Reading and preaching through the Book of Ruth has been both a challenge and a joy. More than a few people have commented on how the story – particularly chapter 3’s scene with Ruth approaching Boaz in the dark of night on the threshing floor – is not the kind of story we tend to read in church. This is true. In the “traditional” Revised Common Lectionary’s three year cycle, passages from the Book of Ruth are assigned only for a rarely-used festival day and as alternate readings on two Sundays. You could go years in Lutheran churches and never read from Ruth.
And indeed, not all Scripture lends itself to reading in worship and preaching. Perhaps that is the case with this Sunday’s passage from Ruth 4, as it is at times technical and foreign to our ears. The conclusion of the previous three chapters’ drama, chapter 4 resolves the matter of Ruth’s and Naomi’s care, and of Ruth’s relationship with Boaz. In this passage we read some detailed explanation of the “redemption” process by which Boaz will claim responsibility for Ruth and Naomi, and take Ruth in marriage. To our modern ears it sounds harsh, using transactional language to describe the process by which Boaz “bought” Ruth and her father-in-law’s land. Yet working within an ancient and unfamiliar system, we see that Ruth successfully positioned herself and Naomi to get the care they were due by law.
We also learn that King David himself will be the great-grandson of Ruth and Boaz. From this perhaps surprising relationship the greatest king of Israel will emerge, and our Savior Jesus himself will be born. Matthew chapter 1 gives us the full family line, showing the generations of ancestors, including Ruth, David, and Mary and Joseph.
New life is a promise we have on the other side of the cross and the grave, but also in the midst of the sufferings of this life. The Book of Ruth began with a famine, forcing Naomi and her family to migrate to another country. Years later, after the death of her sons and husband, Naomi returned to Bethlehem with nothing in hand and with Ruth, her daughter-in-law who is also a widow and a foreigner, by her side. By the end of the story we see the broken being made whole, the separate brought together, and the promise of life given to those who had suffered so much loss and death. New life doesn’t restore our past losses, or bring the dead back to life. But new life does give us hope for the future, and empowers us to make that next faithful step into a new day. This is the promise of our God – that life comes from death, hope from despair, light from darkness. For Ruth and for Naomi, this was certainly the case. And so too for us.