There ought to be a law: One can’t tell the story of Ruth without dealing with the social implications. The time of the Judges, when Ruth is set, is often viewed with nostalgia. Back before the disastrous anointing of King Saul, the land of Palestine was a place where every man did what was right in his own eyes. This is the land of Ronald Reagan and Mad Comics. Whenever we time travel, we have to intentionally open our eyes and think critically. Things are not as wonderful as they seem.
Three points should be made:
- In an era where government does not do its part in protecting the civil liberties of all individuals, xenophobia and patronizing customs are free to take the place of law. So, in the time of Ruth, the foreigner and the widow had no claim on social services. The poor were forced to glean on the edge of the fields and take the kind of demeaning charitable handouts that locked them into the cycle of poverty. Those on top spoke about Freedom. Those on the bottom, spoke about the lack of fair housing and equal access to education and healthcare.
- Without the Gospel or a similar, healthy religious teaching, the default setting of popular culture is to believe that successfully having a male child is the only way that a person has value as a human being. So Boaz was asked to marry his kinsman’s widow to have sons in that man’s name. Sounds like a bizarre custom until you look at all the family values crap our American culture preaches as “Christian.”
- Ruth doesn’t belong to any man. She would be a winsome and heroic person in the Bible, even if she didn’t marry Boaz. We tend to rush to chapter 4, as the lectionary does, because we want to set Ruth within the Christmas narrative. This is to miss the point that the Bible is making when it tells us of Sarah, Rahab the Harlot, Debra, Ruth, Esther, etc.