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Naked Unashamed: Sex

Ruth 3:6-11

6So she went down to the threshing-floor and did just as her mother-in-law had instructed her. When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and he was in a contented mood, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came quietly and uncovered his feet, and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and there, lying at his feet, was a woman! He said, ‘Who are you?’ And she answered, ‘I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin.’ He said, ‘May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; this last instance of your loyalty is better than the first; you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not be afraid; I will do for you all that you ask, for all the assembly of my people know that you are a worthy woman.

Ruth 4:9-17

Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, ‘Today you are witnesses that I have acquired from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, to be my wife, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance, in order that the name of the dead may not be cut off from his kindred and from the gate of his native place; today you are witnesses.’ Then all the people who were at the gate, along with the elders, said, ‘We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you produce children in Ephrathah and bestow a name in Bethlehem; and, through the children that the Lord will give you by this young woman, may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.’

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.’ Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighbourhood gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi.’ They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.

We’ve spent the last few weeks reflecting on our original blessing- that we were created in the beginning...naked and were unashamed. We have faithfully explored God’s place and work within the witness of the Bible and its implications for our own personal expressions and experiences of intimacy, desire, and pleasure. We have parsed out distinctions between that which is destructive or distractive or hollowing, and that which builds connection, knowing, honesty, vulnerability, love, generosity, shalom, and life-giving wholeness.  And now, we conclude our series with a consideration of the intersections of God and the Gospel and sex. 


The story of Ruth and Naomi and Boaz takes place in the middle of the wisdom writings of the Bible. It is rich with meaning and a turning point in the story of God’s people. A little bit of backstory. Naomi and her husband together have two sons and they grow up and both get married. Tragedy strikes and Naomi’s husbands dies, as well as her sons, leaving her a widow and her daughters in law without husbands as well. All this means that not only are they heartbroken... their only means of housing, provisions, and safety are gone. They are widows with nothing and so they have to go into survival mode. Securing survival for one person is hard enough, but three at the same time is even more difficult. The daughters-in-law have no legal obligation or even moral to Naomi and she tells them to go seek out their own well being apart from her. So one of the young women leaves back to her home country to find some way to live. It’s just more practical. And yet, Ruth chooses loyalty to Naomi, a woman she does not technically owe anything to and whom might actually slow her down. This is where we read the commitment verses used often in both Jewish and Christian weddings: where you go, I will go...your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Ruth chooses to live her life next to Naomi. 

But now, they have to figure out what kind of life that will be. Much of Jewish law dictates the importance of protecting and caring for those who are vulnerable. It prescribes a means by which such vulnerable women would be cared for. It says that the dead husband’s next of kin (a brother or cousin or other even distant relative) would take them for his own responsibility.  And so Naomi makes moves to get Ruth in front of her well-off relative Boaz, by getting her a job working in one of his fields. And so these women must migrate to survive, they take on the work of generations of immigrants, laborers in our farms and fields. They are foreigners in this new land, but not just any foreigners either. Ruth is from Moab. She’s a Moabite and female – and at the time there was this xenophobic stereotype of that such women are lude, promiscuous, and so unworthy of a place at any decent table. The virgin/whore complex goes way back. But Ruth is neither virgin nor whore, she is Ruth and she part of God’s redeeming work in the world. 


Over time, Naomi advises Ruth to strategically keep her visible and desirable to Boaz, making sure she’ll get noticed by him. After they’ve built some rapport, trust even, possibly something resembling flirtation... Naomi tells Ruth its time to take action. In the midst of the harvest season - a time of hard work and yet a relative lightheartedness...Ruth goes to the threshing floor (a place where women were certainly not allowed to be), in the middle of the night, after the men had been drinking. And then she lies with him. We’ll get to some of these  problematic details in a bit. 

For now, we have to understand that the biblical text is full of double entendre that is clearly intended to reflect sexuality. The harvest setting points to fertility. The word “feet” is a common Jewish euphemism for genetalia so when she uncovers his “feet”...she’s not checking out his pedicure. To lie down, especially to lie down with another is a phrase that is the literary equivalent to the scene in a movie where two people with ragged breath and eyes focused intensely on one another simply close the bedroom door in front of the camera while the screen fades to black and we all just assume what happened next. 

 In a similar way, much of the language’s double meaning points to the heart of this encounter. There is vulnerability. The word “uncover” is the same as revelation. There is a deep knowing shared between these two people, and that knowing is physical, relational, existential. Boaz says to Ruth that “you have not gone after young men”, He feels seen, known, and embraced with heart and body. He also gives voice to seeing, knowing, and valuing Ruth as “a worthy woman.” He doesn’t bestow this title on her but acknowledges that it was already there. And yet, saying it out loud creates a more equitable balance between them. 

But our story does not end there. We skipped forward a bit in our reading to when these two eventually get married and what that union means. But in between the threshing floor and the marriage reception, it’s Boaz’ turn to use his power and privilege to . He’s actually NOT the first-up next of kin. There’s actually a closer family member that would be eligible and essentially gets first dibs.  So Boaz does a little jig to convince the ACTUAL next of kin that marrying Ruth and taking on Naomi might be too much trouble, but it’s their decision to make. It’s a scene out of every movie ever where the kids conspire and convince prospective home buyers that house is devastatingly haunted, but you know a great location, totally available for sale, we totally don’t mind letting it go…..

Boaz basically Beetlejuices the next of kin so he can step in as next of next of kin. And it works. 

As mature people of faith, we have to acknowledge the ways in which this sacred story IS problematic. We don’t hear much about how RUTH actually feels and thinks about this plan and encounter – perhaps she truly loves Boaz, perhaps she is acting out of love and loyalty for her mother-in-law, perhaps those are all overly-romanticized interpretations and perhaps she is just trying to survive.  There is a vast imbalance of power in the relationship between Boaz and Ruth, that makes this entire situation dangerous. On the threshing floor, sex and sexuality are used as tools of deception and manipulation for the sake of necessity. But that still does not cast shame on Naomi or Ruth, but on the reflection of an unjust society that leaves the vulnerable with few choices but to hustle for their most basic needs. 

And yet, even these problematic parts are the story are true to life. Sometimes sex lets us down. Sometimes it isn’t as magical as they told us it would be. Sometimes people of faith have told us that if we follow all their sex rules…we’ll be satisfied, and sometimes that’s just not true.  Sometimes sex is reduced and used as a means of power and even harm. Sometimes we mistakenly place our hope in the thing itself rather than what it points to, only to be disappointed when it does not automatically fix broken relationships. 

And yet…sex can also be a means of liberation, of redemption. And yet it can connect people across gender and race and nationality. And yet it has a purpose and place beyond procreation. And yet a thing that can sometimes be reduced to an object or tool can also be elevated to a gift and blessing. 


For Ruth and Naomi, it is what saves them from destitution and starvation. For us, the coming together of Ruth and Boaz also has salvific power. Through sex, Ruth will become the grandmother of David, who...through sex, begets a line of descendants that leads to Jesus. Sexuality is the means by which not just two foreign and vulnerable women are saved but in which redemption is born for the whole world, for the ends of the earth and through the end of time. 

Perhaps this grants us the grace to find peace in our nakedness - in being seen, known and loved - by ourselves as much as by others. Oh that we would have that same blessing in our relationships - unashamed of the intimacy, desire, pleasure, and sex that not just produces offspring but that give us life - in heart, body, and soul as a reflection of God’s gospel promise that we might have life and life abundant. That we would see and know and love God in our wholeness, including our sexuality. That the redemptive and revolutionary love of God might be revealed in all corners of our lives, but especially those that we thought were beyond the reach of divine love. This is our prayer and our hope and it is the good news of the kingdom of God which is at hand. Amen. 

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