Columbia Pictures 1996 movie Fly Away Home told the story of a young girl who finds a catch of geese eggs. When they hatch the orphaned geese imprint themselves on her. She ends up teaching them to follow her ultralight and thus learn to migrate with other birds. As cute as the story is, it's actually based on the real life experience of William Lishman, who actually tried to do this and finally succeeded in 1988.
Imprinting happens as a newly hatched bird perceives a suitable moving object as it's parents and follows it around. Observed in the 19th century, it was Konrad Lorenz who popularized the concept with his research and videos geese following his wading boots around. Among humans the same type of behavior takes place but we call it "bonding". It is at work as an infant comes to recognize the voices and touch of their parents. Imprinting has a great deal to say about our identity from a very early age. The question is can it be changed and if so how?
If you think political disagreements among followers of God is new think again for we have in Matthew a group of people who are trying to put Jesus in a no-win situation. It's a pretty simple question, "should a Jew pay taxes?" Some thought all taxes were wrong and others felt it was better to go along with Rome in little things in order to keep their temple in place. Jesus asks for one of the coins that were used to pay the taxes with and asks whose picture is on it. The coins used were minted by Tiberius and around his likeness was the phrase, "Tiberius Caesar son of divine Augustus son of Augustus". Jesus then gives the advise most people have heard, "render to Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto Got that which is God's."
Like those coins we are stamped, imprinted and emblazoned with a mark of ownership. Before we knew Christ it was a mark of sin and death. It was self-interest, my wants and my way. With Christ, there is a new mark. We are marked as belonging to God. We who were enemies of God have become "friends of God." That's a pretty powerful transformation. Yet, it is a transformation that is played out in how we live not what we say. Our recent travels through Peter's first letter illustrates this quite well. Marked by God, God expects us to live with a sense of humility and genuine love for other believers and the world around us, even though times are difficult.
Ruth gives us another example of what new imprinting brings. She's a great example of how to live out a simple trust in God and of how God uses seemingly insignificant things to accomplish things we could never imagine.
Ruth isn't Jewish. Her husband was Jewish. Her father-in-law was Jewish but she's a Gentile. She doesn't share the same history that Israel has. She doesn't understand the heart gripping power of the Exodus story and of God's provision. But then again, she was too busy trying to survive in her world.
In short time her father-in-law; brother-in-law and her own husband dies. Those who were pledged to care for this young woman and for her widowed mother-in-law are gone. There are no social agencies to whom they can run. There are no food stamps, rental assistance or low cost rentals available. Naomi, Ruth's mother-in-law, decides to return to Israel and seek help from distant relatives. She doesn't seem that certain what she'll find. She only knows that this is the only hope she has.
In the process of returning Ruth and her sister-in-law, Orpha announce they'll go too. It doesn't take much convincing for Orpha to change her mind but Ruth's is made up. She convinces Naomi when she says, "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried." She is betting her entire future on following a woman who is equally distraught but whose history teaches about a God who loves and cares for those who trust Him. Ruth wants that and needs that type of God.
I find it interesting that once back in Bethlehem, Naomi, the woman who knows God, changes her own name to Mara or Bitter. Although she may know the stories there is something seriously missing from her experience of God's love. She can't get away from the bitterness that she believes God has caused.
Ruth, the gentile, takes it upon herself to care for this embittered older woman, in the process she comes to the attention of Boaz, and eventually becomes the great-grandmother of King David.
Here's how all of this relates to stewardship. Stewardship is about living our whole life for God, at God's direction and in obedience to His Word. Giving money is only an aspect of being Christ's steward. In our culture, because of the power we've given to money it's a pretty significant aspect but it's still just one aspect. Stewardship also touches relationships, use of our time, the way we treat the world around us and other people. It's seen in the way we carry out those practices needed to grow in Jesus—prayer, studying God's Word and caring for others.
When we take steps to let the Holy Spirit move us in these directions we're going to discover something amazing. The old imprinting of sin begins to be replaced by the new mark of God's ownership. It happens as we become sensitive to God's moving and as we are offered places to step out in faith and obedience. Will be imprinted with the faith of Ruth of the bitterness of Naomi? Will we be marked by the world's sense of importance or be used by the Lord to change our world generations later, the choice really is ours.