Meditations in Ruth : 13. Humility and Grace
Ruth 2:13 “May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant–though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls.”
It is the characters of the various players in this story which are remarkable and go to make it what it is and bring it to the conclusion that comes. Ruth, we have seen already has been caring (for Naomi) and diligent (as she has worked). Now in her response to Boaz I suggest we see both humility and grace. The description of Boaz as “my Lord,” is a gracious way of an inferior addressing a superior. Ruth knows she is simply a foreigner in a strange land and has no claims on anyone or anything. As she has found herself in the field of Boaz, who turns out to be a close relative, and who responds graciously to her, she realises perhaps that here is a source of provision that needs to be cultivated and thus she simply asks, “May I continue to find favour in your eyes.” We might put it today, “May you continue to be able to think well of me.”
Relationships rarely happen or come into being instantly, they are built up in stages. Boaz has been the one who has initiated this relationship, simply by being caring and understanding. She acknowledges the goodness of it: “You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant.” A relationship is born and grows through conversation, expressions of care and acknowledgements – and humility. She acknowledges, “I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls.” i.e. I am a nobody, a mere alien in your land and even your servant girls have greater claims in this society than I do.
With the often brash and even coarse relationship building that goes on between couples in our culture, where they so often end up in bed even before finding out anything about one another, this slow and gradual building of this relationship must seem strange, but looking at the end fruits one has to challenge, who got it right?
So far all Boaz has offered was protection and water (v.9) Now he draws her into the family/workers circle: “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.” (v.14) Bread, vine vinegar, and grain are now offered to her, the provisions for the paid workers. The owner is offering her care and acceptance and the workers will recognize that. In this Boaz goes a step beyond the basics of what the Law required – just to allow the poor to glean in the wake of the harvesters. No, now he has added to that his own provisions, the same as he gave to his workers.
But then as Ruth gets up to continue working, Boaz has a quiet word with his men: “As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Even if she gathers among the sheaves, don’t embarrass her. Rather, pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.” (v.15,16) In other words, if in her naivety she doesn’t just glean among the stalks but goes to take grain from the fallen stalks, don’t say anything, let her do it and in fact even pull some more stalks out of the gathered bundles so that she has more from which to collect. This is extending his care and provision just one little step further. This is a man of grace. Not for him keeping to the letter of the Law and not going a step further. No, he sees the need and goes beyond the Law in meeting it.
So Ruth works throughout the day strengthening that opinion in respect of her diligence. She takes the corn head that she has collected and thresh them to knock out the grain and separate it from the husks and she collects it and gathers it to take home to Naomi: “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.” (v.17,18) There might have been some who just collected the bare essential but Ruth is not like that. She takes the opportunity given to her and works right into the evening and fully prepares the grain so she can take home the finished product. She has worked hard and well. The end product is an unusually large amount for one day’s gleaning. She even brings the left-overs from the meal that she had had courtesy of Boaz: “Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.” (v.18b) In every way Ruth is whole-hearted in what she has been doing and her mind is clearly on returning to Naomi in the evening with the provision she has obtained in the day. It has been a good day’s work – helped by the generosity and grace of Boaz.
Ruth stands out here as an example to us of a woman who is full of grace and humility, who is a whole-hearted worker and who is going all out to provide for her aging mother-in-law. We make the comment about Naomi aging because if she wasn’t she might have been out in the field as well, but instead she remains back at home and it is left to Ruth to provide for them both. But what Naomi lacks in physical strength perhaps, she makes up for in wisdom and knowledge of her culture, as we shall see as we progress. In the meantime, am I a diligent worker? Am I someone employers, manager and fellow workers like to have around because they know I will pull my weight? Is that the sort of Christian I am, or am I someone who dives off the moment we get to the end of the working day, looking to do the bare minimum. Many spoil their testimony in such a way.