear someone admit wrong.
And I pray for me, too;
help me see myself through your eyes.
Please accept my apologies - the devotion for 25th July came through today, 25th June, in addition to today's regular Devotion. Clearly the system is getting a little ahead of itself! I will reset the 25th July reflection to come on the proper date!
with every good wish
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project
Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list