The Christian life is often defined by a series of behaviors: don’t store up treasures on earth, do tithe a tenth of your wealth; don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, do speak the truth in love; don’t eat shrimp cocktail, do drink your goat’s milk. With over 600 rules and regulations in the Hebrew Bible, adhering to the code and conduct manual appears to be all that matters.
Yet, Ruth was anything but a law-abiding citizen. So why then do we revere her as a heroine of faith?
Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17 Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.”
So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.
She was courageous enough to prostitute her body for a new life.
She challenged the boundaries of acceptable behavior in the name of God’s greater cause.
She trusted Naomi’s guidance and Boaz’s promised between the sheets.
She refused to accept her station in life.
Under the domination of patriarchy, the choice between remaining destitute in a man’s world or selling your body for security is no choice at all. Until the world stops abandoning the orphan, shunning the stranger and neglecting the widow, we don’t get to pass judgment on Ruth.
“Do not be too moral,” says Thoreau, “You may cheat yourself out of too much life.”
Why is Ruth a heroine of faith?
Israelites don’t exchange vows with Moabites, wrong ethnicity. But Ruth mixed her marriage. Barren women don’t adopt out their sons, wrong parenting. But Ruth gave Obed to Naomi. Monotheistic Jews don’t pray with Polytheistic pagans, wrong religion. But Ruth populated the people of God.
If sin is estrangement, a denial of community and salvation is the courtship of family, the ever-widening embrace of brother and sister, then redemption, here, begins on the threshing floor.
Fourteen generations later, Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy. There’s Jacob, the conniving brother who swindles Esau out of his birthright. Tamar, the lady of the night who gets pregnant by seducing her father-in-law. Rahab, who lies to king of Jericho to protect the spies of Joshua. And Ruth, the Moabite widow, the great, great, great, great, great, great… grandmother of a boy born in Bethlehem named Jesus.
Church, the movements of faith are rarely covered in the policy manual and law-abiding citizens aren’t always the most faithful. So instead of being right, let us be in relationship.