Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hope Not Just A Romantic Ideal (Hope in Ruth Chapter 3)

Kris and I at our engagement party
I proposed to Kris while we were sitting on a rubbish dump. Well even that is romanticising it really. It was on a pile of rubbish, out the back of the Bible College of NEw Zealand (now Laidlaw College). Well it was a broken down old trailer that had been abandoned on top of a pile of branches and garden refuse. We’d been going out for about a year and had gone for a walk and sat down to keep talking. We were talking about weddings, typical male I can’t even remember why, I think  it was because we’d been to one and were critiquing what we’d seen and saying what we’d like if we got married.  I said to Kris well these wedding plans sound good when we are going to use them. To which Kris replied ‘are you asking me to marry you?’ after a poignant silence and being the confident person I am I said ‘If I was would you say Yes’. After an even longer poignant silence, which seemed like an eternity, Kris said yes. So I asked her and she said yes.

Not really romantic I hear you say in our classic Hollywood saturated society. No candles, no perfume, unless you like ode a garden refuge, no flash restaurant, no flowers, no ring. I did get down on my knee, I think; you’ll have to check it out with Kris. I do remember those wonderful eyes that Kris has just full of joy and love and the smile on her face and well walking round in a sort of stupid daze for the rest of the day, in fact you’d probably say well for the rest of my life really.  Of course that marriage proposal has nothing on the strange account of Ruth’s proposal to Boaz on the threshing floor outside Bethlehem.

I’m not sure you’d call it a really romantic situation either in the classic way our society thinks of it. It’s Ruth’s mother in law Naomi who sets to situation up. Who tells her daughter in law what to do.  Some scholars have postulated that she was telling Ruth to throw herself at Boaz in a very sexually charged situation. But that doesn’t fit what we know of the characters in the story. If you didn’t get it from the text Ruth saying to Boaz, ‘Spread your garment over me as you are the family guardian’ is Ruth asking Boaz to marry her,  Boaz’ reaction is not to melt into her arms but that he wants to do everything right. He is even righteous enough and aware of the way things are supposed to go to realise that because of the land issues involved in this marriage that there is another family member who has a more immediate claim. This is a love story but it’s not the romantic and emotionally charged romances we are used to in a society where TV shows and films portray first dates ending up in sexual encounters and romance novel can be a euphemism for soft porn.

The book of Ruth is actually the story of how God answers the complaint of the widow Naomi. It’s about how hope for the future enters into the hopeless situation Naomi finds herself in and not only hope for Naomi but in whose genealogy the books finishes with how hope for a bright future for the whole of Israel enters comes out of a hopeless situation. It’s a story that shows us that with God hope is not just a romantic ideal; the Lord is at work amidst the grief and sorrow through the actions and choices of everyday people to bring about his plans and purposes:  Plans for good and not for harm.

There had been a famine in Bethlehem and Naomi and her family had gone to sojourn in the land of Moab. While she was there her husband Elimelek had died and her two sons who were married to Moabite women had also died leaving no male heir to care for the women. When the LORD again provides plenty for the people of Israel Naomi returns home and as she is greeted by family and old friends tells them that she is no longer Naomi which means pleasant  but Mara, which means bitter because the LORD’s hand is against her, in  juxtaposition to the food situation in Bethlehem she had gone away full but the LORD bought me back empty. For Naomi in a society where woman found her identity, her protection, her social standing and her ability to make a living in her relationship to her husband and children she finds herself in a hopeless situation.   The rest of the book is how God, the unseen main character, answers this compliant. How hope steps into the seemingly hopeless story.

Hope steps into the story, God’s kindness and faithfulness steps into the story through the actions and decisions of the people round Naomi. Her Moabite daughter in law Ruth shows Naomi great kindness by committing herself to caring for her. “Where you go i will go where you stay I will stay, your people will be my people and your god will be my God, where you die there also I will die.

Hope steps into the story as Ruth goes out to glean from the harvest in the care and kindness of a relative of Naomi’s husband called Boaz.  Widows and strangers were able allowed to gather the fallen grain from behind the harvesters in Israel’s law, usually enough to survive. But Boaz show kindness to Ruth in his generosity, allowing her to glean in the field while the harvesters are still at work and instructing them to leave grain behind for her. He shows it in hospitality, inviting Ruth to eat with him and his workers, allowing her access to the lunch room and bathroom facilities of his workers. Boaz shows kindness through acceptance by treating her as one of the family.

In fact at the end of the previous chapter we find that Naomi’s bitterness and sorry has turned to joy as she experiences this kindness.

Hope is able to step into the situation because as we see in the introductory scene in chapter 3 Naomi is now able to look to the future. Grief sorrow pain despair has caused her to focus on the tragedy of the past and when we do that there is no hope. She begins to see a way to provide for her daughter in law by finding a husband for her.

It’s interesting to note in the story that it’s also only when Naomi and Ruth’s basic needs are meet that they are able to begin to look at the future. Boaz’ generosity and Ruth’s hard work has meant that they have enough food for the year. I don’t know if you’ve ever come across Maslow’s cone of human needs. It shows a hierarchy of basic human needs ranging from the provision of food and shelter, right through to the need for self actualisation, for purpose and meaning in life. Maslow observed that you can’t address the higher needs in life if you have to deal with the more basic ones.  It’s why poverty can be a vicious self propagating cycle. If all a person or communities energy goes into meeting the basic food and survival needs there is nothing left to deal with larger issues that in the long run will bring hope and change into the situation. For the church for mission we need to meet peoples perceived needs before we can talk about spiritual needs. We need to meet people at their point of need before we can point them to their greater need for God. As the writer of the book of James says, ‘what good does it do if someone hungry and dressed in rags comes to you and you say ‘God bless you and go in peace’ but do nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? One of the themes that runs through the book of Ruth is God’s kindness is shown through our kindness.

Naomi now begins to take steps towards that future. Her focus is no longer on herself but on returning the kindness she has received from Ruth. In telling Ruth to bath and put on perfume and her dress, her normal clothes she is not giving her daughter in law beauty tips or fashion tips or tips on how to catch your man, she is actively saying it’s time to move on. Do not dress as a widow any more. It’s putting that focus on the future and a new glimmer of hope into action.

From this passage we see that Hope comes when we are prepared to step out to take the initiative to risk for the sake of a vision of a preferred future. What Naomi tells Ruth to do is risky it’s fraught with danger. There is the danger of Boaz taking advantage of Ruth, as I said before it’s a sexually provocative scene, what if Boaz wasn’t the man they though he was and he takes advantage of the situation? What if he is put off by Ruth’s boldness? I mean she’s the one making the advance her, in the male dominated society she’s the one who is popping the question. In actual fact their reputations are on the line as well.

Hope, seeing God’s preferred future, calls us to step out, to risk. In the civil right movement hope of a different future Martin Luther King Jr’s dream that we have been reminded of recently caused people to step out and take a risk. If we have to ride at the back of the bus we are not going to ride the bus anymore, if we are not welcome in this white’s only restaurant we are going to sit in anyway. If we are to keep growing and growing as a church into the future it’s going to mean stop looking to the past and thinking of the way it used to be and stepping out for the way it could be in God. It means being willing to take a risk and be bold.

Finally hope comes into this story because of the character of the characters in this story. We’d love to see it as a real romance story wouldn’t we. Maybe it was... maybe, Ruth and Boaz had grown close over the period of the grain harvest, maybe there had been glances in each other’s direction and embarrassed looks away when their eyes meet. Maybe there were brief encounters and shy smiles as they shared the content of the water jar, maybe over lunches with the workers there was a deepening knowledge of each other and engaging conversation, we are not told. We do know that Boaz is really blown away by Ruth’s kindness in asking him. But the thing that really brings hope into this situation is the godly character of those involved. The thing that drew Boaz to Ruth wasn’t her looks or her curves but the kindness he had heard and seen that she gave to Naomi. He is smitten by her character He Praises her for not going after the younger men of Bethlehem, maybe there had been offers of marriage, but she has waited to do the right thing. And we see that Boaz is also a man of godly character, he wants to do things the right way. He invites her to stay with him, not out of a sexual desire or need but because he is offering her the protection she has asked for. It would be dangerous for a woman alone at night after the harvest. She is concerned for his repetition and goes before people will see and talk. He is aware that there is another family guardian, who because of land issues has to be considered. When Ruth reports back to Naomi, who must have had a real sleepless night what has happened Naomi has no hesitation of trusting Boaz’s character. She says “he said he would do it and you can rest assured he is not going to rest till the matter is worked out’.

We live in a society where emotions not character forms the basis of the relationship between men and women, I’m all for romance, I’m all for Love, but they are not enough by themselves to form the fabric of our society, they need the backbone the reinforcing of integrity family loyalty, a sense of duty, honesty, character.

Hope steps into any situation where people act towards others with a godly character, seeking righteousness and justice, to treat each other with God’s kindness. It’s why the key role of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives is to produce Christ like fruit. To make us display the character traits of Christ.

Hope is not a romantic ideal it’s very real, it has the ability to change the future. Hope in God is not a passive thing, as the story of Ruth shows us, God’s purposes, Gods plans for the future are worked out through our lives and our actions and decisions. In our being willing to look again to the future, in our being prepared to step out and act, in how our character reflects that of Christ. God works through that to bring hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment