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12th October 2023


Part 3 – Ruth, A poem by Mary Birch

It was barley harvest time
and it was no crime
to pick the grain that was left behind.
So Ruth went to see what she could find.

Elimelech had a kinsman,
Boaz by name, a wealthy man.
And it happened, as if planned,
Ruth was gleaning on his land.
Boaz had heard of Ruth’s faithfulness
to Naomi. He spoke to Ruth
“Follow closely my women.
The water jugs are filled, drink freely.
My servants will do you no ill.”
“Why would you favour me? A Moabite. An enemy”
“Your faithfulness to Naomi in distress deserves reward,” he said.
“may God repay your loyalty in every way
As you take refuge in his care.
Come, eat, there is food to spare!”


Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. 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.” 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. Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”

“The Lord bless you!” they answered.

Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?”

The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. 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.”

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. 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.”

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?”

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. 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.”

“May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”

At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.”

When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.”

So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough. Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!” Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said. “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.” Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.’” Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with the women who work for him, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.” So Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.


Gleaning, far from being a crime, was actually enshrined in the Torah.

Leviticus 23:22 says:
‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your fields, nor shall you gather any gleanings from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord, your God.’
This rule was not just about grain; other crops were to be treated the same way:

Leviticus 19:10 says:
‘And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord, your God.’

The concern for the poor and the destitute is at the heart of God’s purpose and kingdom. Ruth is prepared to work hard to provide for Naomi and herself and is blessed because the field she chooses to go to first belongs to a kinsman of her father-in-law. Boaz is an upright man and he knows the law and his obligations under it but he goes further than the law requires. He tells his servants to drop a little more in Ruth’s path and he tells her she may join his workforce to get water. He goes above and beyond what he should do as he sees the dedication Ruth shows to her mother-in-law and he honours it by his generosity. And he does is quietly. He doesn’t hand out grain to Ruth; he gives her the dignity of work. God designed us to work. Not all of us work in paid jobs but we are all called to work for the Kingdom in lives of service to others.

The passage in Leviticus puts me in mind of a children’s story, ‘The Highway Rat’ by Julia Donaldson.
It concerns a rat who holds up the animal travellers on the highway taking from them whatever food they are carrying. He can’t eat most of it; he takes it because he can. The richest countries in the world have behaved like that rat; too often we take what we can with little thought for the consequences for those who are so much poorer. Indeed our greed can have an adverse effect on poorer countries as our ‘needs’ dictate how land is used which in turn means that cash crops for our use supplant the food crops that the farmers need.

As Christians we believe we are stewards of God’s world; charged with its welfare, responsible for its inhabitants. We are called to use not abuse, to share not hoard, to cherish not destroy.


For Reflection

  • Is God calling me to be a Ruth or a Boaz to someone who needs my help? Is there someone I can speak up for or bless with my time or my resources?
  • Am I using what I have; be it my time, my talents, my money – in a way which brings honour to God and sees His Kingdom spread?
  • Am I making decisions about what I buy and how I use it that honours my role as a steward of God’s world?

A song related to this theme:


Prayer

Loving God, we thank you that you have provided for us out of the richness of your bounty. Help us to remember those who have much less, the poor and needy of our world those far away and those close to home.
Help us to respond in love and concern, ready to offer help wherever and whenever we can.
Teach us to share our plenty with those who have nothing so that the time will come when all have enough and no one is in want.
Amen

Written by Sue Allen

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