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May 2020

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Books for the Journey:

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In every direction are the snares and quicksand of death. We may see the big ones and walk away only to sink slowly into another. One of the best observations concerning people is a quote by Dr. Albert Ellis (the most frequently cited author of psychotherapy works published in the last 50 years and ranked the most influential therapist by clinical psychologists) from a New York Times article, “All humans are out of their minds. They're not only disturbed. They get disturbed about their disturbances. Until you accept that people are crazy and do all kinds of terrible things, you’re going to be angry.” Dr. Ellis feels that the basis for neurotic behavior is a self-loving, perfectionist refusal to accept being a “fallible, incessantly error-prone human and when they fall short of their unrealistic ideals, they largely think of themselves as sub-humans.” This is a much better description than just “pride” or “envy” (or other words for the loss of humility) as the source of all evil. Ellis teaches unconditional self-acceptance (“you always accept you no matter what you do”), unconditional other-acceptance (“nobody is evil, even if they do evil things”), and unconditional life-acceptance (“you always accept things, no matter how they are”). The modern focus on improving behavior rather than psyches (in which Ellis has played a major role) is in the right direction, for one can never convert a lifelong need for irrational control into a sane and adult mind. Psychiatry is by and large about getting people from -5 to 0, but recent research into what it might take to get to a +5 found the answer was faith and social capital (the Lord’s Prayer contains no singular pronouns). After trying unsuccessfully for years to cure alcoholism by means of psychoanalysis, even Dr. Carl Jung concluded that alcoholism could not be treated by either medical or psychodynamic techniques. He reasoned that the underlying problem was one of spiritual emptiness and wrote in a letter to Bill Wilson (in which Jung coined the phrase, “spiritus contra spiritum” or “spirits against the spirit”), “I am strongly convinced that the evil principle prevailing in this world leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted either by real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community. An ordinary man, not protected by an action from above and isolated in society, cannot resist the power of evil, which is called very aptly the Devil.” Jung further concluded that conventional religion was usually equally spiritually impoverished and just as ineffective as therapeutic efforts in the battle against alcoholism. “Fear of the Lord is a life-giving fountain: it offers escape from the snares of death.”

Ruth would have hoped to lift a few handfuls of grain (not enough for even one person to survive) with a full day’s work from what was missed by the normal workers (OT law gives this right to the poor – but if seen taking too much, one could easily end up getting beaten), but when she returns with 40 pounds worth it is obvious that someone is intentionally helping her out (the expression translated to “it turned out” as well as Noami’s praise for “blessed be he of the Lord” suggests that it was more than just a coincidence but that God directed her steps) and Noami sends her back with specific instructions. Boaz was compassionate by providing such supply as well as doing it in secret so as not to shame the recipient, but what happened later on the threshing floor? Many would suggest that the reference to “laying” was a polite way of saying she had sexual relations with Boaz with “feet” referring to sexual privates (and anyway, harvest time is celebrated with rites of fertility when the Jews often were permitted more moral leeway than usual). I think in this case, however, that the author and Noami were using their words (and actions) very carefully in order to suggest marriage (with only the sexual overtones that would imply). Ruth made her marriage objective clear (although at night as a means perhaps of protecting Boaz from embarrassment in case he chose to refuse) with “spread the corner of your garment over me” (as in Ezekiel 16:8, Deuteronomy 22:30, 27:20, and Malachi 2:16) by the custom still practiced by some Arabs today of a man throwing a garment over the woman he has decided to marry. Boaz handled himself honorably (not as likely if he had passed out from drinking at a festival) when he deferred to another who would have prior claim (as did Ruth with her willingness to marry another sight unseen for here duty to her dead husband) even if Boaz did just happen to mention the extra burden of potential inheritance disputes from Noami’s family in order to get him to back down (less of a threat to Boaz being “a man of great wealth”). Boaz had already shown some of this honorableness when he previously told the men in his fields not to touch Ruth (and of the dangerous times when a lone woman could end up raped while working in the fields).

Jesus himself again testifies in our reading today and He was received (as they had seen his miracles and believed). John later tells us in Revelation that Jesus waits at the door with ointment for our eyes, but waiting at the door implies that we must first ask him in or go to Him (as the father humbly does for the health of his son). Satan, on the other hand, will proudly walk right into our life. Jesus, however, does not go the man’s home in order to show that the trip back was not necessary demonstrating that God does not always answer our prayers with the means and methods we expect (and He rebuked them for a faith that required the earlier miracles of 2:1 while the Samaritans did not). Here the sickness of the son resulted in the piety and new faith of the entire family. The boy was cured about 1:00pm, 17-20 miles away in Capernaum and yet the use of “yesterday” suggests the man remained in Cana an extra day proving he did not need to see what happened. Jesus gives one of the basic reasons why people will not believe: they want to see signs. Long distance miracles were rare in the OT and people generally more easily believe magicians when they were in person. Keep in mind, though, that Satan is able to perform signs and wonders to deceive (2 Thes 2:9-10). Compare this story with the similar one with a centurion in Capernaum from Matthew 8:5-13. Today’s Psalms calls us to praise and remember God’s wondrous works including the first covenant and the lives of Joseph, Moses, and David.

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