Some of you may recall that I included Ruth in the series of reflections I wrote a few months ago when we looked at biblical friendships and how we might see aspects of those relationships reflected in the friendships that we have both sustained and formed over this past year.
I make no apology for including her story again. Not only is it one of the most beautiful accounts of love but Ruth, like the other women who we are thinking about this week, is integral to the story of the incarnation.
Ruth’s story is initially embedded in a series of losses. The loss of a sustainable way of life has caused the family that she married into to settle in the land of Moab. More loss ensues with the death of her father in law, Elimilech, her brother in law, Kilion and her own husband Mahlon, leaving the women of the family, Naomi, Ruth and Orpah alone
The expectations of society would have been for Ruth to return to her family, and for her father to try and find her a new husband. But Ruth insists on going with Naomi back to Bethlehem, and it is there that she starts gleaning the harvest in the fields. Boaz, who owns the field, turns out to be a part of the wider family of Elimilech.
Naomi tells Ruth to wait until the night after the threshing and to go and lie down at Boaz’s feet as he lies in his barn and see what he will do. Ruth goes, and when Boaz awakes in the morning, she asks for his protection and Boaz agrees to marry her.
Ruth is a woman of incredible courage and boldness. She shows amazing devotion to Naomi, risking not being able to carry out the traditional woman’s role that was expected of her – her choice to follow Naomi made it extremely unlikely that she would marry or have children. She is moving to a different land, where there was a huge prejudice against Moabites, going back to the story of Lot’s incestuous relationship with his daughters in Genesis and their expulsion to Moab.
Ruth knew she would be treated with great suspicion as a foreign immigrant, yet she puts her own safety aside in order to care for Naomi.
And then Naomi suggests she take it a step further, to wait until Boaz is drunk & asleep, to strip his lower half and lie down beside him. There is much conjecture about what then occurred ,but regardless of what actually happened, if the community had heard of Ruth’s presence in Boaz room that night, they would have assumed impropriety and for Ruth, about the only thing going for her, as a poor foreigner in Israel, is her reputation as a woman who lived her life within sexual bounds. If Boaz chose not to offer her protection, her reputation would also be lost.
But Ruth takes matters into her own hands, and in a hugely patriarchal society, where men make all the moves, Ruth takes the initiative, and suggests that Boaz is responsible for her protection. Ruth and Boaz are then married, and the name of Tamar is then invoked at the blessing of their marriage!
Ruth is the third of our women to have stepped outside the boundaries of acceptable female behaviour in the cause of a greater good. Indeed her story is so remarkable that she is one of only two women in the entire Bible to have a book devoted to her, the other being Esther.
Ruth’s life is embedded by love. The love she has for Naomi, which causes her to put her own safety and wellbeing at risk. The love that develops between her and Boaz that enables them both to see past gender stereotypes and discover the human in each other.
Ruth embodies so much of the Gospel through her unconditional love of others and her sacrificial service for the good of those for whom she cares. Is it any wonder, then, her life was part of God’s plan that His son would be born into the genealogy of which she is such a vital part.
God of Ruth
and all unlikely grandmothers,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
As Ruth devoted herself to Naomi,
and stepped outside the norm,
risking a life of exclusion poverty,
Help us to have compassion on all outsiders,
to love the immigrants, the refugees
and grant us the devotion and generosity of Ruth,
even if it means risking our comfort and our wealth.
We ask this through Jesus Christ,
the light who is coming into the world.