One of the most repeated lines in “wedding literature” is this: “For wherever you go I will go, your people will be my people.” At first look this is quite the romantic line. It seems to be the ultimate statement of love and commitment. It is an extraordinary statement of loyalty, but few realize that this is a sentiment that was spoken from one woman to another! A foreign daughter- in-law is speaking it to her widowed mother-in-law who recently experienced the death of her two sons. It is the heart of the story of Naomi and Ruth.
Because of economic circumstances Naomi, an Israelite, her husband and sons were forced to move to the foreign land and enemy territory of Moab. They established and stayed there for a long while, eventually all of the men of the family died there. Ruth was the wife of one of the sons. In generosity, at the death of her son, Naomi releases Ruth from all commitments to her and makes plans to return “home” to Judah. But Ruth refuses to leave her mother-in-law alone and on her own. She makes the decision to journey, as a foreigner and outcast, to the land of Judah with her Mother-in-law. Both of these women showed each other amazing generosity and love.
In Old Testament times, being a woman without a man was a precarious position to be in. You had no way to support yourself and you were totally without protection from all of the bad elements of the society. So Ruth’s decision to remain with Naomi had much more serious implications than simply a change of residence. As a Moabite in Judah she was also putting herself in extraordinary danger and was considered to be the “dregs” of society as well as a total “outsider”. In her humility, Ruth decides that she will try to make a living as a “gleaner”. Gleaners were the poorest of the poor and followed the practice of literally following behind the harvesters of the fields and picking up the scraps that were left behind in the dirt. Rich Israelites considered this to be a form of charity for the poor, but even at that, you needed to beg permission to glean any rich man’s field.
Ruth’s humbleness continues to be extraordinary as she follows last, and behind other gleaners who were Israelites. The owner of the field, Boaz, can’t help but be impressed by this foreigner’s humility and tells her to only glean his fields. He also grants her protection from harassment by the young men and permission to drink water from the vessels that are provided for his own house servants. Ruth is so grateful that she prostrates herself before Boaz. In another small detail, Ruth did not know that Boaz was a member of the same clan that Naomi’s deceased husband was a member of.
Eventually, Boaz becomes totally smitten by Ruth and asks her to marry him. As a foreign woman this is an amazing proposal. Ruth’s response to Boaz’s’ generosity is one of total surprise: “Why should I, a foreigner, be favored with your notice?” (Ruth 2:10) His reply is a lesson for all of us who wind up in tough circumstances: “I have had a complete account or what you have done for your mother-in-law after your husband’s death; you have left your father and mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know previously.” (Ruth 2:11) Ruth accepts the proposal and eventually has a child who becomes the grandfather of King David. Out of adversity flows blessing that we can’t imagine.
But one of the most interesting lessons of this story is Boaz and his response to Ruth’s incredulity. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the circumstances around us that we forget that we are a witness in the world 24/7. The only reason that Boaz was willing to give Ruth “a break” was that he had been “watching her”. He checked her out, he found out what her past behavior was and waited to see if her present behavior would match up to that. The fact that she consistently showed generosity and humility lead to Ruth becoming an essential element in the “line of David” leading directly to Jesus! We must be totally aware of, and pay attention the fact that even when we are at our lowest, people are watching us. We are the example and living book of what it is to be Christian, to be Catholic, to be the face of Jesus in the world. Don’t be foolish enough to believe that “no one noticed or heard” that unkind thing that you just said or did. Don’t be naive enough to believe that when you think uncharitable things, no one knows. That kind of thinking is always expressed in some way, shape or form, even if it’s a body posture or facial expression. They’re always watching you; someone is always observing if you are who you say you are. You have a great responsibility in the world. You’re the face of Jesus. Don’t forget that, no matter what foreign territory that you find yourself in.
Copyright ©2009, Kathryn M. Cunningham, all rights reserved.
Learn more about Kathryn and her “travels” as a believer in the world at: www.atravelersview.org
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