Healing in Ruth

Scripture: Ruth

Title: Healing

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Ruth 1
  • Ruth 2
  • Ruth 3
  • Ruth 4
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Aristotle is quoted as saying, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”

–         The idea here is of synergy or working together

–         Said another way, the interaction or cooperation of two or more parts produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.

 

For example, if you take a raw egg by itself then it doesn’t taste that nice

–         Yes, you can eat it and it will give you some nutritional benefit but it’s not that appetising

–         Likewise if you take some flour by itself it’s barely edible

–         But when you combine the egg & flour with some other ingredients, like sugar and butter and cocoa powder, then put it in the oven to cook, the whole cake that comes out is far nicer to eat than each separate ingredient on its own

 

Today we conclude our series on care of the soul, using the acronym HEALING

–         Over the past couple of months or so we have looked at how Hope Energy Appreciation Lament Inter-dependence Nurture & Giving support the well-being of the soul

–         For the sake of understanding we have looked at each word separately but actually these seven parts work together in an inter-related way

–         There is synergy between them so that when we put them together the whole is greater than the sum of its parts

–         Hope is a primary source of energy and inspires both appreciation and lament

o   When hope is fulfilled appreciation is the right response

o   Likewise, when hope is disappointed, lament is the natural response

–         Hope also provides the energy for nurture & giving, which in turn provide the oil for inter-dependent relationships

 

One Biblical story which shows all seven of these things working together is the story of Ruth & Naomi

 

Ruth 1

The book of Ruth is set during the time of the Judges in Israel – so that’s after the people have entered the Promised Land, but before kings were appointed – around the time of Samson and Gideon, give or take

 

Because of a famine Naomi leaves Bethlehem with her husband and two sons and migrates to Moab

–         The Moabites were sort of like cousins to the Israelites but they didn’t really get on all that well

–         The Moabites were descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot, who had an incestuous relationship with his daughters

–         Things must have been pretty grim for Naomi’s husband to think that Moab offered greener pastures

–         Anyway, while they are away in Moab Naomi’s husband died and her two sons married Moabite girls, Orpah & Ruth

–         About 10 years pass and then Naomi’s two sons die as well – it’s a complete disaster from Naomi’s point of view

–         There was no widow’s benefit or DPB, no state housing and not many options for single women in that context

 

Naomi hears there has been a good crop back in Israel so she says goodbye to Orpah & Ruth, and starts to head back to her home town of Bethlehem

–         But Orpah & Ruth want to go with Naomi – apparently they are not as bad as their chequered ancestry would make them seem

–         Naomi then makes a big speech about how her situation is hopeless, because she is too old to get married again, and if they stay with her their situation will be hopeless too

–         Orpah returns to Moab but Ruth insists on staying with Naomi saying…

 

“Don’t ask me to leave you! Let me go with you. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die, and that is where I will be buried.

 

Ruth was committed to Naomi until death do us part, so Naomi let Ruth come with her. Ruth’s presence and promise to Naomi is the catalyst for hope

–         Ruth & Naomi together are greater than the sum of Ruth & Naomi apart

 

But Naomi can’t see that just yet – when she returns to Israel Naomi tells people to call her ‘Marah’ because Naomi means pleasant, whereas Marah means bitter

–         Why call me Naomi when the Lord Almighty has condemned me and sent me trouble

–         To feel condemned by God is to believe that nothing good waits for you in the future – condemnation is the opposite of hope

–         Hopelessness (despair) is a form of blindness – a loss of perspective

–         Yes, Naomi has been on the receiving end of trouble but it doesn’t automatically follow that God has condemned her

–         At this point Naomi fails to see the good that God has provided in the form of her daughter-in-law Ruth

 

We could say that, Naomi’s behaviour in changing her name and blaming God for her troubles is a form of lament

–         It is because her hope has been disappointed that Naomi feels so bitter

–         Naomi doesn’t deny what she is feeling – she faces it honestly

–         Naomi has lost almost everything and she isn’t ready to forgive God

–         While Naomi is seeking to give honest expression to her grief she is perhaps being unfair in blaming God – better that though than taking it out on the people around you – God’s grace is sufficient for Naomi

–         Interestingly no one in Bethlehem chastises Naomi for her lament

–         They simply listen to her, in silence, and respect how she feels

–         Because really there are no words to do justice to what she is feeling

 

Ruth 2

Hope is not the only source of energy – food is a form of energy too

–         The barley harvest was just beginning when they arrived in Bethlehem so Ruth goes out to glean in the fields behind the harvesters

–         Gleaning means picking up what the harvesters leave behind

 

At its best ancient Israel was an inter-dependent unity

–         People didn’t function independently – the community valued each of its members and relied on each other to provide care & nurture for all

–         Their welfare system was quite different to ours

–         One of the ways the rich provided for the poor was by allowing the poor to glean after the harvesters in their field

–         This was genius really because it allowed the poor the dignity of working for their daily bread and it saved the rich from becoming too greedy

–         The outcome was to nurture better relationships between the rich & poor

–         In our society there is a growing gap between rich & poor, but in the Bethlehem of Naomi’s day the lives of the rich & poor were more closely woven together so they weren’t afraid of each other

 

It so happened that Ruth went to work in the field of Boaz

–         “It so happened” is code for God set this meeting up

 

After enquiring about Ruth with his harvesters, Boaz approaches her with a view to connecting her with the right people in the local community

–         The time of the Judges in Israel was a bit like the wild west – not everyone was as virtuous as Boaz

–         Some people would take advantage of a foreigner like Ruth – they might assume that with her Moabite heritage she would be promiscuous

–         So Boaz invites Ruth to stay with the women in his field and drink from his water jars

–         Boaz is a man of power & influence in the community but he doesn’t see this power and influence as his to do whatever he likes with

–         In Boaz’ mind the whole community is greater than the sum of its individual parts

–         Boaz recognises that his position, his wealth, belongs to God and he is just a steward of it

–         Boaz wisely & generously gives what God has entrusted him with for the benefit of the poor and marginalised, like Ruth & Naomi

 

However, Boaz does this in a way that genuinely appreciates Ruth’s character

–         He doesn’t patronise her or make her feel small in any way

–         “I have heard about everything that you have done for your mother-in-law since your husband died. I know how you left your father and mother and your own country and how you came to live among a people you had never known before. May the Lord reward you for what you have done.”

–         Ruth is an unlikely heroine – most people wouldn’t expect her to show this level of loyalty and care to Naomi

–         Boaz is making it clear that both he and the Lord appreciate Ruth’s faith and love – they see past the prejudice and beneath the superficial things to recognise the inner quality of her heart  

 

Appreciation begets appreciation. Ruth says to Boaz…

–         “You are very kind to me sir. You have made me feel better by speaking gently to me…”

 

When Ruth comes home with lots of grain and Naomi learns that Ruth has been gleaning in Boaz’ field, Naomi expresses her appreciation too saying…

–         “May the Lord bless Boaz. The Lord always keeps his promises to the living and the dead. That man is a close relative of ours, one of those responsible for taking care of us.”

–         This is a remarkable change of tune from Naomi

–         For the first time in this story she sounds a note of hope – she imagines a future in which she & Ruth are not condemned but rather redeemed

You see, in ancient Israel, hope was provided for through the law in a number of ways

–         For example, if someone fell on hard times financially, and had to sell their land, or themselves into slavery, then a close family member (known as a ‘kinsman redeemer’) was obligated under the law to redeem them by buying their land and their freedom

–         Likewise, if a husband died then that man’s brother or closest male relative was obligated to marry the widow, both to provide a home for the woman and to give the woman (and her late husband) an heir, a son

–         It wasn’t a good deal, financially, for the bloke who had to marry his dead brother’s widow, but it provided something more valuable than money

–         It provided security, nurture and hope for the whole community

–         The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Naomi has hope because the Law of Moses requires Boaz to redeem them

–         And this hope lifts her spirits, it gives her a new found energy and makes it possible for her to imagine a future in which Ruth is married with children and they all live happily ever after

–         The interesting thing about Naomi’s hope is that it isn’t all about Naomi

–         Naomi’s hope and happiness is tied to Ruth’s future in an inter-dependent way

 

Ruth 3

With this new found hope Naomi suggests a daring plan designed to get Boaz to marry Ruth

–         The plan is risky and one wonders why Naomi doesn’t propose a more straight forward plan, but the risk heightens the sense of suspense and makes for a better story I suppose

So Ruth went to the threshing place and did just what her mother-in-law had told her. When Boaz had finished eating and drinking, he was in a good mood. He went to the pile of barley and lay down to sleep. Ruth slipped over quietly, lifted the covers and lay down at his feet. During the night he woke up suddenly, turned over, and was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet.  

“Who are you?” he asked.

“It’s Ruth, sir,” she answered. “Because you are a close relative, you are responsible for taking care of me. So please marry me.”

[Don’t you love the way she proposes to him – it’s brilliant]

“The Lord bless you,” Boaz said. “You are showing even greater family loyalty in what you are doing now than in what you did for your mother-in-law. You might have gone looking for a young man, either rich or poor, but you haven’t. Now don’t worry, Ruth. I will do everything you ask; as everyone in town knows, you are a fine woman.   

 

That expression, ‘family loyalty’ translates from the Hebrew word hesed

–         I’ve talked about hesed before

–         Katherine Sakenfeld gives the best definition I think…

 

Hesed is variously translated as kindness, mercy, faithfulness or loyalty

–         There are three criteria to hesed in the Hebrew Bible:

–         First, the action is essential to the survival or basic well-being of the recipient

–         Second, the needed action is one that only the person doing the act of hesed is in a position to provide

–         And thirdly, an act of hesed takes place within the context of an existing, positive relationship [1]

 

Boaz is commending Ruth for her hesed (or her loyal love) toward Naomi and her late husband

–         In terms of our HEALING acronym hesed relates closely with nurture & giving

 

Ruth showed hesed (or kindness & nurture) to Naomi by sticking with her and taking care of her through thick & thin

–         Without Ruth’s support it is uncertain whether Naomi would have survived – after all it was Ruth who provided food for them both

–         Not only that but Ruth was a comforting companion for Naomi – she saved her mother-in-law from being overwhelmed by loneliness & grief

 

Likewise, Ruth showed generous hesed to her late husband Mahlon by seeking a husband from among Mahlon’s relatives

–         In this way Mahlon’s name would be preserved in Israel

–         If Ruth had gone after a younger man, who wasn’t related to Mahlon, then the child would not be counted as Mahlon’s son or Naomi’s grandson – no one else could give Mahlon a son in this way, only Ruth

Boaz has the insight to truly appreciate Ruth’s nurture & giving and is ready to respond in kind with his own generous nurture of Ruth & Naomi, but first he must negotiate with another kinsman-redeemer who is more closely related than himself

 

Ruth 4

Boaz does everything out in the open and above board – he follows the right process to avoid arguments later

–         At the town gate, in the presence of the elders, Boaz asks the closer kinsman redeemer if he will redeem Naomi’s field (that is, buy it off Naomi so the land stays in the family and Naomi is provided for)

–         At first the man is willing to do this but when he learns that marrying Ruth is part of the deal he pulls out because then the field would belong to any children he has with Ruth – this man isn’t feeling that generous

–         We shouldn’t be too tough on him though – he was simply being honest

–         Ruth would be better off with Boaz because Boaz really appreciated her in a way that the other guy didn’t

–         So Boaz, who is the next closest relative, steps in to redeem the situation by purchasing the field and marrying Ruth

–         Financially it is not in Boaz’ interests to do this but Boaz is thinking of the bigger picture – he is thinking of the community as a whole, not just himself

–         Boaz & Ruth together are greater than the sum of Boaz & Ruth apart

 

Ruth & Boaz are married with the blessing of the community and, by God’s grace, a son is born to Ruth

–         The women of Bethlehem have the last word, saying to Naomi…

“Praise the Lord! He has given you a grandson today to take care of you. May the boy become famous in Israel! Your daughter-in-law loves you, and has done more for you than seven sons. And now she has given you a grandson, who will bring new life to you and give you security in your old age.”

Naomi took the child, held him close, and took care of him.

The women of the neighbourhood named the boy Obed. They told everyone, “A son has been born to Naomi!”

Here we have appreciation, inter-dependence, nurture & giving, altogether, in just a couple of verses

  • – The women express their appreciation in praise to God for the birth of Obed and the loyal love of Ruth
  • – Ruth gives her first born son to Naomi
  • – And Naomi nurtures the child
  • Inter-dependence is seen in the way the women of the neighbourhood name the boy and rejoice with Naomi
  • – What happens to one part of the body affects the rest – if one part suffers, all the other parts suffer with it and if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness
  • – The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

 

Conclusion:

The book of Ruth finishes with a genealogy

  • Obed became the father of Jesse, who was the father of David
  • – As in, king David – which makes Ruth & Boaz the ancestors of Jesus

The story of Naomi & Ruth is a story of how God heals the broken hearted and the poor in spirit, not through quick miracles but through more ordinary things like time, patience, loyal love and the people we least expect

  • – Hope, Energy, Appreciation, Lament, Inter-dependence, Nurture and Giving, they are all present in the healing process as Naomi goes from emptiness to fullness, from feeling condemned to being redeemed, from death to life, from disorientation to a new orientation

 

Ruth’s promise of hesed to Naomi reminds me of Jesus’ promise to be with us always, wherever we go [2]

Boaz’ action in redeeming Ruth & Naomi also reminds me of Jesus

Jesus, the Son of Man (the Son of Humankind), is our kinsman redeemer

  • – God has the power to take all the fragments, all the broken pieces of your life, and make you whole again
  • – It is the Spirit of Jesus who makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts

 

Questions for discussion or reflection:

1.)    What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?

2.)    Can you think of some examples, from everyday life, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?

–         Discuss the way the different parts of our H.E.A.L.I.N.G. acronym work together

3.)    What is the significance of Ruth’s promise to Naomi?

–         What difference does this make for both of them?

4.)    Why does Naomi insist on being called Marah, in chapter 1?

–         How is this a form of lament?

5.)    How was the welfare system, operating in the story of Ruth, different from our welfare system today?

–         How did gleaning foster inter-dependence?

–         How does Boaz use his wealth & influence to help the poor & marginalised?

6.)    What does Boaz appreciate about Ruth?

–         How does Boaz express his appreciation for Ruth?

7.)    What are some of the ways the Law of Moses provided hope for people?

8.)    How does Ruth show hesed (loyal love) to Naomi and her late husband Mahlon?

–         How does the concept of hesed relate to our H.E.A.L.I.N.G. acronym?

9.)    In what sense is Jesus our kinsman redeemer?

 

[1] Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, Ruth, page 24.

[2] Matthew 28:20

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