When There Has to Be Some Truth-Telling
Third in the series
Ruth: A Handbook for Christians
So far in our story from the book of Ruth, this is the way things are:
Naomi is in need. Without a husband and without sons, she is cut-off from the land and from the future children bring, both of which in her ancient agrarian society are central to the flourishing of a person’s life. Life happened to Naomi and she is, as she says, left empty and bitter, without a future she’d want anyone to share in.
Ruth, however, acts on Naomi’s need. She clings to Naomi so Naomi will not be alone. She gleans for Naomi so Naomi will have food to eat. Ruth embodies the power of human agency to act on the way things are and bring about positive change. In the face of the chaos Naomi is thrust into by events beyond her control, Ruth remains steadfast to her and works to find what is needed to sustain her life.
Yet, although she can stand with Naomi and sustain Naomi in the midst of the way things are, she cannot change the basic reality of Naomi’s life. Sure, they are scraping by, but is scraping by God’s vision for them?
To change the basic circumstance of Naomi’s life, Ruth will need the help of someone on the inside of the community to which Naomi is excluded by the circumstance of her life. Ruth will need that person’s help and that help will only come when Ruth is willing to do some truth-telling to that person.
If you’ve ever done some truth-telling to someone on the inside of someplace you are on the outside of, you know it isn’t a risk-free venture. Supplicating from a place of little power to those with more power is fraught with danger.
Ruth is the existential outsider, an outsider by the fact of her very being, being both a woman and an immigrant. Naomi, too, is an outsider by circumstance, a former insider, if you will, having lost the key relationships which gave her access to her community’s wealth and welcome.
Naomi remembers that Boaz, in whose field Ruth gleaned, is a close relative to her late-husband and is in a position to change the circumstances of her life. So she sends Ruth on a mission: Go and tell Boaz the truth, that he needs to make things right for us.
How will Ruth, the outsider, do that truth-telling?
As I said the past two Sundays, when looking at scripture and searching in it for good news, look for the verbs. In the verbs of a story you will find your life. Here the verb at play is uncover. To do some truth-telling to Boaz, Ruth has to uncover something, she has to reveal to him his role in restoring Naomi’s life.
Now, the elaborate ritual on the threshing floor in the middle of the night may seem rather strange us, and it is. It is yet another reminder that Ruth’s world, the social customs and the way things work in it, are of another time and place from our own. We could get lost together looking at the differences. We could, but we won’t. You see, despite the strangeness of what is described, the scene is still deeply human.
There is something wrong. Someone is suffering. It is easy for someone like Boaz not to see or to think that leftovers and bucket of grain are be enough fulfill any obligation to help he might have. What can he do, after all? He’s busy. He has his position in his little town to consider. He’s living the life he thinks God envisions for him.
At least, this is the story he’s been telling himself and his community has been telling him. He’s living the life. He’s a person of worth, a person with integrity and honor, a real mensch. And he’s even willing to help out when someone is in real need.
Yet, into Boaz’s life comes Ruth. In her audacity, she asks him to look at her and to look at Naomi and to ask himself, “Is this God’s vision?” Does he think God’s vision for Naomi and Ruth’s life is scraping by with leftovers?
Did you notice that Boaz doesn’t tell Ruth what to do? Ruth tells him. “You can change the way things are for us,” she says. “You have the power to make things right.” She right, too, you know. Boaz has the capacity and capability to make a transformative change in Naomi’s life by marrying Ruth. Boaz has the power to change the way things are, and Ruth’s disruptive presence in his life that night on the threshing floor tells him the truth of it. In language he and we cannot mistake for any other, Ruth asks Boaz to marry her.
When Ruth leaves in the morning, she doesn’t go empty handed. In fact, if you can picture this in your mind, Boaz bundles her apron up with a very large amount of grain, and she leaves looking as full of belly as pregnant woman would at full term. That is, she leaves with a sign of promise for full redemption of Naomi’s life.
Well, here we are then, with this story which, if you’ve been following over the past two Sundays, leads us to another thing we are called to do for the Naomi’s in our life, those who are in need, whose lives are vulnerable and at risk. It is this: sometimes you have to tell the truth of Naomi’s life to those with the power to change the circumstances of Naomi’s life. And telling the truth means uncovering something. It means telling the truth to someone with the power to change things.
For us, who are disciples of Jesus Christ, it means uncovering the way things are for those in our community whose lives are most at risk and asking of those with the power to change things, “Is this God’s vision?” And, if it is not, telling them what can you do to move things in that direction. What can you do to make it possible for life to flourish for them.
This week, as you think about the person in your life who is most like Naomi, who has trouble imagining a future in which she can flourish, who is cut-off from kin and community, imagine telling the truth of her life to someone who has the power to change the circumstances of her life. To whom would you tell the truth? What truth would you tell?