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					Micah Challenge - Blow the halftime whistle
Prayer and Study Series, Pentecost 2007


Week Two – Bible Study – Pentecost and a love story

There are some fascinating stories, and perhaps the most fascinating of them all are love
stories.

Human beings have always “needed” to tell stories. The origin of this need lies so deep in
history that no one can really know when it was that the first story was told around the
bonfire. However, cultures throughout the ages have wanted to recount their lives and
experiences as a means of conveying wisdom to the younger generations, to maintain
their traditions and languages, and above all, to teach them how to live.

Maybe this is why during Pentecost, people told a story during the religious ceremony
that formed part of the celebrations. But it could not be just any story; it had to be a
story that could convey to all the people who had gathered in Jerusalem, the deep
significance of why they should be celebrating the right to own land as well as the giving
of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. At that time in history, the priests who had
come together after the Exile decided that the best way to explain this mystery to the
people would be to tell them a love story.

A love story is never a story about two people in isolation. This is because the love
between two people - when it is true love - will always have a transforming impact on the
community they belong to.

Let us imagine that we are living at the time of the Second Temple that was built when
the people returned from exile. To celebrate Pentecost, all the Jewish families - most of
them farmers - took part in a stream of processions that poured out from every village
and province in Palestine towards Jerusalem. Throughout the nation, the atmosphere
created by these processions gave a foretaste of the celebrations to come. There was
constant music and the joy of the people was plain to see. Each person was carrying an
offering of wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olive or honey and everything was
arranged in beautiful baskets that they had decorated with ribbons and flowers of many
colours. Upon their arrival at Jerusalem, vibrant music welcomed them, played on the
instruments of the time. Despite being exhausted by the pilgrimage, people
enthusiastically found renewed strength to enter the Temple without delay, so that they
could finally and joyfully present to the Lord their baskets laden with the first fruits of
their land.

When everyone had gathered at the Temple, the sound of a trumpet announced the
beginning of the reading of the Word of God, and the love story began:

Once upon a time, in a land called Moab, a very young widow called Ruth, decides to
ignore all logic regarding her personal wellbeing and to abandon her own country in order
to accompany her mother in law, Naomi, back to Bethlehem. They travel alone and the
only luggage they are carrying is a great burden of sadness. They had both become
widows, with no children to accompany them; they were left defenceless and in poverty.
At that time, women had no rights to inherit land or anything else.

This is their situation when they arrive in Bethlehem during the season of the first fruits.
Ruth goes to glean grain that had been left in the fields. According to God’s law for the
celebration of Pentecost, fallen grain could be picked up by people who owned no land
and needed it for survival. The young widow is gleaning in the fields of an older man who
is very rich. His name is Boaz and he is a relative of Naomi. He is a man loved by his
workers and is well known for his integrity and goodness. As he sees this woman for the
first time, he cannot resist asking who she is. Could it be that for righteous men who can
see beyond the surface, a woman who is not afraid of honest work, even to the point of
being drenched with perspiration, is always impressive?
It seems that this was the case, because from that day onwards, a discrete courtship
develops. Both show signs of dignity and mutual admiration in their encounters with
each other and these are sensitively described in the Bible. Naomi, a wise woman who
knows how to love, recognises these signs. She suggests to Ruth that she should take
the initiative with Boaz. An auspicious occasion for that would be the night of the
celebration of the harvest. It is almost as if we can hear Naomi saying: Go and wash and
put on perfume. Prepare your hair with ointment, put on your very best clothes and
cover your body with myrrh and incense. Because when the love for another person is
real, this is also an invitation to love oneself.

Then Ruth goes and looks for him, very late at night, in the area where grain is threshed.
Her appearance moves Boaz, because he cannot believe that this remarkable woman is
capable of loving him since he is so much older than she is. He values her even more
knowing that she has been willing to risk her reputation by visiting him alone at night in
this place. Boaz knows that it is worth fighting for the love of a woman like that and
although he realises that the laws of his people do not allow him to have the first option
to marry her, he searches for his opportunity in those same laws; for the laws had
indeed been created to bring Life, redemption and protection for the rights of people like
Ruth and Naomi, who were left with nothing when they were widowed and without
children.

Like all good love stories, this one also has a happy ending that transcends the happiness
of the couple and blesses the whole people of God. This foreign woman, who arrived in
Bethlehem showing that she was willing to give up everything for love, produced
descendants, and one of these will be the sure hope of an infinite love that will transform
everything. From Ruth, the Moabite, the Messiah will come and He will fulfil the
prophetic hope of eternal redemption from every kind of injustice suffered by human
beings.

The people who are gathered at the Temple, listening to the story, are deeply moved by
all the implications that this love story has for their own lives. They know that the right
to land is fundamental for their people who depend mainly on agriculture. They also
know that God himself protects this right, even for those whom the law does not
recognise as subjects –like the widows and the orphans; God created the practice of
kinsman redeemer, to redeem those who do not have land.

This is the right that Naomi can call upon, according to God’s law; a close relative can
marry a widow so that the lands can be restored to her family. History shows us,
however, that laws without a heart do not make sense. Naomi’s closest relative does not
respond to her request. Love is the only thing that can give meaning to law and that is
why Boaz, the second closest relative, is the one who does everything possible in order
to marry Ruth and to redeem these two women.

The telling of this love story during the Pentecost feast - which celebrates the giving of
the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai – enables the Jewish people to understand the
true meaning of the Law. The Law is not a judgment for good behaviour, but rather, it is
a gift from God; its fulfilment only reveals a spiritual reality when it is used in the service
of good relationships and of decisions that are fair and just.

The most important offering at Pentecost is wheat. For the Jews, this grain is often a
symbol of the capacity of human beings to use their intelligence. Wheat cannot serve as
nourishment for the people if human intelligence and creativity are not employed to
transform it into bread. Ruth, Naomi and Boaz know how to transform wheat into bread.
They are able to find opportunities in apparently impossible situations, until, with justice
and dignity, the law becomes a source of nourishment for life, rather than an instrument
of torture.

The quality of endurance shown by people living in poverty is a quality that has not
received much recognition in history. When Jesus refers to the Book of Deuteronomy and
says: The poor you will always have with you, He is not referring to their burdens;
rather, He is admiring the quality of endurance that enables people to press on despite
the structures, the systems and the ways of life that threaten to destroy them. When He
later says, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, He is not
celebrating spiritual poverty, but declaring that the poor, who live in the Spirit are the
true trustees of this Kingdom of justice, peace and freedom.

In the South, where we live, the poor keep finding new ways to survive, day after day.
They are like the wheat that, in order to be appetising, requires some emotional
intelligence - as the gurus of our day call it – so that every challenge becomes an
opportunity. In the face of unemployment, the poor create their own informal
employment in the streets; in the face of illness and the lack of social security, they
rediscover the wisdom of their traditional medicines; and in the deserts and garbage
dumps where no one wants to live, poor people build their dwellings.

But to go from survival to Life, a key message of the Gospel, the poor need more than
their intelligent will to seek and create ways of overcoming their situation. Righteous
laws are required, like the ones God gave his people to protect the dispossessed. But
laws are not enough without people like Naomi and Ruth who will take the initiative and
fight for those laws to be applied. In the end, the answer lies in what experts call the
“political will” of people such as Boaz, who have economic, political or social power, and
who exercise their power to make laws and fulfil commitments that will promote the
wellbeing of the poor.

By the end of June, the most powerful “Boazs” in the world will meet together in
Germany and they will have the opportunity of responding to the needs and expectations
of the poor of the world. They may perhaps respond in the same way as the closest
relative who declined to marry Ruth and instead, choose to focus on the agenda of death
and particular interests rather than on Life for the peoples of the world. However, those
who believe in God, who gave the Law so that we could live, have the right to stand up
and speak out to the whole world and demand that they give priority to Life instead of
death - just as Ruth and Naomi did.

Let us celebrate this Pentecost by bringing before God our wheat transformed into bread;
bread that finally satisfies those of us throughout the world who are hungry and thirsty
for justice. May the God of Sinai allow us to draw on His grace as we strive for His
Kingdom.


Erika Izquierdo, Peru

				
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