3 January 2018Ruth 2:1-13
“Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?’” (v. 10)
Psalm: Psalm 147
This passage features an aspect of Israelite law concerned with those living in poverty or those who were foreigners – those who did not own land, and who would have been more vulnerable. Leviticus instructs landowners: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22).
Those lucky enough to have plenty, and the means to grow their own food, were not to be obsessed with marginal gains from the last few grains. Instead, they were to recognise that what they would scarcely miss, would be of much greater value to those who were not so fortunate.
Whatever the law might say, however, Ruth’s ability to glean was still dependent on the goodwill of the landowner or harvesters (verse 2). It would be hard for her to seek redress if she was not welcomed. She was vulnerable to assault, or simply to being turned away or humiliated. And even if she was admitted, she was inevitably on the weaker side of a very significant power imbalance, as the recipient of a rich man’s charity.
This vulnerability is emphasised also by the fact that Boaz considered it necessary to extend his protection over her, by ordering his workers not to mistreat her (verse 9). He, of course, went further than the law required, by offering her this protection, inviting her to draw water and, later in the chapter, offering her food and ordering his workers deliberately to drop more grain (Ruth 2:14-16). This care, he said, came from his admiration – perhaps even gratitude – for how she has cared for Naomi. Or could there even be an element of guilt, that he himself has not done more? Ruth, of course, does not yet know of his relationship to her late father-in-law. She simply finds herself dealing with a surprisingly compassionate patron.
- What are the modern equivalents in your community, to the right to glean? Given the power imbalance which can be created by charitable giving in this way, how do/might you work to balance compassion with justice?
- Do you think Boaz has done enough to discharge his duty as a wealthy relative? What should he do?