Parish Church - Scotland
Parish Church - Scotland
Ruth & Boaz: Strength & Strength
In the church where I was brought up, in the Netherlands, this Sunday is called 'Orphan Sunday'. The reason for that is that this is the Sunday between Jesus' ascension, which was remembered last Thursday and next Sunday's Pentecost, when power from heaven is given to the disciples.
There are ten days between Ascension Day and Pentecost.
Where Jesus in John's Gospel speaks about His ascension, He says to His disciples: 'I will not leave you as orphans'. Yet, between Jesus' parting from them and Pentecost, they may well have felt the loneliness orphans feel. That may therefore well be why Jesus said it, so that when they felt like that, they had His words; His promise they could hold on to.
Orphans and widows are mentioned a lot in Scripture; there is sensitivity for them throughout. They share their vulnerability; their isolation; their dependence on the compassion of the strong. Since Ruth, the Moabite in Bethlehem, is a widow in a strange land, it is appropriate to continue to follow her story today.
Boaz is introduced as a worthy man. An introduction that implies that he has strength, and that is exactly what the name Boaz means: strength is within him. Moreover, this man is a relative of the clan of Elimelech. This connection is crucial; it's the key in the story of Naomi and Ruth, for because of this kinship Boaz has a responsibility for Naomi, while Naomi has the right to turn to him for help.
However, as always in life, things are not straightforward. There are obstacles. There is no contact between Naomi and Boaz. Naomi has this Moabite woman, Ruth, living with her while Moabites are very unwelcome foreigners in Israel. That would be a barrier for Boaz. Another difficulty is that Naomi's bitterness prevents her from seeing the hope in Ruth's promise, to stay with Naomi; to care for her.
Now, while that is the sombre reality for Ruth, she takes action. The beginning of the barley harvest indicates that there is enough bread in Bethlehem, but it has to be put on the table, and Ruth puts herself forward as the breadwinner. She is clearly aware of the laws in Israel. It says:
The same instruction is said in Deuteronomy:
Being aware of these laws, Ruth remains also aware of her status as a Moabite, and therefore she is cautious..., she adds caution to her resoluteness when she says...
Then we come to the point in our passage where it says:
'And behold...' Now, when we hear that in the Bible, we can expect something to happen. It means: pay attention... A change through power from heaven is about to come...the same power that was promised to the disciples when they were told to wait in Jerusalem... The promise from their and our Redeemer...
Ruth the Moabite 'happens' to find herself on his field. And he notices her. Having found out more about her, through his servants, he speaks to Ruth. Two things begin to happen; two things begin to merge and so emerge: Boaz's attraction to Ruth and his care for Naomi, through Ruth.
Ruth is surprised that she gets so much attention from Boaz. She is only a foreigner... But Boaz clarifies by saying to her that he knows what she has done for her mother-in-law Naomi. He doesn't give the other reason for the attention he gives to her... That's his secret: that he is attracted to her.
And so we see that Ruth's strength as it shone through her promise to Naomi; through her courage and through her humility... We see that that strength within Ruth and the strength within Boaz, meet. There in the field, in the meeting between Boaz and Ruth, words that belong to the language of faith, are spoken...
And this repayment from the Lord becomes more and more visible in what Boaz does; in the generosity with which he gives Ruth a place on his field...it goes beyond what, by law, is required from Boaz.
And we hear more, specific faith language, from Naomi, when Ruth comes home and tells Naomi how her day has been, because of Boaz...
For when Naomi hears the name of Boaz, Naomi sees hope... Now, a light begins to shine in the darkness of Naomi's bitterness and hopelessness... There is movement within Naomi, which makes her say:
Naomi feels that the blessing with which Boaz was blessed by the Lord, was going to make Boaz their redeemer.
The blessing on Boaz...long before the blessing on the disciples from their and our Redeemer..., both were the same, blessings given by the same Giver: given for the purpose of practising righteousness...
The Gospel writer Matthew stresses that that practice of righteousness is not something loud...but quiet...humble...coming from, what God sees within each of us, in secret...
When hope broke through Naomi's bitter heart, when she heard from Ruth on whose field Ruth had been working so hard, Naomi could see redemption... What Ruth told her was the sign that Boaz was prepared to be their redeemer.
The strength from above does not lie in what we think it lies; not in what is managed by us; not in what is controlled by ourselves... Strength from above emerges in ways that we cannot imagine...
That is so because God doesn't want us to know how He's going to work in His mysterious ways... What He wants us to know is that He works in His mysterious ways... Meanwhile, He needs us to care and dare...dare be vulnerable in our faith in Him..., a dynamic that we see in Ruth, who took refuge in the shadow of God's wings... It is right there, and nowhere else, that God Himself can add strength to strength and so achieve His purpose.