So she went down to the threshing-floor and did just as her mother-in-law had instructed her. When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and he was in a contented mood, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came quietly and uncovered his feet, and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and there, lying at his feet, was a woman! He said, ‘Who are you?’ And she answered, ‘I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin.’ He said, ‘May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; this last instance of your loyalty is better than the first; you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not be afraid; I will do for you all that you ask, for all the assembly of my people know that you are a worthy woman. But now, though it is true that I am a near kinsman, there is another kinsman more closely related than I. Remain this night, and in the morning, if he will act as next-of-kin for you, good; let him do so. If he is not willing to act as next-of-kin for you, then, as the Lord lives, I will act as next-of-kin for you. Lie down until the morning.’
If written for today’s market, this would be a story full of sexual overtones, or else a documentary about a vulnerable woman in great danger of abuse. However, it is of a time and culture with very different morals and customs. Even so, we still cringe, maybe even offended at the submissiveness of woman to man, of Ruth being treated like a chattel, and the paternalistic way she is treated, even in Boaz’ kindness. But let us celebrate the qualities of a good man, Boaz; sensitive to Ruth’s predicament, urging her to go before daylight in case of scandal, and giving her grain to take away; honourable and gentle in the way he deals with her; faithful and determined to fulfil any responsibility he has towards her. Related by marriage, Ruth is still a foreign immigrant, and yet Boaz sees her as family. As for Ruth, each time I read her story, she is a hero of mine – such devotion and loyalty to Naomi, such courage every step of the way, and determination and commitment to do everything she is asked, however dangerous, embarrassing, even damaging to her reputation. Here is amazing love, in whatever society and lifestyle.
Among today’s vulnerable, those at the edge of society and especially asylum seekers and migrant workers, we can often see the same courage and determination, loyalty and devotion as so many risk danger and humiliation to find a safer and better life for their family. In our own families and culture, whether our “Pilgrim Fathers” seeking religious freedom, or generations of forebears crossing the world for a better life, it saddens me when they are honoured as great heroes, whereas today’s travellers are dismissed as foreign rubbish, or the poorest as scroungers. Let us find the heart of Boaz to welcome strangers from overseas, and strange ones from our neighbourhood, and the will of Boaz to make a difference in their lives.
Liberating God, set us free: to act honourably and fairly in dealing with the vulnerable; to seek ways to lift up those fallen on hard times, or those with less advantages than us; to recognise the stranger as a fellow traveller, as a friend yet to be made; to discern the experience and talents of others, as a gift rather than a threat; to look out today for an opportunity to share your grace with someone; to be generous of Spirit in using your gifts to us. Amen
The Rev’d Kevin Watson is Moderator of the Yorkshire Synod and Co-moderator of General Assembly