Not my people

February 23, 2011

"May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your
servant, even though I am not one of your servants."  If you knew that
these words were from the Bible, but did not know the context, what
would you suppose they meant?  In the Old Testament, Israel is often
spoken of as God's servant.  In the Greek of the New Testament, the same
word is sometimes translated "servant," other times "slave."  Paul
writes of being a slave to sin, and Jesus speaks of a servant not being
greater than the master.  Many of these uses speak metaphorically about
relationship.

And
so I think it would be reasonable to hear the opening sentence of this
blog and presume it to be the words of an outsider, a Gentile perhaps,
acknowledging God's grace and asking that it continue even though this
outsider is not one of God's people.

I
love to tell a story about my grandmother-in-law, a wonderful lady who
was 95 when she drove herself to the doctor with "the flu," which turned
out to be the heart failure that ended her life days later.  One time
when I had replaced the filter on her furnace (a complicated procedure
that required measuring and cutting filter material from a roll and
fitting it onto a cage-like structure that went in the furnace), she
wanted to pay me.  I objected but she insisted.  When my wife also
objected, she said that she had to pay me because, "He's not my
people."  

It
was her way of saying I wasn't a blood relative, and as such I didn't
have quite the same obligations toward her.  Not being "her people," I
wasn't required to help her, but since I had, she felt required to pay
me.  Strange as it might seem, by not being "her people," I had it
better than those who were.  She treated me no differently from her
biological grandchildren.  In fact her statement, "He's not my people,"
was so funny to all of us because there was nothing in her behavior
toward me to bear it out.  And so the only difference between me and
those who were "her people" was that I got paid and they didn't.
"May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your
servant, even though I am not one of your servants."  These are Ruth's
words to Boaz after his kind treatment of her, kind treatment motivated
by Ruth's loyalty to Naomi, and in spite of the fact that Ruth is "not
his people."  

For
most of modern history, Western Christians have tended to understand
the faith along sharply drawn lines of "us and them."  But it is not
clear to me whether these dividing lines are rooted in God's character
or in our own.  And if the story of Ruth is to be read at all
metaphorically, God's character seems not unlike that of my
grandmother-in-law when it comes to those outside the family.
Originally posted at Pastor James.