Boaz and Ruth: Gleaning God’s Bounty

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
September 21, 2014
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin
Boaz and Ruth: Gleaning God’s Bounty
Excerpts from Ruth 1 & 2
In the days when the judges ruled in Judah, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem went to live in the country of Moab—he and his wife Naomi and their two sons. But Naomi’s husband died. Her sons married Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both of Naomi’s sons also died, so that she was left without her sons or her husband. Naomi decided to return to Judah, for she had heard that the Lord had given the people food there, but she said to her daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mother’s house, and may the Lord deal kindly with you.” She kissed them, and they wept aloud. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her, saying, “Do not force me to leave you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God.” The two of them went on until they reached Bethlehem. It was the beginning of the barley harvest, and Ruth said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor.” Naomi said to her, “Go, my daughter,” so she went. She gleaned in the field behind the reapers, and she came to the part of the field belonging to a man named Boaz. Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He saw Ruth and asked his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “To whom does this young woman belong?” The servant answered, “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.” Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now listen, do not leave this field to go glean in another one, but keep close to my young women. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.” Then she knelt down before him and said to him, “May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to me, even though I am not one of your servants.” And Ruth stayed close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests; and she lived with her mother-in-law.

There is a small town in Wisconsin named Boaz. It’s in Richland County, so we used to drive almost past it every time we took Highway 14 from La Crosse to Madison. The population of Boaz in 2010 was 156. It covers about one-third of a square mile and, like any good, self-respecting Midwestern town, Boaz has a community park and a United Methodist Church. At the Lonesome Dove Bar & Grill, there’s free wi-fi, and you can get a beer on tap for $1.50. There’s also Karen’s Supper Club and a place called Bunny’s … and that’s about it.
Boaz was incorporated in 1939, and I must say that after reflecting on today’s scripture reading, I am inspired by the name the city parents chose. Boaz. Somebody on the Village Board must have known this Old Testament story and convinced the others it would send a nice message about their community: this was a place where “outsiders” could come and find a warm welcome, a hot meal, (a cold beer), and a little extra wiggle room when it came to generosity.
Because Boaz, in our scripture reading, was a rich man who made room in his field for a young widow named Ruth. Granted, there was a Jewish law—still is, in fact—that says the landowners must not harvest their crops all the way to the edges or all the way into the corners. They must not harvest the corners, and they must not go back over a harvested field a second time.
They were to leave the gleanings from the field for the poor, the orphan, the widow, the foreigner. And those less fortunate individuals knew about this Jewish law and would come at harvest time and glean the food that was left behind by the harvesters.
And here’s a bit of bible trivia for you. Have you ever wondered why Orthodox Jewish men wear their beards and their sideburns so long? It’s because Leviticus 19:27 says—in the same chapter of the moral code as the law about gleaning—“You shall not cut [harvest] the hair off the corner of your head [your temple] or trim [harvest] the corners of your beard [your sideburns].” This means that Jewish men were to wear on their very heads and faces a permanent reminder that their God has a heart for the poor, and they were to act in the same spirit.
From the sounds of this story in the book of Ruth, Boaz was not only meticulous about obeying this Jewish law, but he even bent it a bit further when he saw someone in exceptional need. That’s why he asked his servant who Ruth was, and then went to her and told her …
<<Bill Otto and Bev step out into the aisle from their pews. Bev kneels or assumes a posture of humility. Bill says to her, “Now listen, do not leave this field to go glean in another one, but keep close to my young women. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.” Bev replies, “May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to me, even though I am not one of your servants.” Bill and Bev exit the Sanctuary through the main doors and go downstairs, coming up the back stairs behind the platform. They wait there.>>
The custom was for the gleaners to follow behind the harvesters, but Boaz told Ruth to glean right among them and to drink from the water the men had drawn for the workers. He even told his workers to intentionally leave some stalks of grain for Ruth to pick up. Boaz saw Ruth’s exceptional need and did what he could to alleviate it. And that, my friends, is what God asks of us.
We have with us today Bethany Howell of La Puente Home in Alamosa. Sixteen members of this congregation—youth and adults—are at La Puente right now, finishing up a weekend of mission work there. Bethany, will you take a minute and tell us just a little bit about La Puente and what it does?
<<Bethany shares the basics about La Puente. Pastor Diane resumes:>>
And there is a deep connection between what happens at La Puente and the concept of gleaning. What can you tell us about that?
<<Bethany’s comments include some of the following, which she wrote: “In the story of Ruth, we hear of a concept that is fairly foreign today (gleaning), but which was commonplace in Biblical times and is a daily part of our culture in Alamosa and at La Puente. … I am especially mindful of the topic of gleaning as we are in the midst of harvest season in the San Luis Valley. While we mostly harvest potatoes, barley, and carrots, the need for gleaning and for being careful stewards of our resources is no less prevalent today than it was millennia ago. Last year, we harvested over 40,000 pounds of potatoes which went directly to the Food Bank Network, the shelter, and to community members in need.”>>
Are there any real-life stories that come to mind?
<<At this point, Bev comes out from behind the wall behind the platform and says, “Yes, I’m a ‘real-life story’ who has benefited from La Puente’s ministry. I came to Alamosa to stay with my aunt when I fled a violent situation at home. But not long after, my aunt committed suicide, and I was devastated. I had nowhere to go, so I went to La Puente Home. I worked while I was there, because it’s not a free ride. We all have to pitch in! I helped prepare meals in the kitchen, and I discovered that I have a talent for cooking! So I applied for a food-service position with the local university, and I’ve been there ever since. I have even been promoted! So you see, the produce gleaned from local fields and the opportunity to cook and serve it at La Puente not only provided nourishment, but gave me a sense of identity and dignity that I had lost. I am similar in many ways to Ruth.” Bev takes a seat in a front pew.>>
Bethany, it’s really all about dignity, isn’t it?
<<Bethany’s comments include some of the following, which she wrote: “Yes, it reminds me of La Puente’s mission which is: ‘To empower people to live independently, with dignity.’ Boaz’s reminder to his men [not to rebuke Ruth] is a direct reflection of his desire to keep her dignity intact—a dignity which is hard to maintain when faced with such dire circumstances as starvation.”>>
And this speaks to our need—indeed, God’s command—to care for those on the fringes of society. What kinds of situations cause people to find themselves “on the fringe”?
<<Bethany’s comments include some of the following, which she wrote: “Many of La Puente’s clients do struggle with drug or alcohol addiction, or are immersed in a cycle of poverty which has spanned generations. But many more are simply dealing with their circumstances the only way they know how. …The fact is that a high percentage of the U.S. population is underemployed and just one paycheck away from homelessness.”>>
<<At this point, Bill comes out from behind the wall behind the platform and says, “Yes, that’s me! That was my situation exactly! I lost my job in Denver and had to move my wife and two daughters out of our home there. We heard about La Puente Home and thought I might be able to find work in Alamosa. I’m big, burly and strong. I can work hard. And I’m willing to work hard. I moved my family to La Puente and found a job in the area, and it didn’t take long before I was able to move my family out of the shelter and into more permanent housing. La Puente was there when we needed help to lift ourselves out of the hopelessness of poverty.” Bill returns to his pew.>>
Wow, Bethany, we’ve heard some compelling stories here today—true stories, taken from real-life situations in our own state. This is really hands-on work! Do you ever have the opportunity to work face-to-face with some of the people your agency is helping?
<<Bethany comments:>> “Yes, I do. I remember a young lady that I met while helping in the Alamosa Food Bank. I don’t know her name, but she came in with a baby and a smile. …”>>
<<Bev pops up from the first pew, approaches Bethany, and says, smiling broadly, “Yes! That was me! And you were so kind to me! I remember that as you checked my food points, we talked about babies. You said you have two young children yourself, and you understand the difficulties of being a mom. That meant so much to me. You made me feel like a person—not just a need or a ‘case.’ You even carried my baby for me as I loaded my groceries into my car, and you waved goodbye as I drove away. I will never forget that day—the day I decided that someday I want to be on the giving side of the coin.”>>
<<Bethany’s response is something like this:>> “You were so infallibly cheerful the entire time; you really made me think. I was acutely aware that I had never had to take one of my children into a food bank in order to make it through the week and probably would’ve been incredibly embarrassed, but your sweet spirit through your adversity was a brightener in my own day.” Bev smiles and makes any gesture of gratitude that feels appropriate and returns to her pew.>>
And as we give, we receive. That’s the lesson in all of this, isn’t it? Because it is in obedience to God’s command—it is in God’s loving spirit—it is as an extension of who God is—God’s very heart and passion—that we share with others. Sometimes it’s difficult to find a mission to which we can give and feel confident that our money will be used carefully and with integrity. In La Puente, we have just such a mission. And I pray that this congregation will continue to send offerings and teams of volunteers to your ministry. Bethany, is there anything else you would like to say?
<<Bethany adds some closing comments.>>
Amen!