“Daring to Act”
LOVE AND REDEMPTION: THE BOOK OF RUTH
Ruth 3:1-18; Psalm 27:1, 4; Matthew 7:7-8
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Bold and brave. I’ve had to laugh that the third chapter of Ruth was given to the unmarried female pastor to preach on. Sure, I work with young people but what am I supposed to do with a text that has racey bits and a slightly risque encounter. Nothing stated, so much as implied. As Sarah Bixler said when she preached on Ruth 2, that the author might be winking at us in a telling way. Or in Ruth chapter 3 there may be so many winks it could sprain your eye.
As commentator Rev. Dr. Alphonetta Wines puts it “it is impossible to overlook the sexual overtones in the book. Just as with the Song of Songs (another biblical book in which a woman speaks and God does not), the church has long been embarrassed by the sexual innuendo concerning Ruth and Boaz on the threshing floor.” end quote
So, thanks for the chance to preach on this text.
It might be all about how you tell this story. Is Ruth being a brave hero here trying to save herself or is she the temptress seducing Boaz? When I was studying biblical storytelling we talked a lot about the power you have in the way you tell the story. Take the story of David and Bathsheba.
2 Sam 11:4
“So David sent messengers to get Bathsheba, and she came to him, and he lay with her. Then she returned to her house”
It’s all about how you tell the story.
Ruth and Naomi’s “story is an example of the resourcefulness of women despite a patriarchal system that intentionally works against them.” https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-32-2/commentary-on-ruth-31-5-413-17-3
This chapter opens with Naomi saying she is seeking security for Ruth and she has a plan that has been brewing as Ruth has been gathering grain in Boaz’s fields. Naomi lays out this plan asking or telling Ruth to put herself in a very vulnerable position. And like Queen Esther, who prepares her body to be able to risk her life for her people, Ruth washes and prepares herself to approach the threshing floor.
Ruth does just what her mother-in-law instructed her…until she doesn’t. Naomi had said to wait until Boaz had eaten and had drunk something and laid down to rest. Then Naomi instructs her to “uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do” (insert knowing laughter here).”
But Ruth doesn’t wait for Boaz to act or tell her what to do. She takes initiative beyond Naomi’s instructions and asks for what she needs.
“when Boaz wakes up in surprise to discover a woman lying beside him, it is she who tells him what to do: …To “spread one’s cloak” over a woman is to marry her. Ruth, in other words, proposes to Boaz!” https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/preaching-series-on-ruth/commentary-on-ruth-11-22-21-23-31-18-41-22
Virginia Wiles puts it this way “In the barley field, Boaz had piously pronounced a blessing upon Ruth, for she had taken refuge under the wings (kanap) of God (2:12). And now Ruth dares to command, ‘Spread your cloak (kanap - same word used) over (me). Ruth has called on Boaz himself to fulfill his own pious prayer of protection that God spread a cloak over Ruth, and now Ruth calls Boaz to take the necessary action.” end quote (p.18 Study guide - Inside Out: God’s Radical Love in Jonah and Ruth, Virginia Wiles)
It was a risky and unconventional act. Ruth dares to almost demand something of Boaz.
The choices for Boaz after a night together on the threshing floor were either to shame Ruth or marry her. And for Ruth her sexual purity was one of the few curencies of power avalible to her in that society.
Ruth is not a passive participant here. In earlier chapters things happen to her. But in chapter three Ruth is acting out of some of her own agency. She is not just letting things unfold, she is stepping out, going towards, and asking in bold terms for what she needs. Was she placed in a terrible situation by life circumstance and cultural confines, yes, totally. But Ruth risks her body and integrity to make life better for herself and her mother-in-law.
And one might ask: is Naomi looking out for Ruth’s future or her own. Maybe it’s both. Once Ruth sneaks off the threshing floor in the morning, still under the cover of darkness, and returns home to her mother-in-law, it is interesting to notice what they talk about. Naomi asks: how did it go? And Ruth tells her about the barley. No scandalous details that might have been included in the night or at least that is skimmed over by the author. Ruth says “he gave me barley so that I wouldn’t come back to you empty handed”. For me there are two possible reasons for this, out of what could be many. Was this really about survival for Ruth? The risky action she had taken so that she could survive - literally trying to have enough food and shelter. Was the barley what was truly important? And I wonder what women all around the world have to do to make ends meet for themselves and their families. What does it take to get the basics of food, shelter and safety?
Or does it go back to Ruth’s relationship with Naomi? Was Ruth holding what little dignity she had after just prostrating herself before a man on the floor of a barn? Holding what little autonomy she had to be able to tell the story how she wanted, only revealing the bits of the story that she chose.
Does Ruth talk about the barley Boaz gave her because that was important to her or because she wanted to maintain a shred of decency or power over her privacy and sexual experession. While Ruth was acting out of a need to care for herself and her mother-in-law, was she also trying to hold onto her dignity, claiming her worth as more then a sexual object to be pawned off for food and protection.
And Boaz does act to protect her. He does not shame or cast Ruth aside. But he does the work to follow the law and also to extend his protection and to share his life with this outsider, this Moabite woman.
After reading this story I ask the common questions that I normally do as I study biblical texts. What do we learn about who God is? What do we learn about people? What do we take away?
“God does not appear in the story.” (p.8 Study guide - Inside Out: God’s Radical Love in Jonah and Ruth, Virginia Wiles)
“God does not speak from burning bushes in this book; nor does God divide the sea. Instead, God acts through circumstance, and through the faithfulness of ordinary human beings. God’s hesed (loving kindness) is embodied in human action.” https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/preaching-series-on-ruth/commentary-on-ruth-11-22-21-23-31-18-41-22
“There is in the Book of Ruth no miraculous event, no mighty hand of God, no intrusion from heaven. All the acts of kindness in this book are human acts, suggesting that, through human kindness, God’s salvation will be accomplished.” (p.9 Study guide - Inside Out: God’s Radical Love in Jonah and Ruth, Virginia Wiles)
Professor in Old Testament, Cameron B.R. Howard suggests that “God intersects with the characters of the book of Ruth the way many of us experience God today: not as a divine physical presence, not as a booming voice from heaven, not as a visible mover of events, but as the one to whom we attribute some amount of agency in our own circumstances, as well as those of the world at large. In this way the book can feel more accessible than other parts of Scripture, where God is portrayed speaking directly to the prophets, kings, and heroes.” end quote https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-32-2/commentary-on-ruth-31-5-413-17-4
How do we tell our own stories and the stories of others? Do we see how God might be showing up or are we looking for more flashing lights and booming voices? Do we see God entering into risky, daring spaces with us? Not micromanaging our path but enbodening our steps, giving us creativity to act for the good of ourselves and others.
Is our loving kindness bold and brave? Not just following with the shoulds, our roles or social norms that culture projects onto us. Can we follow in Ruth’s footsteps to go to an unexpected place and dare to ask for what we need, while holding our dignity and self worth? Can we consider how we might be like Boaz, not just following the letter of the law in what we should do. But going over and above to include and protect the vulnerable, standing up for their dignity and worth in the face of a system that oppresses and undermines them?
This is where I see one of the invitations in Ruth, are we meeting with God’s hesed, giving oneself fully, with love and compassion. May God help us to be people who are bold and brave in our loving kindness to each other.
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