We studied Matthew 1, the genealogy of Jesus, in Sunday School. One of the women that was part of Jesus’ lineage was a Moabite. If you were Jewish in times of Jesus’ birth, you’d be surprised to see a positive reference to a Moabite.
Who are Moabites? Why it would be unusual? Deuteronomy 23 warned about Moabites. “No Moabite may ever enter the sanctuary, even after the tenth generation,” and you must never help them in any way. Pretty harsh; pretty clear.
But that’s not how the Moabite’s story ends. One of the Jews of Bethlehem married a Moabite woman. He welcomed her to the community. He included her in his family, and they had a son. She became the great-grandmother of David and thus an ancestor of Jesus.
The story of the Moabites began with prejudice, discrimination and animosity. Jews were called to exclude them from the faith. They were told to avoid even helping them out when the Moabites were in trouble. But this woman, one of only four women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy, was treated with compassion and kindness, and she is someone that we all should emulate. She is a role model.
The bible tells us more about this foreign woman: “…about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
And now you know: the Moabite woman was Ruth whose story is the book of Ruth.
While the story of the Moabites began with bigotry and exclusion, the story of Ruth challenged those prejudices. In Deuteronomy, Jews were taught that Moabites were bad, but a Moabite woman demonstrated the best in Christianity. The Spirit moved God’s people toward openness and acceptance of Ruth’s differences, and her story is an important one even today.
The Strangers as Neighbors UMW Study Group is looking at how we as Christians can follow the Spirit toward openness, inclusion, and affirmation of all people, particularly immigrants and refugees. Are we acting in a way that the Jews in Deuteronomy were being taught or in a way that the Spirit ultimately led those same Jews to be inclusive, understanding and accepting of people that come from different places? The Jews of Bethlehem welcomed Ruth into their community, and she and her son flourished. Are the Christians at Mountain View helping modern “Moabites” live, work, learn, and grow in our Colorado communities?
These are types of questions that the Strangers as Neighbors UMW Study Group is working to answer. We meet once a month, and if you want to join us, contact Jean Bowen at firstname.lastname@example.org.