YEAR B: PENTECOST 23
November 8, 2009
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
The story of Ruth concludes today with two selections. They give a sense of the story line while passing over some of the detail. They also help integrate the story of Ruth into the larger hope of one to come who is a descendant of David. This one we recognise in the person of Jesus. It is instructive to read the sections of Ruth not included in the lectionary.
Ruth 2 develops the story of the two central characters, Naomi and Ruth. It is a story of hardship and desperate times. In order to survive, even in Naomi’s homeland, they have to rely on both their own ingenuity and on the charity of others. Eventually Ruth, the younger of the two and the more able physically, comes to glean in a field belonging to Boaz, a wealthy relative of Naomi. The reading today picks up with Naomi telling Ruth of her plan to make the most of this opportunity. The plan involves the deception of Boaz. Ruth is to lie down next to Boaz when he has eaten and become drunk after the winnowing. To ‘uncover the feet’ could have sexual connotations and the plan seems to be one in which Boaz is to be made to believe that he has taken sexual advantage of Ruth. At the same time the story does not indicate that anything in fact happened between the Ruth and Boaz. All that has to be achieved is to make Boaz think something has. Boaz, being an upright man (see 2:9-16) and knowing Ruth’s reputation (2:11; 3:10) will ‘do the right thing’ by her, which means marry her even though such is not legally demanded of him. But one obstacle needs to be dealt with first. There is one, who remains unnamed in the story, who is closer in kinship to Naomi and Ruth than Boaz, and who needs to be given the first option of marriage. In a way the whole story has focused around the issue of family heritage. That was the point of Naomi’s pleading with her daughters-in-law back in 1:9-13. When Naomi speaks of Ruth’s security in 3:1 (cf. 1:8) she is talking about securing a family for her - a husband and children.
The rest of Ruth 3 tells of the execution of Naomi’s scheme, of Boaz’s response and, in Ruth 4, of dealing with the unnamed relative, who in the end is not willing to take up his kinship responsibility for Ruth. In the second half of today’s reading Ruth marries Boaz and bears a son to him. The focus then shifts back to Naomi and her grandson. The women of the neigbourhood bless the Lord, who it is clear has been the silent mover behind the scene for both good and ill. They speak of one who will be ‘a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age’. It is unclear whether the women speak of the Lord or Boaz or the baby boy. Indeed, this ambiguity may well be deliberate. We see from the women naming the child and the small genealogical note in v. 17, that the child will be the grandfather of David, who in some traditions becomes the ancestor of a messiah to come. The sense of ‘a restorer of life’ is not only in terms of the immediate story, i.e. one who secures the future for Naomi and Ruth, but also of one who restores the future life of the nation. Both divine and human factors are involved in that. So the story of Ruth and Naomi is not just a tale of loyalty from the past, but one of hope for the future of Israel. Ruth’s loyalty and devotion are not only examples of personal qualities to be emulated by others in faithfulness and righteousness. They are qualities which, with the recognition of and trust in a God who works occasionally behind the scenes in favour of life (1:6; 4:13), shape the secure future of a whole nation.
This reading leads us toward the end of our Christian year and the celebration of Christ as king, or of the reign of Christ. In our tradition Jesus has been seen as the descendant of David (Matt 1:2-16; Luke 1:27). David’s role as king also points to the reign of Jesus over all, although in these days when monarchs are no longer that influential in our lives other metaphors might prove more instructive.
But we also ought to note in our Australian context, with questions of security in a seemingly insecure world, and with issues of building a peaceful and welcoming society, that these are issues dealt with in this short story. Security ultimately comes, in this story, through faith in God and through the loyal commitment of people to others. That applies not only to the one who enters the new society (Ruth), but to those to whom they become attached (Naomi) and those who respond to the plight of the newcomer (Boaz). A sense of mutual commitment is, in light of this story, ultimately the source and mark of divine blessing.
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