Stump is an Advent blogging project of Claremont Presbyterian Church. It’s 30 days of posts exloring the symbolism of The Jesse Tree by members of the CPC family far and wide.
In the Old Testament book of Ruth, Naomi and Ruth, both widows, migrate from the land of Moab, Ruth’s homeland, to the land of Boaz, Naomi’s kinsman and home to Bethlehem. Boaz offers Ruth, a Moabite, gleaning privileges (following the harvesters and picking the stray grains of barley), protection and a means of livelihood at the time of the harvest. What begins as a tender account of a mother-in-law/daughter-in-law friendship becomes a commentary on the relationship between a wealthy Israelite landowner and a poor Moabite foreigner.
This journey to Bethlehem and the marriage between Boaz and Ruth that produces a son, nestled by Naomi and named Obed by the neighborhood women, links Ruth to a line of inheritance from Jesse to David to the Messiah – the shoot that arises from the stump of Jesse so poetically iterated in Isaiah 11: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him…with righteousness he shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.”
In the early 80’s members of our church, CPC, led by then assistant pastor, Stephen Williams, visited a project in the San Diego/Tijuana area, Los Ninos, which employed gleaning as a practice to feed those incarcerated in the Tijuana jail. Los Ninos volunteers picked/gleaned oranges supplied by affluent ranchers on the US side of the border and then ventured into Tijuana to the jail to supplement the prisoners’ daily provision of tortillas and beans with citrus.
The jail, reportedly, was a three story structure with cells on each level surrounding a courtyard where family members and volunteers could thrust food through the bars and engage prisoners in conversation.
Our son, Jim, in between college graduation and employment, made several trips to Los Ninos as a volunteer, gleaning oranges and visiting the Tijuana jail. It was an eye opening and jolting experience: the sights, the sounds, the odors, the 12 prisoners to a cell, the incessant screaming, the daily hosing of the cells from the third tier to the first, the offal pouring down into the courtyard.
Many of the inhabitants of the jail were refugees from Central America, our Contra supported war under the Reagan administration. With few places offering asylum, the jail proved to be a refuge of sorts and was a visible demonstration of our Central American policy that affected the poor and vulnerable. Not so different today is the immigration from Central America, parents and children attempting to cross from Mexico into the US to escape grinding poverty and violence.
One memorable day Jim was offering an orange through the bars of a cell to the eagerly outstretched hand of a prisoner. In a moment of solidarity, the man took the orange, peeled it, and then offered Jim a slice through the bars. He and this unknown prisoner stood on either side of the iron barrier sharing the orange and metaphorically journeying to Bethlehem.
For Christians, God’s “preferential option for the poor”, embodied in the life of Jesus, challenges us to address the inequities and contradictions that have barred the immigrant strangers, the millions, who have been in our midst for so long, and to accomplish transformative institutional change.
For this it is necessary to journey to Bethlehem and to be political.
Elsie Harber is a retired teacher from the Pomona Unified School District and a member of Claremont Presbyterian Church for 45 years. She lives at Pilgrim Place where she participates in two writing groups.