The Hidden Secret in Shavuot
The breaking down of walls that divide us is the greatest demonstration of the Messianic Hope.
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As we mark Shavuot here in Israel today, I want to suggest that there is a hidden meaning in this unique festival, celebrated by Jews and Christians, but often overlooked.
From the beginning of creation it has always been God’s intention for humanity to live together in love and harmony. This is the hope of the prophets, a time when the nations of the earth will war no more, and the peoples we will live in Shalom.
This is the meaning of the New Jerusalem, the “City of Shalom.” When we are commanded to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” we are invoking the prophets’ vision of a time and a place when all humanity will live together, Jew and Gentile.
The breaking down of walls that divide us is the greatest demonstration of the Messianic Hope. Of all the mighty works the Messiah does, be they miracles, healings, revelation, or divine guidance, all of which were present in Israel before the Messiah came, it is his honor alone to bring the nations together as one according to the prophets.
This is the promise of Jeremiah’s “New Covenant” when “everyone will know the Lord,” and the nations are joined together in the seed of Abraham to become the family of God (31). The Apostle Paul says this is the “mystery” of the Messiah (Eph. 3).
What does Ruth have to do with Shavuot?
During Shavuot we read the Scroll of Ruth, a story about foreigners embracing one another.
Ruth was a women in need. Her husband had died. She was poor with no one to protect her. She was a stranger living in a foreign land, not unlike a refugee.
Boaz is well off. He is a landowner, a man of good reputation and secure within his family. In Israel he is at home in his land, language, culture.
Yet, Boaz takes Ruth as his wife to be her “kinsman redeemer” according to the Torah commandments which insure her a family, a hope and a future. This story is about caring for the foreigner which more than anything reflects the character of God who throughout scripture always gives special attention to the widow, orphan and foreigner.
And this is the story of the Messiah through whom God has taken us to be His bride. He does not look at our strangeness. He does not care that we are poor, weak or helpless. He is willing to overlook our sinfulness and become our redeemer.
In this marriage we are covered, which is symbolized by the Jewish wedding chuppah where we come under the blessing and protection of the Lord himself.
God choosing the outcast and foreigner davka, or on purpose just to make a point as we say in Hebrew, teaches us about the vulnerability of faith which is not something that can be gained by military might, nor can redemption be achieved through power, strength, technology or intelligence.
It is a gospel known by the weak and needy and must be handled with care. There is a beauty in the Messiah’s Spirit that was given on Shavuot, the Day of Pentecost, to the disciples gathered in Jerusalem from many nations and tongues. It is like a butterfly. When handled too roughly it dies and cannot fly. When its brilliance goes unnoticed or unappreciated, we are left with our black and white view of the world.
The God of Israel is known as a “father to the fatherless.” The One who does impossible things with impossible people.
Like the prodigal son who takes his father’s money and goes off and wastes it all on sex, alcohol and gambling. And when he has nothing and is working on a pig farm, he realizes that he could get a better meal just by going back home. There is no sign that he is sorry for what he has done. No inspired motive, no prayer. He just wants to get a good hot meal, and the father welcomes him into his home with open arms. There is no lecture about what a bad boy he has been. No “well you can stay but don’t do it again.” Not a sign of mistrust or anger. Just welcome home.
This is how Ruth feels when Boaz takes her in. This is how we all feel when we understand the incomprehensible love of God which “keeps no record of wrong.” Her full reward was to “come to a people you did not know” (2:11).
He who makes peace in His heavens, may He make peace for all of us, and upon all Israel. Amen.
In these difficult days of war and rumors of war, we pray this prayer representing hope for peace in this world, which is recited at the end of the Amidah, the central prayer of the Jewish liturgy.
The renowned commentator Rashi explains that the word for ‘heaven,’ shamayim (שמים), is derived from the words I (אש), ‘fire,’ and mayim (מים), ‘water,’ as the two came together in harmony to make up the heavens (Genesis 1:8). At times it seems that just as fire and water cannot coexist, mankind will never be able to live together harmoniously. Nevertheless, we beseech the God of Israel to make peace on earth just He has made peace between fire and water in the heavens.