Despite Commandments to the Contrary We Can Marry Moabites – November 7

A sermon based on Ruth 3: 1-5, 4:13-17

given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on November 7, 2021

by Rev. Scott Elliott

I want to add a short scripture reading to the Lectionary lesson that Mearle just read so nicely. It comes from Torah, the law. It’s found at Deuteronomy 23 verse 3

“No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord . . .”

Torah prohibited bringing Moabites into the community of God, banning in effect the marriage of the Israelite Boaz to the Moabite Ruth, it is one of the 612 commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures,  what we call the Old Testament.  Later in the Bible in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah the specific list of peoples Israelites are not to marry is expanded with commands that prohibit marriages with people of any other land besides Israel. Yet,  the Israelite Boaz marries the Moabite Ruth, who is haply brought into the assembly. All of that is held up and honored and lauded as good in our Lesson and throughout the ages.

What can we make of that?  Well first of all we don’t hear Literalists insisting Christians can only marry Israelites. Or that only people non-Israelites should not have equal access to marriage licenses wedding flowers or cakes. Despite Bible commandments we can marry Moabites.

As I mentioned,  the Old Testament has 612 commandments. Don’t worry I am not going to list them all, but I do want to point out they cover a broad range of topics. These include, among other things, what not to eat and touch; when to wash; if men can shave or cut hair;  circumcision mandates for males;  taboos on tattoos; mandates regarding marriages and coupling; how to worship and what to offer God; not to mix seeds and fibers; not to charge interest on loans; mandates to help the poor, strangers, widows and orphans; mandates that aliens be treated as equals; mandates to love neighbors; and, of course, requirements to seek justice and love kindness. That’s enough to give us an idea of the broad swath of Old Testament commandments. It’s a ponderous list that goes on and on. And twice as long if we add in the numerous New Testament commandments.

Some of the Bible commandments are horrifying. There’s one I did not yet mention that requires a priest to cause an abortion if a man even suspects his wife cheated. There a commandment to execute adulterers and one to execute first time brides who are not virgins. There’s a famous commandment to take and eye or an eye and tooth for a tooth as a form of justice. There’s a commandment that prohibits children born out of wedlock from coming into the assembly, the community of God. There’s a similar one that applies to eunuchs.

You might have noticed that some of the commandments conflict with each other. Don’t marry non-Israelites run smack into treat aliens equally. And eye for an eye runs smack into love your neighbor and seek justice and love kindness, as does executing adulterers and non-virgin brides – not to mention excluding from God’s community children and eunuchs.

 

Last week we discussed the high priority we must give to the Greatest Commandment (which is to love God and love your neighbor).  Both of those commandments to love are in the Old Testament and Jesus commands that they take precedence over any other commandment.

Jesus may be the first to say that out loud but our lesson today shows it was already put into effect by Boaz and Naomi and the rest of the community of God.  We can hear in this wonderful Old Testament story how love was already taking priority over the lack love commandments to not marry Moabites.  The community in our lesson sets them aside and lets love prevail.

Jesus, or course, models this too. He ignores Biblical commandments when they are not loving.  Most famously he says in Matthew 5(  38-42)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”

Even if the Bible or religious practices command otherwise Jesus makes it so love outweighs lack-love commandments and implementation.  Jesus has love supersede lack love throughout the Gospels. He upends the command to extract retributive justice. He touches the unclean. He works on the Sabbath. He saves an adulterer. He provides care to enemies. He commands his followers to love enemies. He commands that love rules over all the other commandments.

After Jesus ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost the Jesus Followers continued to do as Jesus did. As Church, the Body of Christ,  on earth, they let love outweigh lack love religious practices and Bible commandments. Paul famously disregarded commandments that only circumcised males can be in the community of  God, and that food prohibitions must be followed, that Gentiles could not be let into the community of God. He let loving neighbors outrank commandments that operated to the contrary.  The book of Acts records one of my favorite stories of the early Church leaping over hurdles of lack love.  God caused Phillip to baptize and invite into the community of God the Ethiopian Eunuch, a Transgender, Alien, Black person.

Why did Phillip do it when the Bible prohibited letting in Eunuchs and foreigners? Because Phillip let the Greatest Commandment to love trump the contrary Biblical commandments. Why? because that is what Jesus did and taught his followers to do.  In a moment we are about to have communion. At Jesus’ meals, at his table,  everyone is invited. Everyone can come and partake of the bread and the cup and the holiness Christ offers. That table practice continued after Easter right on up to today.   Any lack-love limitations. AMEN.

 

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