Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Seeing Others...

Today in my Current Issues in Urban Mission class we discussed the social and theological reasons for mission. While we spent most of the time discussing the theological foundations for mission I was struck with many thoughts, too many to discuss here. However, one that is particularly sticking with me is the concept of equity in the Kingdom of God. While discussing love, we used the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example. My professor Al's friend, Jeffrey, pointed out that the good Samaritan refused to see the others through the divisive paradigms of the world, but rather saw both himself and the man in need through the eyes of God - the paradigm of the Kingdom. This allowed the Samaritan man to see the need and see the opportunity to love. He was not inhibited by his ethnicity or social norms.

This is really sticking with me because I have lately been pondering the way we perceive others: the way we judge others according to social stratifications, looks, talents, what a person can do for me, etc. Why can't I just see people for the plain human beings they are? In addition to the Samaritan, an example fresh on my mind is that of Prince Myshkin in Fydor Dostoevsky's The Idiot. I just read this book this summer and it has caused me to consider more closely the way Jesus treated other human beings. In the novel, Prince Myshkin displays an unprecedented ability to meet people in their vanity, deceit, greed, and lust, without dehumanizing or judging them! Both Prince Myshkin and the Samaritan man are incredible examples of people who simply treat others as real human beings - not based on any prerequisites, but simply as children of God, a brother or sister in the family of God.

It is not enough to see others as defined by their need or with all the attached stigmas and social classifications. I want to see other human beings as they are: made in the image of God, and so valuable that God would give God's life for them.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Marriages and Marriages

After participating in two more weddings this summer I can confidently say that marriage is a mysteriously GOOD thing. I don't profess to understand it, but there is something incredible (and beautiful, and bizarre, and life-changing, and marvelous) about the act of marriage. It is certainly the most profound expression of love that I (and all humans for that matter!) can imagine.

Because marriage is such a powerful expression of love, the book of Ruth has recently caught my attention. It's a short book found just after Judges and before 1 Samuel and it recounts the story of Ruth, a Moabite woman. The long and short of the story is that Ruth, recently widowed, finds a husband, Boaz, during a difficult time of famine. But what makes this story so beautiful is the fact that Ruth is a foreigner - a Moabitess - and would not have normally been married to Boaz, a man from Bethlehem of Judah - a Jew. In fact, Moab was actually on the other side of the Salt (Dead) Sea. Marrying foreigners was not only frowned upon in the Jewish culture but it was often strictly prohibited.

This is what makes the story so good: Boaz the Jew marries Ruth the Moabitess. But why? Deeper in the story we find Ruth practicing the old custom of gleaning (gathering ears of grain that have fallen to the ground) from Boaz's field. So not only is Ruth a foreigner in Judah, but she is boldly gleaning food from the field of a Jew! And this is precisely when Boaz notices Ruth. So he goes on to tell her to continue gleaning from his field.

Long story short: Boaz marries Ruth because of Ruth's humility and courage. But there's more. There's more to the story because, as we know, this is just one story among many other stories in the Bible. In fact, there are many, many stories all within one Grand Narrative; and that is the Grand Narrative of God's marriage with the Cosmos, specifically Humankind.

This little story of Ruth and Boaz would have little value if it didn't so appropriately display the marriage that God has entered into with humankind through Jesus. I find it no small coincidence that Jesus was particularly adamant about welcoming foreigners into the family of God. What better way to foreshadow this cosmic event than to share the story of Ruth being welcomed into the family of Boaz?

I also find it quite fascinating that Boaz invites Ruth to share bread dipped in wine (v. 2:14) in the very same way that Jesus offered bread and wine to His disciples at the Last Supper.

And is it any coincidence that Jesus would tell so many parables about vineyards and fields? So many of those Kingdom Parables portray the Kingdom in which God invites Israel to maintain and enjoy creation in a new, righteous way. Surely there is a parallel in this story for the Moabitess who boldly leaves her home on the other side of the sea to work in the field of the Jew.

It is truly something special to witness two human beings leaving their families to enter into a marriage covenant together. Seeing so many of my friends recently do this has been an awesome experience. I cannot fathom another way to express love better than through marriage. Perhaps that is because I cannot fully understand love in the first place. Or perhaps because there is no better human way to express love.

Or, maybe marriage is really what love is all about. Maybe marriage is what the whole Story is about - a marriage between a wealthy landowner and a foreigner in need.