June 19, 2022
Ruth 2: 1-23
When last we were with Naomi and Ruth, they had arrived at Bethlehem just as the city and region were enjoying the first bountiful harvest in years.
The two widows had left Moab because their prospects for the future seemed dim after the deaths of their husbands.
Naomi had decided to return to her native land … Judea … and pleaded with her daughters-in-law … Orpah and Ruth … to return to Moab and to create new families and new lives for themselves.
Naomi tells them that she cannot promise them any future because time is not on her side.
Orpah finally heeds the advice and returns to Moab. Ruth declares her love and commitment for Naomi and the pair continue on with their 80-kilometre journey to Bethlehem.
Today’s passage takes place after they have arrived. But the women’s fortunes aren’t much better than they had been in Moab.
Naomi and Ruth still had to scratch out an existence … they had to find the essential things to survive … like food and a place to stay. But there are some rules in place that make things easier for them … not a lot … but still they are better than nothing.
Workers around the region are busy in the fields … bringing in the abundance of the land after years of scarcity brought on by drought and famine.
As the crop is harvested and stacked into sheaves, it was the law that the poor of the village be allowed to pick up any grain or sheaves that had been left behind.
If a sheave has been forgotten, the law dictated that the landowner had lost it and those gleaning the field can have the windfall of grain.
Ruth offers to go into the fields and glean the barley that has been left behind the reapers working for the local landowners.
Gleaning calls for hard work, being stooped over for hours in the heat of the day, looking hard at the ground to find the elusive kernels of grain. Good reapers must maximize the harvest for their masters, and therefore usually did not leave much behind.
It’s work that carries an element of risk, since the poor and hungry of the area are all trying to get enough food territorial violence over the leftovers of the field frequently occur.
Naomi still has ties to the area … Boaz, a well-off landowner … is related to her late husband and … by coincidence or circumstance … Ruth ends up in a field he owns.
Boaz happens to arrive from Bethlehem, blesses the workers and notices Ruth diligently gleaning in the harvested field.
Boaz offers protection to Ruth by telling her to remain on his field and not to wander to any neighbouring parcels of land.
He tells her to stay with the other women gleaning on his field for safety … and directs her to the best spots to gather the leavings of the reapers.
Not only that, but Boaz makes sure she is fed and hydrated at meal time … an act of care and compassion toward a foreign worker.
Boaz … it seems … has heard what Ruth has done for Naomi and he wants to extend kindness toward her, as well.
It was a productive … a bountiful … day in the field.
When Ruth returns to Naomi that evening, she is lugging about 30 pounds of barley.
Naomi sees the abundance and the sense of emptiness she has been feeling since her sons died is loosening its grip on her heart. She is beginning to find hope again.
The scarcity of the widows’ lives has been eased by Boaz’s compassionate and caring actions.
Like last week’s passage, God doesn’t speak to any of the characters today. God doesn’t appear in the field … as a burning sheave of barley … or on the road from Bethlehem to offer guidance of instruction to the women or to Boaz.
In fact, God does not make a direct appearance in the entire Book of Ruth.
Instead, as Lutheran scholar Kathhryn Schifferdecker once said, “God acts through circumstances and through the faithfulness of ordinary human beings.”
God acts through circumstances and through faith.
In Ruth’s story, the act of ‘hesed’ … god’s covenantal acts … God’s love … comes through human actions.
Boaz offers blessings to his workers when he arrives in the field and then acts to ensure blessings are extended to Ruth … a Moabite … a foreigner working in his field.
As I read through today’s passage, I reflected on a line in a disconcerting email I received from a congregation member earlier this week.
Yesterday, a number of us took part in the Owen Sound Pride Parade and Street Fair … in fact our congregation was among the sponsors of the event … a first for LCOS … and one I hope we repeat in the years to come.
For some, our participation in the event is almost unfathomable … it is a foreign concept to be part of such a celebration of identity.
But I cannot overstate how inspiring the members of our congregational council … and members of our congregation … have been as they recognize that … as a church … as a faith community … we are called to be a presence on the streets of Owen Sound.
It is when a faith community puts boots on the ground … yeah, I know, it was a parade, of course, the boots are on the ground … It is when a faith community puts boots on the ground … that God truly acts in the circumstances and acts through our loving, faith-filled actions … those everyday actions that have love at their very centre.
God is present when we walk with people who have been victimized … with those who have been diminished by the forces of the world … even by members of their own family … and when we stand those we might consider a stranger.
God is present in the circumstances when we are present for a person who is struggling with their identity and fearful of their world’s reaction to that identity.
God’s love is present when we hear their stories … when we affirm their place … when we love them … when we let them know that God’s blessings … God’s unconditional love is their’s as well.
In the times when we do this, we … like Boaz … perform a ‘hesed’ … and hope overwhelms despair and fear.
And that is when the abundance we have known is fully and truly shared and carried off within the hearts of others like pounds of barley from the field … a bountiful harvest of grace for all.