This past weekend, my husband and I were visiting my sister and went to her church. The pastor was completing a series on the Biblical story of Ruth, and since it had been a while since I’d read the story, I admit that I caught up somewhat during the sermon.
I did still listen, though, and the pastor gave some helpful historical context along with the story of Ruth. He explained the laws regarding the land that was in Ruth and Naomi’s family, and the specifics of why Boaz had to first talk to the next-of-kin before marrying Ruth and “redeeming” the land.
One thing that I could not get out of my mind all throughout the service was the fact that I have always taken for granted that Ruth, this woman, was being “bought” along with her field. I had somehow completely overlooked that fact when reading the passage…or maybe I have just forgotten it. Either way, it did not stick out until now. I have always focused on the faithfulness of Ruth, the goodness of Boaz…important parts of the story, but I had missed something.
I know that women as property was a cultural norm of that time and place, and I know that Boaz did the best he could under the circumstances, but I was struck by how sad this reality was as I re-read the story. This was a culture in which women could not stand on their own. They needed a man to be worth anything, to own any property. They were powerless.
The majority of us women in the U.S. are no longer be in that circumstance, and yet there are still women around the world who are in the same situation in their own cultures. And even here, in Christian culture, we have the remnants of these practices and beliefs. I have heard single women talk about how they want a “Boaz;” in fact, the pastor even said something along those lines. There is still a message, subtle but real, that tells us that we are only worth something if we are married or have a “man.” When we are told that we should wait for our Boaz, we are being told to wait for some man to “redeem” us. We know that only God redeems, but we are still waiting around for a man to fulfill us.
As Bridget Mary Meehan says in Praying with Women of the Bible, “Ruth is a heroine for all women. Marginalized women in our society can discover in her story a source for empowerment.” She quotes Fewell and Gunn, Biblical scholars, when they say, “Perhaps, just perhaps, a few saw her as a woman of great strength and determination, a redeemer in her own right, deserving of her own story, a woman worth more than seven sons of Israel” (Compromising Redemption: Relating Characters in the Book of Ruth: Literary Currents in Biblical Interpretation).
Ruth’s story is the story of a strong woman, but it is ultimately a story of God’s redemption.
It is a story of God making something beautiful out of tragedy.
A widow, a foreigner, an immigrant, left with nothing, finding a way to build a new life, trusting in God along the way.
Let us not mix up the faithfulness of God with Boaz. Let us remember that we are fulfilled by God alone. We are valued, loved, redeemed, regardless of marital status, job, how many children we have or do not have and where we come from.