Friday, October 30, 2009

I've been sick for two solid weeks from this H1N1 FluMist vaccine. On Monday my ears unplugged and I could hear again for the first time in a week. That was very helpful. But my brain still feels groggy. I've been frustrated in my reading because I haven't gotten as many insights as usual. I blame my groggy brain but I'm not giving up. Yet.

Last week, the kids had half days on Tuesday and Thursday. So I skipped the afternoon at Queenship of Mary which was too bad because I had things to say about the pericope, Genesis 12-24. I have a few commentaries for Genesis because I studied it two years ago at the Presbyterian church but I've had to settle on one for the sake of convenience. So I picked Sarna which uses the JPS translation. I received the next volume yesterday. And I appreciate that the JPS isn't beholden to a new testament. So Genesis 15:6 reads, "And because he put his trust in the LORD, He reckoned it to his merit."

Sarna's note on the verse has this:
Hebrew tsedakah, usually "righteousness," sometimes bears the sense of "merit." The idea is that Abram's act of faith made him worthy of God's reward, which is secured through a covenant. This interpretation is supported by Nehemiah 9:7-8 ... The alternative possibility that Abram regarded "it," - that is, the promise of posterity - as an expression of God's righteousness and grace seems less likely.
The study questions for Genesis 22, which contrasted Abraham's testing with the testing of Adam and Eve in the Garden, prompted a new question in my mind: had Abraham failed God's test, failed to offer Isaac, what would have happened different? Nothing. Whereas, if Adam and Eve had passed God's test, everything would be different. In any event, I missed this session, didn't pose my ideas and questions and realized only later that I could have made up the session in the evening. Maybe I'll do that next week when the kids have a half day for Election Day.

Now, since I usually do the following week's Matthew homework in the hour between morning and afternoon sessions, I got behind because I didn't have that free hour due to the early school pick-up. And I intended to do the work anyway even though I was planning to miss the session because of Tim's field trip to a farm. But I got too tired. And then rain delayed the field trip, so I ended up attending the study session without my Matthew homework, chapter 4, completed. Believe me, I'm as shocked as you. So I mostly kept my mouth shut especially because those typical insights have been so far and few between. But the woman next to me said, I think, that the temptation in the wilderness is nothing in comparison to the suffering on the cross. Maybe she's seen Scorsese's film, but as everyone jumped on her, I couldn't help but take her side and reaffirm her point. "Why do we need this story when we have Calvary?"

Now, I think Jesus is showing his kingship in quoting Deuteronomy at the devil because the king, you know, was supposed to write out the Law when he took the throne. But, of course, Jesus knew the Law for the obvious reason (but I think the close identification gets messy in the Sermon on the Mount). And I hadn't seen the video yet in which Jeff shows the three failures in Exodus of the People of God in the wilderness and how Jesus passes those tests. Matthew's Jesus is saying, "Your ancestors failed in this way, don't be like them." It made good sense at the time but as I look over my notes on it now, it seems superficial and not particularly compelling.

The intriguing thing about Cavins is his affect on the women in the program. They all seem to have a crush on him. And some of them went up to Somerset to see him in person earlier in the month. (I was in Willow Grove that weekend, believing I'd chosen the better part). My small group leader is reading his conversion story. I listened to it at Catholic Answers (The Journey Home). I've warmed up to Cavins over the weeks. He's terribly likable and winsome. I find myself saying, "I'm no fan of those evangelical pastors who turned Catholic, except for ...." and the list grows longer with each individual experience. I do wonder whether Cavins is still a charismatic.

So after that, the afternoon's pericope was the rest of Genesis, 25-50. A huge chunk. And as much as I wanted to read it all plus Sarna's commentary, I found that I had to focus on those chapters addressed by the study questions. I kept telling myself that I studied this all only two years ago and, in fact, the Princeton Alliance study has also focused on Genesis; we begin a close look at Joseph this month.

But I didn't care for the "leading" tone to the questions. Take this one from page 18:
b. In choosing which son of Isaac to bless, God goes against ancient laws that gave the eldest son leadership in the family. Does God choose Jacob because of his own merit? How do you know?
The presumed answer, of course, is based on Genesis 25:23 in which the LORD tells Rebekah that "the older will serve the younger," as well as Romans 9:10-13, our "divinely inspired commentary on the Old Testament" - I've heard that more times lately than I care to - that God chose Jacob in the womb before he'd done anything meritorious. So I shared with the group that it's a difficult thing distinguishing grace from merit. God knows the future and knew how Jacob would turn out. (In fact, the author of Genesis knew how Jacob would turn out). So the prognostication of Genesis 25:23 is ambiguous on motive. The Catechism is also referenced in the study questions and says this [Paragraph 218]:
a single motive for choosing them from among all peoples as his special possession: his sheer gratuitous love. And thanks to the prophets Israel understood that it was again out of love that God never stopped saving them and pardoning their unfaithfulness and sins. (Cf. Deut 4:37; 7:8; 10:15; Isa 43:1-7; Hos 2)
I'm counting on that same divine benevolence myself.

The final question in the lesson, the "application," read like this: "Do circumstances in your life threaten to pull your eyes off of God and away from His promises?" I just rolled my eyes because Catholics don't talk that way. But then I was finishing up the rosary the following day ... "that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ" ... and I got it. Oh, those promises. Right. I'm definitely onboard with that.
I walked in about ten minutes late, just as Jim was announcing, "You must be born again." Maybe it's to my credit that I didn't do an about-face and walk out. Rather, if I'd had my wits about me, I would have taken at least a few steps backwards and teased, "Is this a Catholic Bible study?"

So participants were trying to get at what being born again means. Jim recited a version of the popular sinner's prayer which isn't gospel to alot of Christians. He said that he instructs Catholics bothered by the question whether they are born again to just answer "yes" and move on. I'm not sure that's good advice but I wasn't about to take it up with him then and there.

I was interested in knowing whether he thinks born again is a point in time or a progressive thing. I suppose my own experience is a little of both: I can point to moment(s) - yes, plural - when teachings made more sense but also more gradual awareness of the work of the Spirit. Anyway, I didn't ask because it was clear that he really wanted to talk about the sectarianism in John 3 which is amplified in the Letters. And how until VCII, the Catholic Church was pretty sectarian, too, on who was in and who was out. He said now we aren't so unequivocal that only Christians go to heaven and so Catholicism has departed from the Scripture, at least these verses of the Fourth Gospel. He didn't say how he feels about that, whether he approves or disapproves and I couldn't tell. If I had to guess, I'd say he disapproves which I would find terribly surprising.

Now someone said during the break that if one didn't have to be Christian to go to heaven, she'd just as soon be something else. Something "easier." I suppose that would be the expected reaction to such concessions but that option didn't pop so naturally into my head. I see this religion as my calling and I wouldn't think I ought to abandon it.

After the break, we moved into John 4 and Jim pointed out that the NAB is the only English version that consistently translates ἐπίστευσαν (aorist, indicative, active) "imperfectly" as "began to believe." Someone had an older NAB, presumably without the revised New Testament, which read "believed." So Jim said they had it right in 1970 then and made it wrong in the '86 revision. And, of course, there isn't a variant. The NAB NT doesn't take variants anyway. But I was disappointed because this is a case of the NAB NT not being accurate and I don't know whether there's a theological consideration going on: that belief couldn't be complete until the resurrection or Pentecost or something like that. I think if that were the case, Jim would have told us.

Then almost immediately after, I was distracted - using this tool - by the repetition of my name in the text, towards the end: θερισμός [13 occurrences in the KJV] and θερίζω [ 21 occurrences ]. cf. John 4:35-38 [WHNT]. I do take that name seriously, like a vocation, and so I am not terribly willing to let sleeping Catholics lie.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Earlier in the week, Jeff asked whether I would be interested in hearing The Wall at NJPAC. I said why not. So he got to work ordering the tickets online and I arranged for a babysitter. Complicated? Not really, just one more thing to do.

So we drove up there last night and Route 21 is stop-n-go. Jeff says it always is; it's his commute. Just as we turned into the NJPAC plaza, I could see his building, the 550 building. Parking was convenient and we crossed only one street to enter the venue. There was also a hockey game going on. Our seats were second mezzanine, I think. The hall filled slowly as most people were gathered in the lobby. I saw only one Pink Floyd t-shirt, from The Dark Side of the Moon. There were modestly more men in attendance than women, perhaps 3-to-2. And a number of children, pre-teens. I saw no harm in that.

When the band walked on, the audience erupted and I thought, "Easy crowd." But I discovered rather quickly the applause was warranted. They warmed up a bit but the audience was impatient for the show to begin. I was trying to recall how the album begins but when they played the quiet melody that is also heard at the end, I remembered and the first two sides flowed from memory very well. When I saw the female soloist, I thought to myself, "Oh, wouldn't she be perfect for "Great Gig in the Sky," and, in fact, she performed that in the first encore. It was exactly perfect. Note for note, as the playbill says.

A school choir of about 15 children walked out for "Another Brick in the Wall, Part II" to shout the protest. You could see they just loved it. They were sassy and I hoped they understood what they were saying. Not likely.

Side Two is the sleeper side, in my opinion. It doesn't contain any significant hit singles, except for maybe "Young Lust." And, in general, if I didn't happen to know the lyrics, I don't think I would have understood what they were saying. Except, in a few instances, phrases that I've never been able to make out, like someone shouting "Don't do't again," I heard clearly for the first time. The woman who later performed "Great Gig" did the operator's part at the end of "Young Lust" but she didn't quite hit it right. And if you didn't happen to know who was calling whom, you'd have missed it. But another vocalist did the groupie that introduces the next song, which I can't help but see as Bob Geldof from the movie. And maybe because it's the sleeper side, it is my favorite side.

During the intermission, men checked the score of the Yankees game. The entire hall light up with the glow of handheld screens. Jeff got me a soda because I'd received the initial dose of the H1N1 vaccine in nasal mist form earlier in the day and I was beginning to suffer some symptoms. Mostly sneezing and nasal congestion with a sore, swollen throat. It didn't really bother my enjoyment of the show and I was trying to remember how Side Three begins. Everyone was calling for "Comfortably Numb" so I began to think it started the side. But, in fact, it closes the side and "Hey You" starts the side. I do remember that Vera Lynn was in the news recently, significantly to me. And "Comfortably Numb" which everyone was so clearly waiting for, brought down the house. I had heard "Comfortably Numb" on the radio recently and was reminded of how much Gilmour guitar it features. This band had someone of whom Gilmour should have been worried, both in his playing and his singing.

It seemed to me that they played a couple extra introductory measures to "In the Flesh" and I began to fear that they were going to censor the bigoted slurs that make up much of the lyrics. But I just wasn't remembering it correctly. For the record, no one was smoking a joint in the hall but Jeff said he smelled it outside. This is a clip from the movie with Geldof performing.

I like "Run Like Hell," always have, but I sensed that a few people in my vicinity were done listening. They'd heard the song they wanted and it was good. They were going to bide their time until the promised encore and call out for "Money." I believe some special effects were fed in, like background sounds from old movies. There was a man, stage left, who sang some parts (mostly Roger Waters parts) but was also something of a foley artist on sound effects. Breaking glass, heard often enough, that sort of thing.

But as "Run Like Hell" began, I didn't see anyone playing their guitars and I came close to suspecting that that winding guitar sound was also piped in. Jeff thought, on the contrary, someone was performing that sound. I don't know. He's usually right about those things.

And the foley artist used a megaphone to sing "Waiting for the Worms", so I still have no idea what is said after the published lyrics run out (includes an attempt at deciphering the inaudible).

For "The Trial" scene, one almost needs to know the movie scenes to understand who's talking. The Gilmour impersonator did all the voices, even the Judge. Very good. I've never heard this song on the radio, that I can remember. And I got a sense of how rushed the ending is and how the entire album doesn't really hold together very well. Jeff and I had already discussed during the intermission that we can listen to this album but it isn't our favorite Pink Floyd album by any stretch. It's probably our least favorite but it still ranks above many other albums. We also speculated what other albums this group might perform. We came up with some Zeppelin and Jeff offered "Yes," to which we both shuddered. We looked at their web site and they're going to do The White Album in April, so even though Jeff isn't a huge Beatles fan, he said he'd take me.

And I had to admit that the ending lyrics are very corny but I like them:

Outside the Wall (Waters)

All alone, or in two's,
The ones who really love you
Walk up and down outside the wall.
Some hand in hand
And some gathered together in bands.
The bleeding hearts and artists
Make their stand.

And when they've given you their all
Some stagger and fall, after all it's not easy
Banging your heart against some mad bugger's wall.

"Isn't this where...."
Their encore, I alluded to above: "Great Gig in the Sky" and "Have a Cigar." Then a second encore of "Wish You Were Here" (yeah, he cleared his throat, on cue). These are all favorites and I knew it didn't do any good to shout out "Money" - that's like shouting "Free Bird" to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Jeff said he doesn't really like "Money" except for the bass line. I knew their encore was already set and practiced and it was what it was. But those songs are all favorites. Jeff would have liked to hear "Welcome to the Machine," but that warbling sound at the beginning is probably difficult to produce live. It's even darker than their other music.

And, well, the babysitter was asleep when we got home at 11:30 but so were all the kids, soundly, so that's ok.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The second of my "Tuesdays," but the first "regular" one: full discussion time and video. I'd been looking forward to today all week but I refuse to get swept up. Despite my commitment, I must keep evaluating.

The morning: after a prayer from Our Daily Bread, I was assigned to a group that met in another room for the first hour's homework review. Our discussion went remarkably smoothly with no awkward questions. In fact, answers were fairly unanimous. Was this merely expediency? Were the troublemakers routed out last year? Where were the warts?

It leaned Stepford: just about everyone had thumb tabs on their Bibles, all were comfortable with the concept of Jesus as savior, nobody questioned whether chapter 1 had actually happened. The brave soul next to me admitted to not having her Catechism; I passed mine between us and let her look on. Entre nous, I believe several are volunteer catechists, the way they talked. But I'll say this: as everyone read from their RSV-CE2's, I followed along in the ESV. Very few differences. Makes perfect sense.

We reunited afterwards for the video. I can't say I remember much. Maybe if they didn't dim the lights so much ... The promise to David in 2 Samuel 7 was familiar from the weekend. I guess he talked about the Mosaic and Davidic covenants, also familiar from the weekend. He explained gematria and related it to Kabbalah, which I don't believe is always necessarily the case. And that Jesus is the "seventh seven," coming after Matthew's six sevens in the genealogy, i.e., three fourteens. He made a fleeting mention of Daniel 9 when talking about the "deportation" to Babylon, saying 70 years wouldn't be enough; it would be "seventy times seven" (I think that's what he said, sounds more like Jesus in the Gospels. Just "coming attractions?") or 490 years (NAB footnote on Daniel 9:24). I got no indication that anyone knew the reference or the significance.

His big point is that, even though many Jews returned to Jerusalem from Babylon in 537, it was centuries later before they returned spiritually. And while I'm familiar with the pertinent passages in Haggai, it's still rather presumptuous to say.

His lecture was Christ-centric; no Hail Mary this week but time was spent articulating Mary's designation as "ever-virgin". Only on this point did my Stepford Wives show their cracks and falter. Gosh, that's the easy one for me. All saying things like, "It's not technically necessary." I couldn't disagree more.

I was distracted by a participant seated catty-corner to me: she jotted down not a single note from the video lecture. She stood out for that.

I stayed in the room over the lunch break and completed next week's homework. Just barely. And I had wanted to preserve some time, to steal a few minutes upstairs in the sanctuary. It doesn't seem possible without sacrificing some of the homework time.

The afternoon: after the same prayer from Our Daily Bread, I was again assigned to a group that met in another room. These were the unwashed ones and Sister was left to deal with us. Almost from the get-go, the awkward questions: why two creation accounts in Genesis? "I'm Catholic 46 years, graduated Catholic school, I didn't know there were two creation accounts!" There are four Gospels too, btw. I wondered whether she had read the Introduction. Ultimately, though, I think we ended on a high note.

Now, on this one, he's more uneven. When he reads from Scripture or Church documents, I'm in agreement. But when he puts what he's just read into his own words, I quibble. How did you draw that out of what you just read? He says Genesis isn't scientific, then five minutes later announces he's a direct descendent of Noah. (And, so, why do Adam and Eve matter exactly? God started over with Noah.) I was offered the audio CD to take with me and maybe I will and have a closer listen. Because I also think he said that Jesus is the Creator. I've heard that assertion from conservative Christians quite a bit lately. I asked Jim about it Thursday during our discussion of the Prologue. It just doesn't sound right and he agreed it could be a little off, depending on what they mean.

But then I'm thinking of that hymn to the Holy Spirit: Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest, ...

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Women in the Word: A Workshop (plenary sessions audio)

(PS: my favorite from last year: Jayne Clark, "Bringing the Bible to Life: the Heart of Interpretation")

It was expected to see fewer cars in the lot than last year. I registered and slipped into the plenary session, Dr. Erika Moore's first of three four.

She spoke about the prophets as being successors to Moses (Deut 18:18), guardians of the theocracy, witnesses to God's sovereign rule over history, intercessors (Genesis 20) and covenant prosecutors (Hosea 4:1). She categorized the prophets according to when they wrote, so-called "pre-classical," those who ministered during the early years of the monarchy and who aren't really remembered for what they said as much as for what they did, of which all we know are the stories recorded in Kings and Samuel.

Then the "classical" ones from the 8th and 7th century whose oracles cluster around two great dates, 722 and 586: Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, Micah and Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah and Jeremiah. Then the so-called "exilic" prophets, Ezekiel and Daniel. And the post-exilic prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. She admitted to not knowing where to place Joel but finds herself dating it later than she used to. And she reminded us that Daniel is among the Ketuvim in the Jewish Bible and not considered a prophetic book. She didn't mention Jonah or Obadiah at all. Incidentally, I didn't bring a Jewish Bible with me because I figured the four that I brought was enough.

Next, we broke into our smaller study groups. One person from our group was a no-show and another was a last minute substitution. We briefly introduced ourselves. The woman next to me almost immediately went into an explanation for why she's such a Johnny-come-lately to Bible study: she was married to a Catholic for twenty years. The ad hoc thumb tabs on her Bible were proof positive. And she let us know that the Catholic Church is selective in which scriptures it reads aloud on Sunday morning. That means that Catholics don't read the whole, entire Bible. Somehow I thought that once she got this off her chest, we'd hear no more about it.

Then we got into our work. The best presentation was that one given that first afternoon, on Ruth 1. And without anyone else present scheduled to lecture that day, we goofed off the rest of the time before dinner, talking about the book's setting and possible themes.

At meals, it's always the choice whether to sit with your friends or your group. And I could go either way on that. But I sat with someone from my group and our table filled pretty quickly with her friends. My name-tag displayed my church as well. I had identified as "Roman Catholic" on the registration because they'd call me that anyway. And when I answered a polite question about the size of my church, in declaring it "small" by Jersey standards with 2,000 families, jaws dropped in disbelief like a wave around the table. Their churches had between 50 and 200 families. But they told me, "Welcome." I overlooked how strained it sounded.

The second plenary session began after dinner and wrapped up that first night. Dr. Moore talked about how the exiles considered Jerusalem "inviolate" because of promises in 2 Sam. 7 and Ps. 89:3-4, 35-37, the lesson from history (Is. 37) and the current political situation (secular, extra-biblical documents indicate there was a coup in the Babylonian army around 594, a couple of years before Ezekiel 8ff). And Ezekiel is telling them they aren't going home for a while because God is going to destroy Jerusalem.

She talked about the glory of the LORD leaving the Temple in stages because of the idolatry. And that the glory never returned after the second temple was built because the temple would be the believer's body. Very basic stuff. I wasn't lost at all. But she rattled off a bunch of scriptures to substantiate her remarks without taking the time to read them. But I don't disagree with her, even if I think the glory isn't restricted to the believer's body: God's glory is still found in creation, etc., like before. There are other manifestations of God's glory outside the believer's body.

I arrived early the next morning because my presentation was scheduled for 9am. Somehow, overnight, the group member who had disparaged the selectiveness of the Catholic Sunday lectionary learned I'm Catholic. She asked me to confirm and I did. Then she gave her impression of Catholic preaching as compared with expository preaching. As before, I could only concede the point to her. She concluded with the example of her daughter who left the Catholic Church on the advice of her fiance when the priest's homily failed to follow the trajectory they thought it should, to unequivocally proclaim the Bible the Word of God. "She left and never went back." I supposed there was an intentional lesson in her story, but if I had a nickel for every time ...

Of course I thought my presentation on Ruth 2 went well. I posted what I said in a previous post here, just scroll down. The evaluations were a little soft. Nobody wanted to come down too hard on anyone. That undermines the usefulness of the workshop but we're all trying to be good Christians. After my presentation, I was struck with one of those incredible headaches that I can get but still managed to listen to another woman's lecture on Ruth 3. I was so glad for the chapter that I had. I would not have wanted to teach Ruth 3. The participant chose as her intended audience junior high youth group kids, "churched," she considered them. And my criticism of her presentation - which I didn't actually offer because I can find a reason for her to structure her talk as she did given her audience - was that she completely abandoned the text at hand and took her hearers on a New Testament tour of appropriating Jesus' death for their sins. I don't work with teens so maybe this evangelistic repetition is necessary but heck, she should have signed up for the small group on First Corinthians or something.

We broke for lunch and my headache affected my appetite. But the hotel continental breakfast had been subpar and I wouldn't eat again until I got home so I tried to eat something. By this point, I had a few "regulars" who were willing to eat with me. (I never know how seriously Bible believers take 1 Cor. 5:11.) I asked one of them for a couple of tablets for my headache. Women are great - they're always packin' meds. I guess I'd better realize that these headaches aren't going to go away and start carrying my own supply. Anyway, one of them asked me as politely as possible how I thought I'd apply the techniques I'd seen modeled at the workshop. And I said that I do not see myself ever leading a Bible study, but that maybe as I participate in them, I can offer some things here and there. I took her question at face value, as a recognition that Catholics also study the Bible. But later I began to wonder whether she thought I was wasting my time. I have to put that suspicion out of my mind.

My headache didn't go away and as our final presenter began her poorly prepared lecture, I dashed out to the ladies' room with the hopes of getting right. I retrieved ice-cold bottled water from the meal hall and held it to the side of my head. I must have been a sight. I'd much rather be invisible, you have no idea. And I called to mind how an Orthodox coworker from years ago used to boast that Christmas carols made his wife physically ill. I did not want to suspect any spiritual cause for my extreme illness. Another thing to put out of my mind.

The third plenary session from Dr. Moore was an apologetic against dispensationalism. She grew up in a dispensational church and didn't realize good Christians believed otherwise until she got to Wheaton where, I suppose, she was shown out of it. The mistake she made about dispensationalists, and I wanted to take her aside afterwards to explain but I didn't, is to assume they don't acknowledge literary genre in the Bible. They do. But it's a matter of degree, not kind. And Catholics go even farther in that regard - in being sensitive to genre - than the Reformed. Still, I guess, it's a plague and she feels she's got to speak against it, as she also spoke against health & wealth. It was interesting but neither of these systems are temptations for me.

Our final small group session was spent on Ruth 4. We were fairly brain dead at this point. But, thankfully, my headache had gone. I was already thinking about the drive home, not wishing to make it with a debilitating headache. As I said above, I had four Bibles with me but the chunky ESVSB stayed in my suitcase all weekend. I used the SRSB/NIV before my presentation, Sproul's ESV for my presentation (A great review of both here. Also be sure to follow this playful discussion on the differences until WCF 1.7 is invoked.) and the ESV w/A when we worked on Ruth 4 so as to handicap myself against ready footnotes and cross-references. Someone even asked me about Sproul's: Is that like the Geneva Bible? And I was able to answer that the notes are but the text is the ESV. In fact, I found myself following conversations about evangelical personalities and even managing to drop a few Reformed names and help people remember book titles and authors. But then, it's a small world, especially around Philadelphia. Yet, I've already added all the books mentioned this weekend to my WTSBooks wish list!

I think my intention is to encourage them to discover and appropriate their heritage but with a small hope that some might be left dissatisfied even after all that and will keep looking. Dr. Moore teaches at an evangelical Anglican school and the way she described her relationship with the faculty, especially the women priests, made me think that their self-understanding as "via media" is a little bit credible. More so than I thought.

God willing, I'll be there again next year.
Here's my five-minute presentation on Ruth 2 from this morning ... it's very terrible:
This chapter takes place in a pocket of civility in the land of Israel. Whether or not the word is used in this chapter, it's a picture of shalom. In verse 4, Boaz greets his workers in the LORD's name and his greeting is returned in kind. There's an integrity, a sincerity, a recognition of the LORD. It's fitting that Boaz is described in verse 1 as a "worthy" man or as a "man of substance" because of his wealth, yes, but also because of his position in life. He can afford to be magnanimous.

In chapter 1, Ruth is determined and a little forceful in her resolve to remain loyal to Naomi. Even in this chapter, Ruth shows initiative to provide for them both, not really asking Naomi's permission to go out and glean in verse 2 but only telling of her intention. And her wish that she may encounter someone in whose sight she may find favor.

Christian women and men alike are well familiar with the ideal woman described in Proverbs 31, verses 10 and following. To do good to our husbands. To work with willing hands. To provide food for the household. Ruth is the embodiment of this ideal.

With regards to Boaz, however, Ruth is deferential almost to a fault. She asks permission to glean, as the foreman relates to Boaz in verse 7. But it is her identity as a foreigner who returned with Naomi that prompts Boaz to care for her, protect her and call down God's blessing upon her in verse 12, a blessing which Boaz himself plays a significant part in effecting in verses 14, at meal time, and in verse 16 in allowing her to glean from the sheaves. This is clearly above and beyond. My commentary called it the "plus" factor.

So, of course, it isn't by chance that Ruth comes to Boaz' field. Perhaps his land holdings were so extensive or so attractive that she could hardly do otherwise. Although there is an indication in verse 8 that other fields lay nearby. I don't know whether any of you have ever worked as a farm laborer. I did one summer during college. Being young and the only woman, an elderly supervisor took notice of me and looked out for me against the migrant workers. In hindsight, I've come to be grateful to him as I recall his kindness. And I can cite a few occasions of God's clear and special providence in the jobs I've had. I hope we all can.

Now since studying this passage, I've come to recognize people in my life who exhibit great kindness. These are almost always older people who are established, mature, secure with nothing to lose. The believers among them especially are reflecting God's hesed, his lovingkindness just as Boaz does in this story. How appropriate that Ruth falls on her face and bows down in verse 10 and calls Boaz "my lord" in verse 13.

Boaz' words in verse 12 are really a prayer, a petition, not a statement of doctrine. In the Old Testament covenant formulations, God first favors his people on his own initiative, then requires that they live in accord with their status as his people, and then responds with blessing or curse to their obedience or disobedience. Human acts do not incur God's favor, they live out God's favor. God's people do acts of hesed not in order to deserve God's grace but in order to respond to God's grace.

In verse 17 at the end of the day, Ruth returns home with her 3/5ths of a bushel and tells Naomi about Boaz. In verse 20, Naomi invokes a rather ambiguous blessing upon Boaz in the LORD's name. Whose kindness is in view? The LORD's or Boaz' or, maybe, both? And the rest of the chapter sets up for chapter 3.