December 1, 2019
2 Now Na′omi had a kinsman of her husband’s, a man of wealth, of the family of Elim′elech, whose name was Bo′az. 2 And Ruth the Moabitess said to Na′omi, “Let me go to the field, and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3 So she set forth and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Bo′az, who was of the family of Elim′elech. 4 And behold, Bo′az came from Bethlehem; and he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” 5 Then Bo′az said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose maiden is this?” 6 And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “It is the Moabite maiden, who came back with Na′omi from the country of Moab. 7 She said, ‘Pray, let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, without resting even for a moment.”
8 Then Bo′az said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my maidens. 9 Let your eyes be upon the field which they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to molest you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” 10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?” 11 But Bo′az answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12 The Lord recompense you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” 13 Then she said, “You are most gracious to me, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not one of your maidservants.”
14 And at mealtime Bo′az said to her, “Come here, and eat some bread, and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her parched grain; and she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. 15 When she rose to glean, Bo′az instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16 And also pull out some from the bundles for her, and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”
17 So she gleaned in the field until evening; then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 18 And she took it up and went into the city; she showed her mother-in-law what she had gleaned, and she also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. 19 And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Bo′az.” 20 And Na′omi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Na′omi also said to her, “The man is a relative of ours, one of our nearest kin.” 21 And Ruth the Moabitess said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my servants, till they have finished all my harvest.’” 22 And Na′omi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is well, my daughter, that you go out with his maidens, lest in another field you be molested.” 23 So she kept close to the maidens of Bo′az, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests; and she lived with her mother-in-law.
The feel good movie of the year came out this past week, and no, I’m not talking about the release of Frozen 2, no, I’m talking about It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the movie based on the life of Fred Rogers and the children’s TV show he was known for. Mr. Rogers Neighborhood ran for 31 years, ministering to millions of kids and families nationwide, in many ways because and his willingness and ability in talking to kids about real life things that they struggled with, everything from the death of a pet, to how to deal with sibling rivalry, to moving and enrolling in a new school. One fun fact about Fred Rogers is that he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, but yet, instead of becoming a pastor, Rogers believed his calling was to minister to children and their families through television, And his legacy lives on to this day, in part because of a quality that separated him from the rest, a quality that he had in spades, of course, I’m talking about his extraordinary kindness, something our world could always use a bit more of.
Last week we started a sermon series on the book of Ruth, a short and beautiful Old Testament story that will carry us through the Advent season. It’s also a book known for, just like Mr. Rogers, its kindness, both from God himself as well as the three main characters (Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, who we meet today). All three of them, from beginning to end, demonstrate unbelievable kindness. In fact, in reading the book, you’d almost begin to think that all three were pulled directly from the set of Mr. Rogers neighborhood itself and his neighborhood of make believe. Now, of course, they’re not perfect, no bible character or person is for that matter, but this story is certainly a breath of fresh air, and just like the Mr. Rogers movie, a story we need now more than ever.
And I don’t say that simply because it’s a feel good story that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, I mean, that’s nice and all, but rather, part of the value of going through Ruth, is that Ruth is a book filled with hope and promise because it shows us just how powerful kindness can be, and how the kindness we receive from others has the power to change our lives in radical ways for the better, especially in the midst of tragedy and difficult seasons in life. You see, Ruth is a book that begins with tragedy and death and yet somehow ends with joy and birth. It begins with the lowest of lows and ends with the highest of highs. How is that possible?
Well it’s because, as we see so prominently here in chapter 2, Ruth’s Kindness, Boaz’s Kindness, and finally, God’s Kindness.
Now, you might be thinking, c’mon now, kindness isn’t that big of a deal. But that’s probably because we’ve watered down kindness into something much more vanilla, maybe something more synonymous to niceness. And niceness, in its pleasantries and good manners, really isn’t all that life changing. But kindness is, when the bible talks about kindness, whether that’s God’s kindness or human kindness, it pointing us to something radically different, a loyal, sacrificial, generous love in action towards others. A kindness that’s rooted in a love and commitment to God himself and eyes to see each and every person made in the image of God. That’s kindness.
So this morning we’ll look at how each character in the story, including God, demonstrate niceness:
First, we’ll recap chapter 1 by looking at Naomi’s Kindness:
As I shared last week, in many ways, Naomi is the central character of the story and by the time we reach chapter 1, verse 5, Naomi has hit rock bottom. She’s lost her husband, her two sons, and with that, she’s lost all financial security and in case that wasn’t bad enough, she happens to be in Moab, which is enemy territory. So Naomi begins the long walk home back to Bethlehem with two Moabite daughter in laws, Orpah and Ruth. And along the way, Naomi decides to show kindness to them. She encourages her daughter in laws to go home – after all, they, unlike Naomi, are still young, they as Moabites, can still get remarried and potentially have children and find financial security and live happily ever after. She says,
“May the Lord deal kindly with you … May the Lord grant that you find rest, each in the house of your husband.”
And this of course, is a huge sacrifice for Naomi to make. She’d understandably prefer to keep any semblance of family in her life, but instead, knowing what’s best for her daughter in laws, shows them kindness by sending them home. And Orpah eventually takes her up on it and heads home.
And this brings us to Ruth’s Kindness:
You see, Ruth won’t have it. Out of love and loyalty to Naomi, she’s going back to Bethlehem whether Naomi likes it or not. And in her persistence and courage and incredible sacrifice, Ruth shows kindness to Naomi by staying by her side for better or for worse.
She says, “Where you go, I’ll go. Where you lodge, I’ll lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God my God.”
This is an incredibly costly move for Ruth as Naomi has warned them, but yet Ruth makes this incredible sacrifice that’s rooted in kindness towards Naomi. And so together, the two of them head back to Bethlehem and happen to arrive just in time for the annual barley harvest.
And when they return to Bethlehem, as poor, widowed women, there’s really only one thing they can do in order to survive, and that is to glean off other people’s fields. Now, I realize that’s it’s somewhat comical for a long time city dweller like myself to explain gleaning to a room filled with farmers and ranchers, but allow me to play it safe and get everyone on the same page. In ancient Israel, God’s law provided a way for the poorest of the poor to survive by gleaning in the fields. The owners of the field were supposed to ignore scattered parts of the crop (whether on the outskirts or on the ground) for gleaners to pick up. It wasn’t much, it wasn’t glamorous, but it was a way for the poor to survive. And for Ruth (and by association), Naomi, it’s their only option. So Ruth heads out to the fields looking for food. And notice what she says as she heads out. She says,
“Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor.”
And the word translated favor here, is in many instances, translated, “deal kindly with.” Ruth recognizes that her kindness won’t be enough here. The only way she and Naomi can survive, the only way, they can have any hope moving forward, is if someone shows kindness to them by allowing them to glean. And it’s at this point that we’re introduced to Boaz, the other main character in the story, and now Boaz shows incredible kindness to Ruth.
At some point in the morning, Boaz, who owns the field, asks his workers who that new, foreign woman is who’s working in his field. And his workers tell them her whole story. And Boaz, hearing this story, goes to Ruth and shows extraordinary kindness to her.
She’s welcomed not only to glean from the field, she’s invited to stay throughout the harvest, she’s invited to drink from their wells, she’s invited in for the mid day meal where she’s well fed, she’ll be protected from outside threats, Boaz even instructs his workers to pull bundles for her, making it even easier for her to glean and making it possible to collect far more grain, more grain than any of his regular workers would take home at the end of the day. Boaz is being incredibly generous. And understandably so, Ruth is shocked by Boaz’s unbelievable kindness. Ruth says,
“Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?”
Now, you might be asking - Why did Boaz show such kindness to Ruth? If you’ve read to the end of the story, you know that (spoiler alert) Boaz and Ruth eventually get married, and so some people speculate that this scene here in chapter 2 is their meet-cute, that Boaz finds Ruth attractive and tries to win her over with his kindness. But the truth is there’s nothing in the narrative that suggests that. Instead, we know by the way that Boaz interacts with his workers that he’s a godly man, but more importantly, as Boaz tells her, it’s because he’s heard of the radical kindness that Ruth has shown Naomi by coming back to Bethlehem with her, and her willingness to give up a better life in Moab for a life of gleaning in Bethlehem. And so Boaz looks at Ruth and extends kindness to her as well. And there’s an even greater kindness, or sacrifice that Boaz can and will make for Ruth and Naomi, but we’ll save that until next time.
You all, what might it look like to show this kind of generous, lavish kindness in our homes, our neighborhoods, and in workplaces. To show this kind of kindness to our families, our kids, our spouses, our neighbors, our co-workers, the cashier at Safeway or the teller at the bank? What might it look like for us to show for Jesus’s sake, this kind of kindness in our everyday life?
There was an article in the San Francisco Chronicle years ago about a bus driver named Linda Wilson-Allen. And she is known for showing incredible kindness to those who ride her bus, she learns their names, waits for them if they're late and then make up the time later on her route, she even says, “I love you,” to each passenger as they get off. A woman in her eighties named Ivy had some heavy grocery bags and was struggling with them. So Linda got out of her bus driver's seat to carry Ivy's grocery bags onto the bus. And now Ivy lets other buses pass her stop so she can ride on Linda's bus.
One day, Linda saw a woman named Tanya in a bus shelter. She could tell Tanya was new to the area and she was lost. It was almost Thanksgiving, so Linda said to Tanya, "You're out here all by yourself. You don't know anybody. Come on over for Thanksgiving and kick it with me and the kids." Now they're friends. Linda has built such a little community of blessing on that bus that passengers offer Linda the use of their vacation homes. They bring her potted plants and floral bouquets to show their appreciation.
Linda, as a committed and devoted follower of Jesus, uses her platform as an opportunity to show kindness. And for what’s often a thankless job filled cranky passengers, engine breakdowns, traffic jams and gum on the seat, Linda shows kindness and the love of Jesus instead.
Naomi’s Kindness, Ruth’s Kindness, Boaz’s Kindness, and last, but certainly not least …
At this point you might be wondering, where is God in all of this? One of the unique things about Ruth is that God isn’t mentioned all that much, but yet at the same time, we get all these little hints and clues of God working behind the scenes.
In verse one the narrator tells us that …
Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.
And then in verse 3 …
As it happened,she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.
It’s as if the narrator is smiling at us, winking at us readers, letting us know, “Just to be clear, this is not an accident, this is not coincidence, this is God working behind the scenes.”
And then as Ruth comes home with an abundance of grain that night, Naomi herself realizes that God must be behind it all in some way, as she says,
“Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!”
Friends, do you know that God often times isn’t standing front and center, but often working behind the scenes, orchestrating the events of our lives, working all things together for our good?
From the beginning of chapter 1 to the end of chapter 2, we’ve moved from tragedy and death, from emptiness and famine, now to hope and promise, fullness and harvest. How is that possible? Well, as we’ve covered, it’s in part because of Ruth’s and Boaz’s kindness, but it’s also because of God’s kindness, working behind the scenes, working all things together for our good.
Tim Keller, famous pastor and author in New York City, someone I’ve referenced pretty frequently here, tells the story of how he ended up at the church he ended up at, all because of an incredible and unlikely chain of events. He says …
4.While that professor was having visa problems, the seminary dean prayed one day about how he didn’t know how they were going to get the professor to arrive, and his prayer partner happened to be a seminary student named Mike Ford.
Boaz: A Picture of Jesus
I’ll finish with this – last week I shared with you how all scripture points to Jesus, and that in the characters of this story, we get pictures of Jesus himself.
Last week, we saw how Ruth is a picture of Jesus. That is, Jesus in so many ways, was a foreigner, just like Ruth, who sacrificed the comfort and security of his own heavenly home, to go to a new land, who came down to earth, for the sake of another, that is, not just Naomi, but rather the entire world. Which is what the story of Advent and Christmas is all about – it’s about God coming down, love coming down, in the person of Jesus Christ.
And yet, in a different, yet similar way, this week we see how Boaz is a picture of Jesus as well. Boaz was a reminder to Ruth, and to each and every one of us, that you and I have a deep and desperate need, that we desperately need someone to show kindness to us. You see, Ruth has done just about everything right so far, she’s sacrificed it all for Naomi, but as she knows all to well, that the only way for her story to carry forward is by recieving outside help. As a poor foreigner, with no rights or privileges to stand on, she needs someone who will show her extraordinary kindness.
And the same is true with us and Jesus. The only way we can be reconciled to God, the only way our story can carry forward in the way God intended it to, is if God showed us extraordinary kindness, and one of the most prominent ways he did that is by giving us his son to dwell among us. You and I, in our failure to love God and love our neighbor with all our hearts, needed outside help, in fact, we literally needed divine intervention. We needed a Redeemer, someone from the outside who could invite us in. Friends, that’s the good news and that’s what Advent is all about.