Soul Food Advent Blog Series 2018: 'Room at the Table'
Guest blogger: Reverend Richard Tiplady
The idea of inviting strangers to eat with us is nothing new. The success of the Channel 4 TV series “Come Dine With Me” shows just how appealing an idea it is. Good food, good conversation, interesting people; it all makes for the perfect dinner party (with the added possibility of a £1000 prize thrown in!). What’s not to like?
But what if the person you invited to dine with you wasn’t ‘interesting’. What if they were in need? What if they were a foreigner? And worse than that, a foreigner whose people had treated your countrymen badly? Would you invite them to come dine with you?
The Old Testament story of Ruth tells just such a story. Through no fault of her own, she found herself in need, in a foreign country, and dependent on the kindness of strangers.
Her life hadn’t always been like that. A widow, her husband was the son of economic migrants from Bethlehem. They had moved to her country, Moab, because of famine at home. While they were there, both sons married local girls. Through what can be called a string of bad luck(!), Ruth’s husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law all died, leaving Ruth, her mother-in-law Naomi, and her sister-in-law, alone and destitute.
At this point, Naomi decided to return home, where she hoped to be looked after. Ruth decided to join her, uttering these famous and powerful words, “where you go, I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (1:16). Bold words, and even braver because Moses had told the Israelites not to befriend those from Moab, because the Moabites had not helped them during their own refugee wanderings in Sinai (Deut 23:3-6).
At first Naomi and Ruth took advantage of the social security opportunities provided within the law of Moses, that is, gleaning from the edges of the fields during harvest, gathering the leftovers and remnants (2:1-3). But despite her desire to integrate and be accepted, her presence was resented because of her nationality. “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi” (2:6); the venom in these words is palpable. But the landowner Boaz shows her kindness, giving her permission to glean, providing her with refreshments, and telling his men not to molest her (2:8-9). Later on, he provides her with more than enough food for her and Naomi to live on (3:15-17), so that they were no longer dependent on scraps and leftovers but had dignity and the ability to look after themselves. The story culminates with Ruth’s marriage to Boaz (4:13-17) and, as we know from elsewhere, she became one of the ancestors of another famous person with connection to Bethlehem, Jesus himself (Matt 1:5).
What’s your attitude to economic migrants, especially those from places you are suspicious of? I’m not suggesting you should marry them (although ……). But will you stand up for them? Will you make sure they can live and work unhindered and free from harassment? Will you give away your own wealth so that they can provide for themselves and live with freedom and dignity? In this Advent season, as we look again to the coming of Jesus, will you choose to act like those who came ahead of him first time around? Can the stranger come and ‘dine with you’?
Rev Richard Tiplady is the Director of Mixed Mode Training at the Scottish Episcopal Institute.