Questions from the book of Ruth

During the month of June, we are looking at the book of Ruth in the Bible. The story of Ruth in the ancient scriptures is incredibly relevant for us today. When Boaz, the faithful pillar of society, is confronted with the outside foreigner Ruth, he responds in a kind and pious way. He does not chase her away from his field, yet he doesn’t offer her anything except a blessing of hopeful provision from God.

It is the outsider Ruth who challenges Boaz to be more tangibly helpful to a person in her situation. She doesn’t just need a blessing, she needs food and protection. And while Boaz hadn’t kicked her out of the field, he also hadn’t guaranteed that she would be successful in her gleaning efforts.

Ruth subtly and slyly points this out to him, “I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls” (Ruth 2:13) with the result that he catches on and makes sure she receives what she needs.

So Boaz, the good and faithful Israelite, actually needs the voice of the pagan outsider to teach him how to be faithful to the God of whom he invokes blessings. Boaz may have known how to pray for God to do good to the stranger, but it took the stranger to teach Boaz how to make those prayers become actualized.

You can hear very clear echoes of this story in the New Testament book of James, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” -James 2:14

Praying for someone in need is one thing, especially someone like Ruth, the outsider. But what if our faith calls us to more than just wishing people well, and hoping for the best for them? How is an invisible God made visible in the world? It is by the hands and the hearts of those who follow that God.

St. John Chrysostom said “Do you think that the man-loving God has given you much so that you could use it only for your own benefit? No, but so that your abundance might supply the lack of others.”

What is interesting in this story (and perhaps most jarring) is that it takes Ruth (the pagan foreigner) to teach Boaz (the faithful pillar of society) what it means to care for those in need.

The book of Ruth raises all sorts of questions for us.

  • Who are the outsiders that I encounter daily?
  • What is my relationship to them?
  • How am I interacting with them?
  • What do they have to teach me?
  • Am I willing to listen?

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