Lay Reader = Ruth 2:1-3
Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor.” She said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.
We are continuing our series looking at the story of Ruth – an outsider who became a key part of the story of Israel. Last week we talked about how we can help people who feel like outsiders to know that they are inside the circle that we draw as a church.
This week we’re adding a new character to the story: Boaz. A lot of this section of the story assumes knowledge of ancient agriculture, and while I know all of you are well-versed, I personally had to look it up.
The most important thing to know is that God commanded the Israelites in THREE DIFFERENT PLACES of the Old Testament to leave sections of their fields unharvested so that the poor and the homeless and the traveler knew they could always go get food. It’s interesting that God didn’t command them to just donate food to the poor – they were instead supposed to leave the poor an opportunity to come and harvest it themselves. I don’t know – it feels like there might be more dignity in that than mere hand-outs.
Here’s what God said in Deuteronomy 24: “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.”
But it’s one thing for God to command it, and quite another thing for the people to do it. We’ll see in Ruth’s story that this is a dangerous task. Some landowners didn’t like the poor people coming in to harvest those edges of their fields. And other times the workers in the fields would take advantage of young women coming to harvest – young women like Ruth. Complicating matters, there weren’t clear boundaries between different owners’ land. The locals would know that Farmer John’s land went up to that tree over yonder, but not as far as the rock shaped like a walrus, but how would Ruth know that? So it was very easy to wander from land owned by a God-honoring family and suddenly find yourself unsafe because you went past a landmark boundary that you didn’t know about.
You’ll also hear several agricultural terms. We have reapers, gleaning, and gathering the sheaves. And to use a contemporary image, imagine a tractor that goes quickly over a field harvesting the grain. But it doesn’t get everything, right? There’s still some grain or plant remnants on the ground as it passes by. The reapers are the tractor – they’re cutting the plants quickly. Gleaning is what God commanded the Israelites to allow the poor to do – manually harvesting grain at the edges of the fields. And gathering the sheaves is going back after the reapers, after the tractor, and getting the leftovers.
So in Ruth’s story today, she randomly picks a field where the landowner has left the edges for the poor – that way she can go in and glean, harvest the grain with her hands. Then she also asks permission to gather the sheaves, the leftovers after the harvesters already went through. And she’s doing this because it’s the only way to get food for Naomi and herself.
OK, now I can take off my farmer hat.
4Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you.” They answered, “The Lord bless you.” 5Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “To whom does this young woman belong?” 6The servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7She said, ‘Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’ So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.”8Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.” 10Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?” 11But Boaz 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. 12May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!” 13Then she said, “May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.” 14At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, and eat some of this bread, and dip your morsel in the sour wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he heaped up for her some parched grain. She ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. 15When she got up to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, “Let her glean even among the standing sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16You must also pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”
There was a time when I was so shy, I wouldn’t go ask for more ketchup packets from the Burger King workers. So it took me a while to warm up to people. And this didn’t help me in middle school. In sixth grade I went to a private school instead of going with the rest of my friends to the public school. And just as I was starting to get some new friends, in seventh grade we moved out of Austin entirely and went to the sprawling metropolis of Clifton, TX – featuring 3,500 people and the only stoplight in the county.
And I distinctly remember the first day of school. You see, when you move into such a sprawling metropolis, you can’t exactly hide. Everyone knows, “there’s a new kid over there.” But on the flip side, everyone already has their friends, because they’ve had them since preschool. Not easy to break in. So I dutifully took my place as close to the back of every classroom that I possibly could. And in science class we were at tables of two people each – so you had enough room to do your dissections but you also had a lab partner. But there were an odd number of people in the class, so I was at the table at the back by myself.
But to my horror, just before class started, one of the biggest kids in the class got up and headed my direction. And as he got near, I watched as he came to my table…and sat down next to me and said, “Hey, I’m Zach. Mind if I sit with you?” I was no longer an outsider. And Zach became one of my best friends in Clifton.
Now my brother didn’t need someone to come up to him. Shyness is a word that has never been associated with him. His issue was whether he would force himself into too many conversations and get punched in the face. Luckily he’s funny, so it worked out great.
But many people – most people – aren’t as comfortable just making their presence known like that. Most people need a Zach to take notice, to welcome them, to say, “you belong here.”
That’s what Boaz does for Ruth in this chapter. We learn that Boaz is a Godly man right off the bat. His greeting to his workers, “The Lord be with you…the Lord bless you,” shows us that. He is also compassionate. All that’s required of him in the Old Testament is to allow someone like Ruth to glean the edges of his fields and allow her to collect the leftover sheaves. That’s it. But he goes way beyond that.
First off, he comes to talk to her. He notices her as a PERSON, not just a widow, not just a poor gleaner, not just a nuisance – a PERSON worth talking to.
Second, he tells her that she’s safe here, and as long as she stays close to his people she’ll stay inside his fields and remain safe. He has taken the very real stress out of gleaning. He has lightened her burden.
Third, she can drink water that is drawn for Boaz’s employees. Drawing water out of a well is physically taxing, and it requires you to stop your gleaning and go find the well. This saves her effort and time, and it gives her an opportunity to rest. I don’t know if you’ve ever known someone who had to scramble to make ends meet, but leisure time, rest time, is virtually unheard of. That’s a huge gift to her.
Fourth, he lets her know that she is welcomed as part of Boaz’s clan. She calls herself a foreigner, but he calls her “my daughter.” She belongs!
Fifth, he lets her join his group for their meal, and she gets to eat until she’s full. That may not sound like a gift to our context, but it reminds me of someone I know who grew up in an extremely poor agricultural family. When the harvest wasn’t as good as hoped, or when weather knocked out some of their fields, or when it was just too long in between harvests, they would sometimes go to restaurants. Their meal would consist of water into which they poured ketchup to make a version of tomato soup. At least until the restaurant owner kicked them out because they weren’t actually ordering anything. Can you imagine how good it would be to have an all-you-can-eat buffet for someone like that?
Finally, Boaz tells his workers to intentionally drop grain for Ruth to pick up. Undoubtedly Boaz knows that this is a way to bless Naomi as well as Ruth, because he knows Ruth is gathering food for both of them.
Boaz doesn’t just allow her to gather food in his fields. Boaz doesn’t just do what is required in the Law. Boaz goes way beyond that. He notices Ruth, he goes out of his way to help her feel like she belongs, and he blesses her extravagantly.
What if our church did that? What if we went beyond our requirements? What if we noticed the outsiders around us? What if we went out of our way to help them feel like they belong? What if we blessed them extravagantly?
That’s one of the things I love about our monthly free community dinner. People are welcomed at the door. People are served a meal with real plates and silverware – not disposable. We have table hosts to promote conversation – like Boaz did with Ruth. And we’re not asking anything of the people who come. This is just a way to bless them extravagantly.
We’re going to try to capture that same sense of generous hospitality in a few weeks. We had over two hundred guests last year at our church. As with most churches, only a small percentage of those guests stuck around. But what if they experienced extravagant hospitality? What if they were noticed and welcomed and blessed beyond their expectations as Boaz did for Ruth?
We’re going to try that on February 11 and hopefully monthly thereafter with a free breakfast. I’ll be there so it’s a chance to get to know the pastor a little bit, and I’ll share my faith story as well. And we’re also going to invite anyone in the church whose birthday is in February to join us as well. That makes it an opportunity to meet other people in the church as well.
We believe that this church has a little Boaz in it. We believe that when a guest or an outsider gets to interact with the people of this church, they will feel welcomed like Ruth. And if we add a nice breakfast to it as well, maybe they will feel extravagant hospitality as well.
I mentioned last week that we won’t be able to grow much as a church unless we connect with the vulnerable, the outsider, the struggling people around us. Well we can’t do that by making it about us. We can’t say, “come to our church – we have an opening for a deacon, so you could volunteer!”
That’s not the model of Boaz. The model of Boaz is to instead show extravagant hospitality. To show deep and meaningful welcome. To take the first step of a relationship. I think this breakfast is a way we can do that.
So if you want this church to live out the model of Boaz, to show extravagant hospitality to the Ruth’s around us, here’s how you can be a part of that. We’re good for February – the Open Door Circle has graciously agreed to do the first one. But we’re trying to get this monthly. Can you show hospitality by setting up the room, by serving the food, by cleaning up, by cooking a meal, or by helping conversation at a table? Let me know. Do you have the ability to organize things and want to help recruit for future breakfasts? Let me know. Do you know someone to invite to the breakfast? Someone who could use some extravagant, Boaz-style hospitality? Invite them – and yes you can join them at the meal if you invite someone even if your birthday isn’t in that month.
Sisters and brothers, we can DO extravagant hospitality. We can be like Boaz and go above and beyond in helping people feel like they belong. That’s in our skill set as a church. But I think we’ll need to be a little more intentional about it. The monthly breakfasts will help. But all of us will need our eyes open to notice the Ruth’s around us. You can’t show extravagant hospitality to someone you don’t notice is there. How can your eyes be open to notice? And how can your hands give that tangible and extravagant blessing?
If you remember our first reading today, it said that Ruth “happened” to wind up in the field of Boaz. It seemed that way to her, but we know that God was directing her steps. When a guest comes to our church, when an outsider is looking for welcome, when someone struggling is looking for help, they may “happen” to come here. But really it’s God directing their steps. After that, it’s our turn to be Boaz.