Have you heard the term Disneyfication?
The term means the transformation (as of something real or unsettling) into carefully controlled and safe entertainment or an environment with similar qualities. In a nutshell, it is taking something that has a difficult story or history and giving it the veneer of the Disneyworld/Disneyland Theme Parks, kind of like turning Times Square of the 1980’s in Main Street USA. It is making something that appears to be uncomfortable socially or culturally, more palatable, easier to take despite the difficult subject matter.
Case in point – The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
In the Disney version, Quasimodo is friends with the gargoyles in the rafters and sings musical numbers while swinging on a rope across the tops of the cathedral. Claude Frollo is not an archdeacon, but a judge invested with apparent powers from the church and state and equally cruel and lecherous as in the book. Esmerelda is still a dancer, still captivates all the main characters but is cast in a softer, more Disney princess light. Phoebus is still the dashing soldier and pseudo good guy though rival with Quasimodo for the affections of Esmerelda. In the end of the Disney version, Frollo is no more, and Quasimodo plays matchmaker for the pretty people because its hard to market a hunchback being married happily ever after to a Gypsy princess in the magical world of Main Street Disney.
So, the story was Disneyfied.
In the real version, originally written by Victor Hugo in 1931, the novel is the story of many stories: of Esmeralda, who is one of the Notre-Dames de Paris (literally Our Lady of Paris, a reference to the church and the woman according to Hugo) a Gypsy dancer that captivates the hearts of all the main male characters; Archdeacon Claude Frollo, a man who has shown compassion to some in the past but who becomes obsessed with Esmerelda to the point of lechery, kidnapping, and murder; Phoebus de Chateaupers, a captain of the King’s Archers and potential philanderer; and Quasimodo, the misshapen ward of Frollo and bell ringer of the cathedral who is captivated by the kindness of Esmerelda and eventually dies by the side of her corpse at the end of the novel, their bones found later intertwined by an excavation group. This is the real version of the story, in all its French Gothic, Romantic glory, both tragedy and triumph. No white hats riding off in the sunset, no knights in shining armor, just good old French Gothic Romantic reality with a touch of horror thrown in for good measure.
As we look at the story of Ruth, there are some realities that are harsh there as well: the plight of immigrants and the potential xenophobia in being a foreigner, the dangers of women in the ancient world traveling without the safety of men or caravans to protect them, the difficulty of being a woman who is socially dependent on a man for provision. All of these are undercurrents that give the story of Ruth power to speak beyond its time but there is another aspect of this story that is universally understood: love, specifically the love of Ruth for and from Naomi and the love of Boaz for Ruth.
We have talked a little about the love that Ruth must have felt for Naomi. Again, consider what it would take to give up everything – your family, your homeland, your people, your religion, your identity to a certain extent – to follow someone to a land of people who would immediately recognize you as a foreigner and consider you less than a person for your accident of birth. Yet, that is exactly what Ruth does as she makes her declaration to Naomi of the road to Bethlehem to go where Naomi goes and stay where Naomi stays and become one of Naomi’s people, worshiping Naomi’s God. And I believe that through all of this, Naomi loved Ruth as well, referring to her as daughter rather than daughter-in-law.
But the one person we have not yet talked about in this story is Boaz, the relative of Elimelech and the one who called kinsman-redeemer in the text and by scholars and theologians alike. But there is an aspect of this idea of kinsman-redeemer that I think is lost in all of this and I think that is the motivation behind the one choosing to be the kinsman-redeemer. The truth is, Boaz was under no obligation to act as go’el. There was, according to Ruth 3:12 and 4:1-6, a person who was a closer relative and therefore the person who had the first right of redemption, getting not only the women but also the land of Elimelech. But Boaz, I believe, is intent of being the man who redeems Elimelech inheritance and I believe that he does so out of love, specifically for Ruth.
First, I think he is impressed with her devotion to Naomi. Remember, Ruth could have stayed in her own country, with her own people. Orpah made that choice and went back “to her people and to her gods” (Ruth 1:15) but Ruth chose to stay with Naomi. When she and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem, Ruth begins to work, not just to support herself but to care for Naomi as well. Boaz has heard this and along with the head reaper, sees this devotion in action and applauds it more than once.
In Ruth 2:11-12, he 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!
And in Ruth 3:10-13
May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; this last instance of your loyalty is better than the first; you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not be afraid, I will do for you all that you ask, for all the assembly of my people know that you are a worthy woman. But now, though it is true that I am a near kinsman, there is another kinsman more closely related than I. Remain this night, and in the morning, if he will act as next-of-kin for you, good; let him do it. If he is not willing to act as next-of-kin for you, then, as the Lord lives, I will act as next-of-kin for you.
Second, I believe Boaz wants to be the kinsman-redeemer, not out of any sense of loyalty to family or desire for wealth but out of his love for Ruth. There is nothing biblically to show this, nothing in the text that says this, but I keep thinking about how Boaz could have allowed someone else to be kinsman-redeemer or just left the matter alone, leaving Ruth to glean for Naomi and being appreciative of her devotion to one of his relatives. He could have refused her marriage proposal – which is what all the cloak business on the threshing floor is about in chapter three – and had her dismissed from his fields as a promiscuous gold-digger. But he didn’t. He saw within Ruth a remarkable courageous woman, a woman of great character, and chose to be kinsman-redeemer for Mahlon, his relative.
Ruth’s love for Naomi drove her to take great risks in going to the fields alone as a foreigner and going to meet Boaz in the middle of the night. Boaz love and appreciation for Ruth led him to act as kinsman-redeemer for Mahlon, making Ruth his wife. For everyone in this story, love for those around them drove them to make daring choices in expression of that love.
This brings us to a question: what are we willing to do for love of God and love of neighbor? This goes back to our program from last week. Remember the program?
Love God. Love Neighbor. Repeat.
When you think of your family and the relationships you have are you willing to summon the courage to reach out to someone you’ve wronged or have been wronged by and restore the relationship? Are you willing to take the time and have a willingness to sacrifice to serve those who are need in your neighborhood, your workplace? What about our students? Are you willing to reach out to the kids who are outside your social group and let them know they aren’t alone? I’m not saying you have to give up the friends you have but are you willing to show the love of God by making some new ones who might put you a little out of your comfort zone? Are we all willing to engage in radical love of God and radical love and inclusion of neighbor in order to see the kingdom of God and disciples made?
Every church I have ever been a part of has told me from the outset, we want to see our church grow. Here is the magic formula: love and connect to God in every moment of every day with what you think, what you do, what you say; and love those around you with the love of Jesus as if it were Him loving them through you. Because the truth is, that is exactly what happens when we love our neighbors in His name.
The point: Love is hard and takes courage. Love those around you courageously. Be willing to love in order that the love of God and neighbor is known to those around you.