For a week at least, the animals have been trampling the gathered grain and the threshing floor has hummed with activity. Tossing up the harvest, so the grain falls to the ground, but the wind carries the chaff away. No one keeps the chaff, no one wants it. And in the world each in some way, Ruth and Naomi and even Boaz carry something of the chaff about them.
They are not desired- Ruth, carries the chaff of being a foreigner whose marriage must not have been blessed since she had no sons; Naomi, the chaff of the widow whose husband and sons are gone, not blessed. Boaz, the chaff of being older and alone-without a companion, and hardly the object of the eyes of the young.
But God is on a rescue mission.
Even for the people of Bethlehem who this year are blessed. On average, out of a ten year harvest cycle, seven of those years, one could hope to have enough to get through the winter, and into the spring. In two or three of those years, one could count on drought or famine. And they knew those times. But this year, this year was blessed- a harvest of abundance! And they’d all worked to bring it in, and to thresh that grain and scatter the chaff. To praise God’s faithfulness. Because it is God’s hand that has done this.
And then they celebrate. For in Deuteronomy, after the harvest was a week long festival. In fact, God commanded it- “Rejoice during your festival, you and your sons and daughters, your male and female slaves, as well as the Levites, the strangers, the orphans, and the widows residing in your towns. Seven days…you shall surely celebrate…with whatever you desire.” And so of course there was eating and drinking, and the settling in of pleasant fatigue- the kind you know when you have worked hard, but good has come. Where you know you are blessed.
And it’s a great thing to see that God loves the people enough to bless them with the harvest, and with a command to celebrate together- everyone. Which makes sense in light of God’s command to leave part of the harvest for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow. And God’s command to love the stranger, “for once you were strangers in Egypt.”
How often perhaps we forget the love in these laws of God. The beauty of the story of Ruth is what happens when God’s loving faithfulness reaches out through people rather than staying stuck on a page. Where we see God’s never ending rescue mission come to life.
So there we are, and the party was great and the last of the revelers are finally asleep. There on the floor with all that grain. Which at first makes no sense in our silo world, but in the day, it was first important to harvest, and then to celebrate, and thank God, but at the end of the celebrating, the men slept there with the grain. Each in a different spot, forming a circle round it, to protect it for everyone. Sleeping head in, feet out just in case thieves came.
That’s how it is. No wonder Naomi told her to Ruth to look for where Boaz laid down if you had to wander around in the dark looking at feet. She’s cleaned up and looking her best and she has come and laid down and she touches him. And at some point her presence startles him. And he could have mistaken her for an intruder. Or a prostitute. Neither of which end well. There she is at the very edge of the harvest, just reaching out, hoping for something. But what follows is not what we expect.
He wakes up startled asking, “Who are you?” And she tells him they are kin. When really he wakes up, she proposes marriage! Suggesting she is not chaff that should just blow away in the wind of no concern. She proposes that she instead be gathered. “Spread your cloak over your servant-you are next of kin.” If she as a foreigner has married an Israelite, she has become kin. When she became a widow, there was no obligation to still see her as such.
But she bound herself to Naomi, and now asks Boaz to honor her with the same treatment a daughter of Israel could expect. Don’t cast me off like chaff. I ask to be treated like the law demands.
Because God’s law provided that a widow be married to another member of the family in order that she be provided for. That too was the law. So widows would be rescued. “Spreading a cloak was not only an invitation to a marriage bed, but a symbol of being gathered under the protection of his wings. And Boaz said yes. And there on that threshing floor, they exchanged the equivalent of marriage promises.” (Rolf Jacobsen)
And God’s love was at work as Ruth was gathered in, not cast to the wind.
At each turn in this story, the question is – will she be scattered or gathered? “Through Boaz living out the law, God was at work, rescuing Ruth from a marginal life of gleaning as a foreigner. But through Ruth, God was at work rescuing Boaz, who apparently was alone, as love moved into his home. Boaz recognized that Ruth could have approached a younger member of the relation. But by choosing the older, and more loyal Boaz, Ruth also secured a future that rescued Naomi. God’s steadfast loving kindness shows up in everyday ordinary, even unremarkable people. As Ruth leaves at dawn, returning home perhaps wondering whether that promise in the night will hold up in the light of day. With yet more steps of faith to come.
Would Boaz honor his promise? Would the community live as God intended? Would God still be faithful?”
When she comes back to Naomi, we hear the question “What happened?” But in the Hebrew, it is the same question Boaz asked her- “Who are you?” Who are you now? Ruth responds by showing what she has received- grain for today and a promise she hopes is true- that she is rescued.
The chaff does blow away but it is the chaff of the labels- widow, foreigner. But the grain- the heart of who she truly is as God’s child remains.
There we are too. We who wonder if the labels of our world define us, we who are those who have received the promise that is not yet fulfilled. Wondering whether the hope is for real, whether the promises will last.
We too walk by faith in the promise that Christ is not only risen but returning again. That we share in the greater feast to come. That we will be gathered not scattered. That God’s abundance, faithfulness, overflowing love are for us. We are not only rescued, but desired by God who promises not only salvation, but more to the story.
Until then, we, just as unlikely people, gather and share in the grain of the meal of this day, believing it is a foretaste of the feast to come. When the celebration has no end and that God’s desire is to gather us in until all are fed.