2nd Sunday in Advent – December 10, 2017
Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” 3 So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek. 4 Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”
“The Lord bless you!” they answered. 5 Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?” 6 The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.”
8 So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. 9 Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”
10 At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?” 11 Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. 12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (Ruth 2:1-12)
There must have been a lot going through Naomi’s mind as she made the long journey home to Bethlehem. She would be seeing everything again – the same sights and sounds of home. She would witness those same Bethlehem buildings and families and farms. She could find old friends again and see what had changed.
Of course, a lot had changed for Naomi. A decade earlier she had left that little town of Bethlehem with her husband, Elimelek and her two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. Now she was returning home as the last living member of her original family. So yes, she was seeing everything again, but she was also seeing it all for the first time.
But Naomi wasn’t alone. Her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, had made the long, dangerous trip with her. She had committed herself to Naomi. And now, between the two of them, they had to figure out how they were going to make a living. That wasn’t so easy for two widows in the time of the Judges.
A cursory look through the rest of the events of the period of the Judges shows the era to have been a veritable house of horrors for those who couldn’t fight for themselves. Invading armies often came and killed entire towns. Those who survived soon wished they hadn’t as they were made slaves. Tribes had risen up against each other. Even the Judges of God’s people couldn’t be trusted. One had fought his own people and another sacrificed his own daughter. Travelers were mugged. Women were taken advantage of.
And there walked Naomi and Ruth, two weak widows without husbands or land or money or food. The situation looked dire. Yet the two women still held out hope. Because the Lord knew this world would get perilous, he gave a command that helped those who had no land and no source of income. “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.” In a sense it was Israel’s built-in welfare program. It allowed the poor to work for what was left over so that they could survive.
That was how Ruth and Naomi were going to survive. “Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.’” Ruth made an important point. It wasn’t enough to work a field. Ruth needed to find favor with someone who was harvesting, and fast, because that job was as dangerous for widows as any other in Israel.
So why would Ruth do something so dangerous for the sake of Naomi? Now might be a good time to pause and count everything that has happened to Naomi and Ruth up to this point. A famine forced Naomi’s family to migrate to Moab, where her husband and two sons died. Naomi and Ruth both lost their husbands and decided to move back to Bethlehem where Ruth would have to pick up leftover grain and hope that it would be enough to feed them both. And none of this takes in to account the dangers of the period in which they lived.
Naomi and Ruth were both backed in to a corner. So Ruth went out to gather what she could from the field behind the harvesters. Then, with Ruth in the middle of the field came a beautiful phrase: “As it turns out…” It is as if the narrater of the account looks at the camera and winks. What was about to happen wasn’t happenstance. It wasn’t a coincidence. For the first time in a long time, something went right for Ruth and Naomi.
“As it turned out, [Ruth] was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.” It gets even better. “Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters.” Boaz noticed Ruth right away. He asked his foreman about her. “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi,” he answered.
Then Boaz gave something extra special for Ruth – a special offer that probably didn’t happen every day. “Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me…I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.” Extra grain, safety and water.
At this point Ruth asks the question we’re all thinking: “Why?” That type of charity surprises us, even during this holiday season. Maybe it surprises us because Boaz’s generosity puts us all to shame. How many foreigners have you helped out lately? How many charity mailings did you pull out of your mailbox this last week and just throw away? Now to be sure, we need to be careful how we give – after all, there are people who abuse charity. But sometimes we use that as an excuse to not give at all.
Boaz is the type of man our world sorely needs. He is a God-fearing man who gives generously. But even Boaz’s giving pales in comparison to what our Father in heaven has given to us. We celebrate Christmas as a “giving” season because God the Father gave us his one and only Son on that very first Christmas. You can’t give more generously than that. Jesus continued to give his time for the crowds that came to him. He patiently spoke with his enemies. He patiently put up with his disciples. And in the end, he even gave his life to take away all of our selfish sins. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
It is amazing what happens when we do the same. The greatest gifts in this world aren’t the flashiest or the most expensive. They’re personal. They come from us. The greatest gift is sacrificing of yourself for someone else. That means giving your time for others, even when you would rather be spending your time doing something for yourself. It means using your abilities to help someone else out without getting anything in return. And yes, it means giving even your treasures to someone in need.
Do you think Boaz ever figured out how much he was out because he let all these people pick up grain behind his harvesters? I doubt it. In his mind, it was never his to begin with. He saw it all as an opportunity to help. And it did. Ruth and Naomi, women as good as dead, could now survive.
Now I can stand here this morning and give you all sorts of scientific reasons to give to others. I can tell you the practical reasons for helping others. I can give fancy quotes from famous people that say things like: “The more you give, the more you get.” But none of that is our motivation for giving. Our motivation is actually quite simple. We give ourself to others because Christ gave himself for us. We serve because Christ served us. And we love because Christ loved us first. Amen.