By Doug Jackson
Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?” – Ruth 2.10
It was a good question.
Sure, Ruth is the chick-flick of the Bible, a story of romance and redemption and strong women and sensitive men – there’s even a greedy capitalist. The whole thing is fit for a Hallmark Channel miniseries. But that’s mostly because we know how it ends, and because we read it on this side of about three millennia of the leavening of Judeo-Christian values, through the glowing light of stained glass and the soft fuzziness of a thousand flannel-graph retellings.
Boiled down to its essence, the plotline runs as follows: A foreigner from a hostile nation marries an ex-pat in order to gain citizenship, then crosses the river to enter the country illegally where she takes work away from the citizens then turns gold-digger, marries her wealthy and much older boss and punches out an anchor-baby. After all, Ruth wasn’t just a foreigner; her lineage came from an inbred nation of hostile idolaters who had refused foreign aid to God’s chosen people and even hired a wizard to hex ‘em. Deuteronomy 23.4 classes them with eunuchs and the illegitimate and bans their descendants from God’s house for ten generations! Why DID Boaz take notice of her?
But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before.” – Ruth 2.11
Boaz had heard her story. And when he did, Ruth ceased to be the fungible representative of a race or a class and became a heroic individual capable of tremendous courage, loyalty, and love of family. Ruth’s invitation for Boaz to “spread your cloak over your servant” (Ru 3.9) may have sexual connotations (Ez 16.8), as if this is what Ruth had learned to expect of men: exploitation of a vulnerable woman. But it also carries images of protection (Dt 32.11), and that is clearly how Boaz responds. She ceased to be, in his eyes, her race, her labor, or her sexuality and became instead herself.
Oh, and that ten-generation prohibition against Moabites in the house of God? In three generations one of Ruth’s descendants sits on the throne of Israel (Ru 4.17); in four generations one of her progeny builds the temple itself. And in forty-two generations, one of them replaces the temple by becoming Immanuel, God with Us (Mt 1.17). Ruth is one of only three women who make it into Matthew’s genealogy.
Perhaps we learn from Ruth that all love, including romance, begins when we cease to see people as statistics, and begin to listen to their stories.
Doug Jackson is a preacher/professor/poet who after a quarter-century in the pastorate now teaches spiritual formation, pastoral ministry, and Greek for the Logsdon Seminary program at the South Texas School of Christian Studies in Corpus Christi. His collection of poetry, Nothing There is Not More, is available from Finishing Line Press.