Saturday 11th December
Who Do You Think You Are is a fascinating programme. We watch celebrities explore aspects of their family heritage. Some are surprised by their humble origins; others claim links to grander ancestors.
There is one such unusual story in Jesus’s heritage, tucked away in the Old Testament. It’s called the story of Ruth.
For motives that are unclear, Naomi and her husband, who are from Judah, go to the land of Moab, a country despised by Judah.
They settle there. Both of Naomi’s sons marry Moabite women.
Her husband, then her two sons die. Naomi, now a widow, with the low status and economic bad fortune this implied at that time, is left with two widowed daughters-in-law.
Famine ravages the land. The three women face destitution.
When Naomi elects to return to her native Judah, one daughter-in-law, Ruth, chooses to follow her; a risk since she is a Moabite. She will be going to a place where people would rather cross the road than go near her. Yet she makes her choice. (To inspire such loyalty is surely a challenge to any mother-in-law!)
Naomi has a distant relation, Boaz, who by the law at that time had an obligation to protect destitute relatives. Naomi, aware of this obligation, also knows that Ruth is still beautiful. There follows an intriguing and erotic tale, encompassing guile and kindness, as Boaz, Naomi’s relation, first sees Ruth, and is charmed before he becomes her ‘kinsman redeemer’ and marries her.
Ruth and Boaz have a child. The son was of the lineage that led to King David. There is a direct line to Jesus.
In the bible there are two genealogies informing us of the family line of Jesus. In Matthew’s gospel the writer relates Jesus to his Jewish roots; the family tree is linked back to Abraham. Luke’s has a different intent; he points back to Adam, made by God. They are different branches of the same tree.
Matthew’s family tree defies the tradition of the time. It refers to women. There’s Ruth! The Moabite living in Judah! She’s mentioned, in what by tradition was an exclusively male list! The girl who was widowed far too early! By the generous laws of the time, she was able to start again through marriage to Boaz. Naomi’s canny planning meant that Boaz was attracted to Ruth rather than put under duress; theirs was a positive relationship. Yet it came from a disaster.
There’s a lot to ponder here. There were laws, obligations that supported the destitute. Yes, with the help of Naomi’s shrewd work, hunger and poverty were overcome by using a law. Ruth could start again and became a mother. And because of Matthew’s bold decision to include Ruth and other women in the genealogy we know of her place in history. It is a story of reversed values and restoration and it’s all in the family tree of Jesus. Who indeed do we think He is?
Rosemary Hector lives in Edinburgh and is author of A Quickening, a series of reflections and poems for Christmas, published by Muddy Pearl, and two poetry pamphlets Labyrinth, (Handsel Press, 2017) and Knowing Grapes (Happenstance, 2014).