Forming Faith Blog

Faith in Action (Ruth)

Free Resource: Far from Home (Cross+Gen Education Activity)

Women in the Bible- Heroes of the Faith

God calls us to protect the vulnerable

If you are following the summer series for the Narrative Lectionary, it’s time to start looking at the Book of Ruth. Ruth is one of my favorite books of the Bible. It is a complete story in four chapters with compelling characters that show the value of love, loyalty, and faith. There are not many women in Scripture, but many of them are heroes of the faith. In the Book of Ruth, it is the love, faithfulness, and determination of a foreign widow that not only gives us a happy ending but is a critical link in giving us David, the man after God’s own heart. The character strengths we see in Ruth were passed down to her great-grandson, at least in part.

The amazing, world-changing actions of Ruth are clearly the focus of the story. However, we cannot overlook the context of this passage. The plot of this story sits within the context of the plight of those whom circumstance and society have made vulnerable.

What is Vulnerability?

But, what does vulnerability mean here? Is it the same as poverty? While the concept of vulnerability is closely linked to poverty, they are different. Poverty is when people lack one or (often) more of the resources they need for them to thrive. These resources include food, clean water, safe and sufficient housing, adequate clothing, and much more. Vulnerability, on the other hand, is when people are lacking the resources or abilities to cope when something bad happens. A person without sufficient health insurance might not be in poverty, but if a serious illness occurs, they are quickly pushed into poverty.

Who are Vulnerable?

The story of Ruth gives us multiple examples of people in vulnerable situations. First, a famine forces Naomi’s family to leave their home and take refuge in a different country. They were vulnerable to a natural disaster. Most people are vulnerable to natural disasters, but the less one has before the disaster hits, the more vulnerable they become during and after the disaster.

Next, Naomi, and then Orpah and Ruth, become vulnerable when their husbands die. Due to the culture of the time, women could not be self-sufficient economically (usually achieved by men through land ownership). They must rely on the provision and protection of first their fathers and then their husbands. To become a widow is to lose this provision and protection and often be forced into poverty.

The third vulnerable category we see in this story is that of an immigrant. Ruth had multiple counts against her. Not only was she a widow, but she was also an immigrant. As a woman, she could not own land (usually), and as an immigrant, she wouldn’t have had an allotment of land in the first place. She was a foreigner and could easily fall prey to prejudice and exploitation.

Our Responsibility

God cares deeply about people who are vulnerable. Throughout Scripture, we find evidence of this.

  • Condemnation- From early in the Torah given to Moses, we see that God is serious about this. In Exodus 22:21-24, we hear God’s passionate command for protection for those who are vulnerable: the immigrant, the widow, and the orphan. In fact, the condemnation of sin in the prophets often has a double edge. When the prophets accuse Israel or Judah of sin, it is because of idolatry (not loving God only) and oppression (not loving the neighbor). See Zechariah 7:8-10 and Isaiah 58:6-11.
  • Provision– One of the ways God calls the people of Israel to provide for those who are vulnerable is the practice of gleaning by those who are vulnerable, commanded in Deuteronomy 24:19-22. God didn’t want farmers to be efficient when harvest time comes. There should be grain, olives, and grapes left over, and these are for the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow. This practice, of course, features greatly in the story of Ruth.

We still have the responsibility to care for the people who are vulnerable in our midst. Who are they in our communities and our world? Orphans and widows can still be vulnerable. However, we can also name those who suffer from homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse, and domestic violence. Immigrants, refugees, and who live in regions experiencing natural disasters or oppressive governments are also vulnerable.

What Can We Do?

God’s call to action can take as many forms as there are people who need assistance. We can provide much-needed resources, work for justice, and provide comfort while working on the first two. One key rule is to empower those who are vulnerable and honor the dignity of every child of God. Our free resource this week is a cross+generational activity, “Far from Home,” about providing comfort to one group of vulnerable people, children who are refugees.

Ruth is a model of love, loyalty, and faith whom we should all strive to imitate. However, it is our God-given responsibility to help those who are vulnerable, whether they show these admirable character traits or not.

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

 

2018-2019 (NL Year 1) faith formation materials are now available for purchase. Fall lessons can be downloaded right away! You can download the 2018-2019 Planning Tool and Scope & Sequence to start your planning for the next program year!

For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!

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