One thing I miss about living in Lancaster County is Gleaner Season. Where we used to live, at the edge of a town surrounded by agriculture we lived in awe of the Gleaner. It would come through town to get from one field to another. A massive machine that took up the whole road and shook the windows of the house as it drove by, it was so powerful. It was designed to get ALL of the crop from the field.
Smaller scale harvesting left things behind. The Gleaner kept that from happening. The field is stripped bare. I find it ironic that then a huge percent of the harvest never makes it to the store because it’s not pretty enough but that’s another sermon.
I have a friend who grew up gleaning the traditional way. In a poor family whose parents used to drop them off at various fields to pick, not around the edges- in the middle where you can’t be seen. She grew up thinking that everyone did this. Only in adulthood she discovered it was trespassing and theft. It was the neighboring farm. I don’t know if the farmer knew and tolerated it, or if it was lucky for her they were never caught or found themselves at the other end of a shot gun and someone else’s understanding of the law. Getting caught in the wrong part of the field is like being on the wrong part of the street. Either way, I am sure they would not have been blessed by the landowner.
In Ruth’s day, gleaning was a part of culture for many, actually provided for in the law. But just like not everyone drives the speed limit, not everyone obeyed the law about leaving part of the harvest behind for others. Not everyone was as charitable- and in our reading, did you catch the little phrase about wondering who this person was, followed by an assurance you will be treated well?
It suggests that not everyone treats gleaners well, or maybe not everyone treats foreigners well- that maybe what some can get away with others cannot. And that maybe people think that the problem of those other people is just not their problem. Ruth and Naomi are widows hoping for enough to survive, counting on gleaning in the harvest season to eat. And Naomi has been bitter and skeptical, with frankly, good reason. Ruth goes out determined and frankly a little fast and furious. She’s going to glean as long and fast as she can.
Ruth works fast, because it may not last. She asks no questions, and bothers no one. And no one bothers her. She’s tolerated. No one so much as offers her water in the midday sun either. In our story today, there are not only Ruth, and Naomi and Boaz, there are all those other people in the field, just doing their thing. But Ruth is not connected to them.
When Boaz shows up, he gets personal which is what living out God’s law looks like. He shows up and blesses his workers. How many of you when you show up for work are blessed by your employer?
He blesses them, and then he notices Ruth.
We perhaps want this to be about how he “notices” Ruth and sexualize the story to give him a motive for generosity. But there is nothing in this encounter to suggest that. Rather, he seems to be the sort who notices others. After all, Ruth is hungry, she’s traveled far, and she’s a foreigner. That suggests dirty, smelly, scrawny, not Hollywood beauty. We’d feel better about the times we don’t notice others if we give Boaz a motive.
Boaz, takes a personal interest in Ruth-because their paths have crossed. He doesn’t have to. He could ignore her and truthfully say what a ridiculous decision she made. She could’ve stayed where she was. She chose to follow this Naomi and put herself at risk. Why should anyone care if she’s that foolish not to take care of herself? Indeed today, I wonder if we would think that Boaz is the brave one, letting some foreigner glean on his land. She shouldn’t be our problem. In a world where every needy person or person who is “not like us” is now viewed as an intruder, or an assault.
Boaz not only shares he blesses Ruth! Boaz instead notices her and praises her loyalty to her mother-in-law. And then shows generosity, and blesses her. “May the LORD reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the LORD… under whose wings you have come for refuge.”
Boaz represents what loving kindness looks like- abundance, protection, hospitality, blessing.
No wonder Naomi is astonished. Aren’t we all?
Naomi had decided to just be bitter, now she has hope. The hand of God she thought was against her is not. She’s quick to name God as the source of blessing: The Lord whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!"
Naomi’s hope isn’t found in remembering that everyone recognizes that gleaning is the law and everyone follows it, but because in spite of human nature, a good thing has happened where you can see God’s hand in it. That’s what she teaches Ruth and us-that while God has spoken in large miracles, like speaking from burning bushes, or dividing the sea, God is far more likely to be seen acting through the faithfulness of ordinary human beings. Like you and me. God’s blessing happens through us.
Our world and our lives are full of places about more than just physical hunger-there is real hunger for many, for more than just food. Hunger for dignity, for generous hearts, hunger for compassion, hunger for justice that laws be used rightly and enforced the same for all. A hunger that our lives actually touch others, a hunger for blessing. Ruth shows up hungry, striving, struggling to find hope. Wondering if that emptiness can be filled. Maybe you have too.
And we’re met by God’s blessing, that’s God’s desire-lovingkindness, and mercy and grace not judgment or scorn or rebuke.
That’s the gospel for all of us as Jesus spoke this day-telling us, his followers, to live out our God created identity.
Live as God lives toward us- Don’t condemn, don’t pick on people or jump on their failures. Show mercy. That’s how God already sees it. That’s what Jesus reveals. That’s what God wants for us, and what God wants us to share. That our lives do touch and that blessing and grace overflow.
So today we’re going to do something else we probably don’t do much- bless each other. You’re the end of the sermon.
I invite you to turn to your neighbors, and remind them of that blessing made most clearly known for us in the cross. It’s time to get personal.
Make the sign of the cross on their forehead and say, “you are a blessed child of God.”
I wish you could see yourselves- you’re all smiling! You’ve been blessed! That’s the gospel – the blessing we experience here we’re called to take out into our world!