Summary: The world needs Boazes, who will see others as ntext-of-kin who create opportunities for ministry, not merely depersonalizing obligations.
It’s summertime, and various ones have been telling me about their vacations and their trips. One thing I keep hearing over and over again is the phrase, "family reunion". Lots and lots of you have attended family reunions.
Now there are family reunions and there are family reunions. For Margaret and me, family reunion is being able on rare occasions to orchestrate both of our grownup and living-in-apartments children arriving at the house at the same time we are there. If four of us can spend ten minutes at the same address, that’s a family reunion for us.
But for others of you, family reunion has a whole different flavor. It means gathering at sane homestead location, maybe a family farm under the Carolina blue sky, with relatives gathering from all over the country, sporting tee-shirts and baseball caps and carrying photo albums. It means rounds of fried chicken and piles of barbecued pork, which none of you should be eating, but, hey, it’s family reunion time, and all the rules are off! For some, I’ve discovered, to my astonishment, family reunion even means organizing and electing officers and incorporating the family almost as if it were a business. Family reunion is a great institution.
But there is something else that I know takes place at these family reunions, and that is the business of figuring out exactly how we are related to each other. I know we’ re both here at the family reunion, and so we are related, but how? Are you descended from George or from William? And if it was from William, are you descended from his first wife or his second wife? And if you and I are cousins, are we second cousins or third cousins and how many times removed are we? Frankly, I’ve never understood that business of cousins so many times removed, have you? Now I do have some cousins I would like to have removed, but just once ought to do it!
Well, the name of the game at family reunions is figuring out how close kin we are. In Kentucky we defined that as determining who you could count as "kissing cousins".
But I will tell you that there is one infallible way of finding out who your close relatives are. There is one way that never fails at bringing the nearest and dearest out of the woodwork. All you have to do is to arrange to die and without a will. Then all of a sudden there will be a score and more of folks who loved you dearly and who are your next-of-kin, most definitely! If you want to know who your next-of-kin are, just die and wait and they’ll all be there!
One day, long ago, it became very important, in a situation much like that, to determine who was next-of-kin and how he would behave. Just who is your next-of-kin and what is your responsibility toward that person? The lovely Old Testament story of Ruth instructs us.
Ruth was a young widow, a native of the land of Moab, who had come to the town of Bethlehem in the land of Judah along with her mother-in-law, Naomi, also a widow. They had left Moab and come to Judah because Naomi wanted to be among her own people, where she did have at least a little property and where she knew she could be taken care of reasonably well in her old age. Ruth, however, had cane to Judah simply to be with her mother-in-law. She had no reason to suppose that in this strange land she would have any privileges whatsoever; in fact, she must have known that her financial survival would be precarious. But Ruth came to Bethlehem in the land of Judah out of sheer loyalty and love for Naomi.
The first order of business, of course, was to stay alive. Get enough to eat to survive. And so Ruth went gleaning. The law said that an indigent widow could glean, that is,
she could go to a field where they were harvesting the crops, and she could pick up whatever the farmers dropped or left behind. That was her right, by law.
Out in the fields there labored a man named Boaz. An exceptionally gentle and honest man, Boaz noticed this new woman gleaning in the fields. He asked who she was and found that she was Ruth, the widow of his kinsman.
Boaz’s response was quick and generous. Boaz left orders that Ruth not only be given the privilege that was hers by law, but, in fact, that she be given an advantage. Not only were the workmen not to disturb her gleaning, they were to drop sane extra grain along the way, so that she would have plenty to pick up. I guess you might call this the world’s first affirmative action program!