There are crazy couples everywhere. Couples that should never be together (anyone who has ever married a Kardashian); couples that have their pictures, and their babies on national television (Prince William and Kate Middleton). Desi and Lucy.
But bridging the gap between the displaced Adam and Eve, and the highly respected Joseph and Mary are the couple that almost wasn’t: Boaz and Ruth.
Earlier, we reflected on the way that Ruth and Naomi wound up together, exploring homelessness together, as two widows trying to make their way in the world. Sure, they had each other, but that won’t make them last long. So, wise, old Naomi steers them toward an unmarried man who was a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband.
Ruth gleans after Boaz’s servants, picking up the grain that they don’t want. And she impresses them by working hard all day long. Again, her perseverance pushes her to their attention. Ultimately, that first impression causes Boaz to give her his blessing: he tells her she can freely glean, that she can have water from his men’s supply, and that no one will mess with her, even though she is a foreigner. Because of the way he has heard she cared for Naomi. Time passes, and Boaz instructs his men to leave more than just the leftovers for Ruth. His desire to take care of Ruth and Naomi exceeds the expectations for his familial obligation, just to let her serve.
So, one day, Naomi plays matchmaker. She tells Ruth, you’ve lived here long enough; you need to find a man who will take care of you. And Boaz seems like a good choice. Naomi tells Ruth all of the things to do to set up the right situation for sharing her intentions with Boaz, and in the middle of the night, he recognizes that she is there at his feet!
Ruth claims Boaz as her guardian-redeemer, and he in turn, blesses her in return: “The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.”
Boaz’ actions show an honorable protection of Ruth, one that we’ll see echoed later in Joseph’s care for Mary when he finds that she is miraculously pregnant with Jesus. He goes to the city gate where the men met every morning, and allowed the other relative to state whether he would care for Naomi and Ruth. Initially, the man wanted to claim it because he would inherit Naomi’s land from her dead husband Elimelech. This was the man who should’ve been Ruth’s husband, her second husband after the death of the first. But when the man realized that he would also have to marry Ruth, and that her children’s right to his inheritance might threaten his own children’s inheritance, he gave up his right to Boaz.
The men exchanged a sandal so that they now had one of their own sandals, and one of the other’s on their feet. To walk a mile in someone else’s shoes seems to take on a whole new meaning does it not? There is something uncomfortable, and not quite right about having on two different kinds of shoes. But it showed the way that their covenanted bond, their agreement could not be forgotten because of the constant reminder.
So Boaz takes Ruth as his wife and they have a child named Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David.
And suddenly, Ruth, that widowed woman from Moab, goes from being a nobody who sacrificed her home, her second chance at marriage, her people, and her customs, because she believed in Naomi and what she stood for…. is now somebody.
God, who had proved over and over to not be a god of place or of a time, has shown that he is not a god of a particular people, or a particular style, or a particular origin. God has adopted a Moabite woman, who did things differently, who did not even start out this journey in a household of believers, into the process of the genealogy of the line that would change Israel and Judah forever.
A widowed woman, without line or worth socially, became the great grandmother of David, the first king of Israel chosen by God. Now, we’ll spend some time talking about David the next two weeks, but just soak that in. If Ruth’s first husband doesn’t die, if his dad doesn’t move the family from Israel to Moab in the first place, Ruth doesn’t meet Naomi to follow her back to become Boaz’ wife. If Boaz doesn’t take pity on Ruth, if Boaz isn’t the kind of man he proves to be, he doesn’t marry Ruth, and Ruth never has Obed, who never has Jesse, who never has David.
And where does the king of Israel come from then?
Take it a step further and read through the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1, and see that Ruth plays a role in the coming of Jesus that shows how extraordinary it is when God sets in motion a plan for the good of all people.
Ruth, the unbelieving Moabite who converted to following Yahweh God because of Naomi’s witness, who married Boaz because he was just, compassionate, and gracious, becomes a great great great grandmother of Jesus (throw in a few more greats). An outsider of infinite proportions, both as a widow and a Gentile non-believer, became part of the story by which God brought salvation to our world.
We celebrate as part of our understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ that God’s redeeming power in our world takes outsiders and makes them insiders. We recognize that God’s love exceeds all of our biases about race, gender, sexuality, class, and origin. God’s love uses the tragedy of a lost husband and the isolation of a foreign country to lift up a faithful woman who would connect two disparate, opposite peoples in the family tree of the one and only son of God, Jesus.
Jesus isn’t just for Israel. Jesus isn’t just the immaculate conception in an Israelite girl by the great God of the universe. Jesus is a culmination of centuries of God’s grace shining through people and raising up leaders, bringing people into relationship who were obedient, and ready to answer the call. God showed that his desire for the world and for his kingdom was one of community, of providing a place eternally where outsiders become insiders, where those who have been excluded are made whole in the community of faith.
Here the good news: God saw you on the outside, surrounded by your sin, infected by the sicknesses of pride, of envy, of gossip, of anger, of isolation, and God sent Jesus so that all of those things would be wiped away. All of this effort was put into motion with the falling away of the perfection of Eden, as the human condition existed outside of God’s perfect plan.
And it came to fruition because one foreign widow saw the good and the holy in an old Israelite widow. Because a holy, upright Israelite man did what was right. Because when the moment came, they responded boldly to the call. Because they were ready when they needed to be. Which begs the question…
What is your role to play? Are you supposed to be obedient and go, breaking through your own comfort and security to follow God to a new place, a new situation? Or are you already there, and it’s your responsibility to do what is right, to welcome in the outcast, and to establish that society can be different and spectacular? Did you come here today searching for something, believing that all hope was lost, grasping onto anything that might support you even for a moment?
Know this: God’s kingdom is greater than anything we could ever establish here on earth, but that should not prevent us from trying. There are many who feel abandoned and alone, and they need to hear words of comfort. There are many who have wandered far from home and need to be welcomed back into the community.
Jesus says in Matthew 25 that when we are all called for our accounting of how we’ve lived our lives, that he will say, “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”
Will you prepare your hearts to see each hungry, thirsty, homeless, sick, imprisoned stranger as the Christ among us? Will you rise to the occasion and create community, right here?
Our world needs drastic, crazy, ridiculous change. Change that occurs when one life is lived, differently. When one person looks at their own life and speaks brutal honesty into it: “You can do more. You have more to give. You were loved and given so much so that you could love and give so much away.”
Ruth and Boaz, one crazy couple, who created community out of nothing, and made a world different just by responding when the moment was right.