For those of us who grew up in the church, there is a tendency to skim over familiar stories in the Bible because we have read them or heard them taught several times. The story of Ruth is one I remember being taught in Sunday school, with a felt board full of animated characters on display: Naomi’s husband passes away, her two sons get married and then, sadly, they too pass away. One of Naomi’s daughters-in-law returns home to her family. The other, Ruth, stays with Naomi: “Where you will go, I will go. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Something about a field full of grain. Then, Ruth meets Boaz, he shows favor to her, and they get married. This was the extent of the story back in my kids’ church! For too many years, I did not know the depth this story truly contained. Like many Bible stories that were familiar to me as a child, relearning them as an adult brings an entirely new and powerful perspective.
One theme that is intentionally woven into the book of Ruth is one of hope:
We all need a redeemer.
The marriage of Boaz and Ruth paints a powerful picture of God’s love towards all of humanity and of God’s plan of redemption. This redemption is available to all people, including you and me. The favor that Boaz extends to Ruth is not simply proof that he’s a nice guy with good manners. Inviting Ruth to eat at his table symbolized communion and fellowship, and was considered an intimate request. Similarly, Jesus did this with his disciples in Luke chapter 22 when he gathered them together for the Last Supper.
Eating together was also considered a sign of friendship. During Jesus’ ministry, He broke bread and spent intentional time with many unlikely guests including Zaccheaus in Luke chapter 19.
Two Reasons We Resist a Redeemer
Jesus still extends His invitation to intimate fellowship with people today, however it is not always received. If we all need a “Boaz” in our lives, a Redeemer, what keeps us from accepting this invitation?
Our culture points to two reasons: Self-sufficiency and shame. Self-sufficiency tells the lie that we don’t need anyone but ourselves – we don’t need church or Christian community to have good people in our lives, and we can provide for ourselves all that we really need. Culture tells us to do what makes us happy, that we deserve good things, and that if someone disagrees with something, they must not love or support us. We can only rely on ourselves when times get tough and no one should tell us what to do.
But when we harden our hearts toward God, we harden our hearts toward truth.
When our hearts are not soft enough to let the seeds of truth take root, we can’t absorb and receive all that God has for us. The second road-block we make for ourselves is shame. Shame is often linked with guilt, but the two concepts are vastly different. Guilt brings about feelings of regret over actions we commit or words we speak. Shame is an inward, adopted identity that is not in alignment with God’s truth about His children.
Shame speaks the lie that we don’t deserve redemption: “How could a perfect God love someone as terrible as me?” Shame displays God as far-off and unreachable and plants deadly roots of self-loathing in our hearts and minds.
How to Approach a Redeemer
Whether we are hard-heartedly digging our heels into the ground or we are simmering in unescapable shame, we all still need a Redeemer. All that is required of us is to come to Him available and vulnerable.
When we make ourselves available to accept the invitation to be Redeemed, we come with open hands, not closed fists.
As we come to Jesus with a posture of vulnerability, we let go of every need to prove ourselves capable or worthy. We come humbly admitting our desperate need. When I read the book of Ruth and think of all the ways this story could have gone, it inspires me to learn from her and read this story with a soft heart and open hands.
- She could have been horribly bitter from losing her husband.
- She could have gotten lost in the “what ifs” of her situation or continued to ask “why?”.
- She could have gone back to her family and left her mother-in-law to fend for herself.
- She could have rejected God.
- She could have hardened her heart.
- She could have lived in shame.
But she didn’t! She chose to walk through her hardest moments with faithfulness to the Lord and to her mother-in-law, supernatural courage, and full, humble recognition of her need for a Redeemer. Today, let us face whatever circumstance is in front of us not in our own strength, but in total dependance on our Redeemer.