Summary: Modern Christians can learn a lot from Ruth’s commitment to her mission.
Our call to worship this morning is a good reminder of one of the great truths of the Old Testament: The Jewish faith was inextricably linked to the bloodline and family tree of the Hebrew People. The punch line of story of Ruth is that she ends up being the great-grandmother of the Great King David. We sort of gave short shrift to Ruth last week, but remember, we said her story was one that encouraged the Jewish people to view their faith as a gift to the world – an ever-widening circle of faith that didn’t turn their backs on other people, but rather embraced them, literally as new blood.
All of that sounds like common sense, and it doesn’t seem to us that there is a whole lot of reason to write a book of the Bible about a woman just because she marries into the Jewish faith. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. Ruth is a Moabite. She was the wife of a Hebrew man, but when he died, Ruth’s link to the Hebrew people died with him.
Ruth’s decision to move to the land of the Hebrews and to be among them was remarkable because the Moabites were among the people SPECIFICALLY excluded from the company of the Hebrews. Along with emasculated males and those born illegitimate, Deuteronomy says, “No Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord, even to the tenth generation none of them shall enter the assembly of the Lord for ever.”
So Ruth is an outsider, persona non grata, a stranger in a strange land. There weren’t any food pantries or soup kitchens in those days, but poor people were allowed to go out into the fields after the reapers had been through and take whatever was left behind. Ruth was about this task when the landowner Boaz spots her, asks who she is, and then tells his servants to let her take grain from the harvested sheaves, not just the picked over fields. Boaz is the 4th c. BC equivalent of the businessman who orders a cup of coffee, then leaves a twenty and tells the waitress to keep the change.
That puts the ball in Ruth’s court. She gets cleaned up, puts on her best clothes, then goes and spies on Boaz while he is having a sort of harvest festival meal.
After Boaz has had a big meal and plenty of wine, he goes and lies down on a heap of grain, and while the lights are out, Ruth sneaks in and lies down with him. In the middle of the night Boaz wakes up and – quoting here – “BEHOLD, a woman lay at his feet!”
This is the real climax of the story. Ruth’s behavior is VERY bold, downright brazen, in fact. When my girlfriend Deb read this story, she said, “This is pretty scandalous!” No kidding. Imagine a wealthy businessman dozing on the patio some warm late-summer evening, then being joined in the hammock or chaise or what-have-you by a poor but nicely turned-out young widow.
Ruth is taking a huge risk here. Boaz knows her, but just barely. He doesn’t know who Ruth is, what her past is, or what her intentions are. All he knows is what a servant told him – she came here with her mother-in-law, and she is a Moabite.
Based on what he knows and what has happened up to this moment, Ruth might be in big trouble. Boaz could probably have her run out of town on charges of trespassing alone. But in the end, Boaz is touched that, while there are many younger, cuter, even wealthier men than he is, Ruth has chosen him. He marries Ruth, they become the great-grandparents of the mighty King David, and they live happily ever after.
Now, WHY have I gone through that whole story? Because, the next time you hear the word EVANGELISM, I want you to think of Ruth. These days, we think of evangelism as something along the lines of advertising. We choose a demographic, we choose a target audience, we choose a message, and then we ADVERTISE. We run it up the flag-pole and we see who salutes. If they do, great. If not, eh, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
But that is not the way to respond to our savior, who gave his all to save us from sin and death. If we are going to carry the Gospel into the world and expect it to make any difference, we are going to have to take some chances.
Ruth didn’t advertise – she made a commitment. She pursued Boaz with everything she had, to be accepted or rejected for who she was. Like Ruth, and like the widow in out Gospel reading, WE have to answer God’s call with everything we have – “our whole living.”