When you are a kid in the tween years, that weird age from about 11-14, you find a lot of things just don’t seem to fit. You start seeing yourself as being older than you are, but you can’t really do anything about it. You still feel some of the things you felt as a little kid, but you know you aren’t really a little kid anymore. You are beginning to develop an adult mindset, but no one sees you as an adult. And Christmas is a total headache because you have no idea what to ask for: toys, electronics, clothes? It is just a weird time in life.
For me, I really wanted things that allowed me some independence, not an uncommon notion at that age but still something I wanted. This was the time period, around thirteen or fourteen, I developed my dream of owning a bar/restaurant in Key West. Of course, that was before I realized that I was a lousy salesman, terrible with numbers, and generally didn’t want to be in the sun that much. I think I just liked Jimmy Buffet’s music at the time and I thought it might be a lifestyle worth exploring.
Not all my ideas, however, were as unreasonable. I decided that I needed a television of my own since I hated the idea of sharing with my sister in the afternoon and I also liked sitting up at night watching old movies but didn’t want to disturb anyone else. Mostly, as I said previously, I just wanted to feel some sense of independence. It would be my TV. I would decide what to watch.
My sister was friends with a set of twins, Angie and Nicole, who lived on a sort of horse farm. It really wasn’t big enough to be a farm, but it was more land than most people around us had in the subdivisions along McKown Road so, it was a farm. We went to pick her up one day and I decided to be an enterprising, entrepreneurial minded person and asked their father, Paul, if he had any yard work that needed doing. Paul didn’t need anything like that done but he was trying to run an electric line from the edge of the house out to the barn. There was some digging to be done and he really didn’t want to have to rent a trench digger for such a short distance. The hole was supposed to be twelve inches deep, six inches wide, and twenty yards long and I had a week to do it. I would have a grand total of sixty dollars for my troubles, but it had to be done by the end of the week or no deal. So, I got a pick and shovel and started my excavating.
Two hours in, I thought I was dying.
As a kid, the hardest work I did was pushing the lawnmower over the slightly less than one-acre yard we lived on. This was real work, brutal back-aching, muscle-tearing, honest to goodness man’s work. I was motivated by the money and the prospects of some independence but honestly, I thought it would be a lot easier. My skinny little fourteen-year-old body was sore and hurting after that first day and I had only dug about ten feet of the trench. The next several days were brutal like nothing I had ever done before, and I learned the real meaning of work over the course of those five days. By the end of it, I had dug the trench – though I think Paul had to go back and work on it more later.
Some of you know this kind of work. Some of you have never known anything but this kind of work. There is something about bone grinding, muscle tearing, hard work that is both deeply exhausting and deeply satisfying. Think about how you feel both while you are working and when you finish. It hurts, it wears thin, it is painful while you do it. The reward of it though, comes at the end, the part where you come back and look at the finished product and can see that it was worth the work. The question for us as followers of Jesus, a question that I believe you can find in the story of Ruth here in the second chapter, is are we willing to do the hard work of faith? Are we willing to act in accordance with what we say we believe even when we know the work will be difficult? Do we have right heart to go with right action?
This story of Ruth has many facets to it and most of them focus on the idea of the covenant or kinsman redeemer aspect, the go’el in Hebrew. But there is something that happens before that, something I think is very important in the story or Ruth and in our story: Ruth gets to work. The text says, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor.” …So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers.” Her working, and the need she has to work and help support herself and Naomi, becomes the catalyst for driving the story forward. One writer even goes so far as to say,
Why does Ruth catch Boaz’s eye? Although the biblical text does not describe Ruth’s appearance, later rabbis comment that Ruth was beautiful, modest, less greedy, and did not flirt with the reapers, compared to the other women in the field (Ibn Ezra, Ruth Rabbah 4.6; Rashi).
Ruth realizes that the only way she and Naomi are to survive is if she works hard enough to be noticed by those around and ‘find favor in their sight’ so that she can continue to work and provide for the two of them. She is noticed by Boaz who asks the head reaper, a sort of supervisor in the fields, about her. The head reaper has seen her work ethic and comments to Boaz,
She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’ So, she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.
Beyond what may have been speculated by those writing what Jews call Midrash, or commentary from a rabbi, the story itself says that Ruth was a woman dedicated to the task at hand: to get enough food for her and Naomi to survive. She worked tirelessly, beginning in the earliest hours of the day and kept working, never resting, up to the moment she was noticed.
We also see from Boaz’s commentary that it was not just her work but her motivation for the work. Boaz says,
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. May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!
It was not just that she was willing to work but that her attitude about and motivation for the work was the right attitude and motivation. She worked to take care of Naomi as well as herself, going so far as to give up her identity, her religion, her family, in order to go to a place unfamiliar and in some ways, potentially hostile to her. This combination of right heart and right action is what attracted the attention of the head reaper and Boaz as Ruth worked in the fields.
What does this say to us? What should we get out of this example of faith?
This idea of right heart, right action reminds me of something that Jesus said about the Pharisees in Matthew 23:
The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.
Later in the same passage Jesus compares these Pharisees with tombs that have been decorated on the outside but have the bones of the dead within. Jesus was saying that the Pharisees saw outward religion (the stuff you see people doing) as more important than inward religion (the stuff no one see but God). Our calling is that we should not only do the things that are right but do them with the right heart.
“C. S. Lewis explains it this way: The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says, “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there. I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked — the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”
The takeaway: Again, the question for us as followers of Jesus, a question that I believe you can find in the story of Ruth here in the second chapter, is are we willing to do the hard work of faith? Are we willing to act in accordance with what we say we believe even when we know the work will be difficult? Do we have right heart to go with right action?
Atkinson, David. The Message of Ruth. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1983.
Heatley, Bill. The Gift of Work: Spiritual DIsciplines for the Workplace. Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2008.
Sakenfeld, Katherine Doob. Ruth: Intepretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1999.
Schifferdecker, Kathryn M. Working Preacher: Commentary on Ruth 1:1-22. October 16, 2011. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1108 (accessed October 30, 2018).
Yee, Gale A. Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014.
 Ruth 2:2-3
 (Yee 2014, Kindle Loc. 11902-11904)
 Ruth 2:6-7
 Matthew 23:2-7
 (Heatley 2008, Kindle Loc. 677-683)