Friday, September 23, 2011

Sexual Subterfuge (Ruth 3:6-8)

     Ruth went down to the threshing floor just as her mother-in-law told her to do.
     Boaz ate and drank until he was tipsy. Then he went to sleep against the bundles of grain. When Boaz was asleep Ruth silently approached, laid down next to him, and “uncovered his feet.” In the middle of the night Boaz awoke and was startled to find a woman lying at his feet.                             Ruth 3:6-8
How paradoxical to stumble across a blatant scene of sexual subterfuge in holy scripture. Yet here is Ruth, a young widow, going to a drunken kinsman and having sex with him – the meaning of the euphemism “uncover his feet”. More surprising is that in the storyline of the narrative all of this is proper and a part of God’s working out a larger plan through human circumstances.

To be sure this is a highly nuanced story. Ruth in essence betrothed herself to her mother-in-law earlier in the tale. “Where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I’ll die there too and I will be buried there beside you. I swear – may Adonai be my witness and judge – that not even death will keep us apart” (26, 27)

While the notion of “family” in the bible entails something different from the modern idea of the nuclear family with husband, partner and children, it is still pushing boundaries to understand two women living together as a "family." That Ruth would claim such a relationship with her mother-in-law Naomi speaks to the strength of their bond and the resistance they displayed to the norms of society.

Into this little duet they bring a third person – Boaz. Whereas Naomi and Ruth had sealed their relationship freely and consensually, Boaz is seduced into the relationship. Sexual subterfuge is not a subtext of this story it is the motif which propels the narrative forward. At two key junctures – the bonding of Ruth with Naomi, and the tryst with Boaz – sexual maneuvering is what allows for the providence of God to be manifested in the life of this family.

Queers are routinely attacked for introducing sexual subterfuge into an otherwise prim and proper society. We bind ourselves to each other and live resisting public norms. Our sexual relations defy traditional definitions of marriage, home, and civilized romance. Yet, like Ruth our lives and relationships are the opportunity for God’s providential care to transform individuals and families.

Ruth and Boaz do marry (which probably saves the book from being censored from the bible) and Ruth gives birth to a son named Obed. Obed turns out to be the grandfather of the great king David. If we look into the Greek scriptures, Ruth is mentioned by name in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus the Christ.

Imagine David owing his existence and Jesus his family tree to sexual subterfuge. What great and mighty providence may God have in store for our lovers and families?

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