For the past few weeks, our small group have been doing a Bible study on the book of Ruth. The gist of the entire study revolves around Boaz as Naomi and Ruth’s “guardian-redeemer” (NIV). As their guardian-redeemer, Boaz was expected to look after his clan members Naomi and Ruth and to “redeem” them from their situation if in a position to do so. This principle is used to illustrate Jesus Christ’s role as our guardian-redeemer, and it’s not hard to see why the authors of the study would make this point. It’s at least partly true.
But Boaz as Jesus? This niggled me. Boaz is hardly the stuff of heroes. For most of his story arc, he’s a passive character. He only reacts to Ruth (and by extension, Naomi’s) actions. We read that the whole of Bethlehem was abuzz with Naomi’s return (I suppose her family leaving for Moab a decade before would’ve been something of a scandal), yet it’s only after Ruth starts gleaning in his fields – mostly by accident, or Providence, as we’re led to believe – that he takes an interest in her and Naomi’s welfare. And it’s only after Ruth, again taking the initiative (and at great personal risk to herself I might add), sleeps with him that he convenes the elders, and essentially tricks Naomi and Ruth’s other guardian-redeemer into releasing his interest in their land and family to himself. Boaz is no Prince Charming.
To me, Boaz’s inaction precludes him from being the “Christ-like” character in this story. Jesus’ incarnation, life, death and ascension were all marked by Godly initiative. He came to earth to do the will of the Father – yet, as an equal and full partner in the Godhead, the decision to ultimately sacrifice his life for the sins of the world rested solely with him, and he decided that undeserving and unclean as we are, we were worth it. He did so with the full knowledge that some would choose to reject or abuse this sacrifice. He harboured no concern for himself, only for those who he came to redeem. This is in total contrast to Boaz, who hedged his bets at every turn.
In fact, if there’s a Christ-like character in the book of Ruth, it’s Ruth herself. Again and again, we see Ruth sacrificing herself for people. Rather than stay in Moab, Ruth’s devotion to the God of Israel and her concern for her destitute mother-in-law compelled her to go with Naomi to Bethlehem, where she became a foreigner in a foreign land. She risked her safety when she went to glean in the fields outside of the city, and her honour when she put her faith in Boaz and that he would eventually do the right thing.
In Ruth’s largely selfless actions we get an interesting and telling glimpse into the heart of Jesus. We see his concern for the “outsiders”, for the grieving and the destitute, for those betrayed by a broken society. We see him taking the initiative to save people again and again, at great cost to himself, with no thought of himself. We see what spurned (and spurns) him on to do these things: devotion to the Father, love for the broken, and faith that humanity can be redeemed.
If Boaz is representative of anyone, he surely represents us. Gifted with grace in abundance, we nevertheless continue to hedge our bets, tending to err on the side of caution when it comes to God’s love and the practical consequences of his love for the world and the way we live our lives. We try to keep him at a distance, afraid that he’ll want too much from us. We ignore his pursuit of us because there’s at least a part of us that doesn’t want to be found.
Yet on the threshing floors of our lives, Jesus finds us, and in giving of his love – his passionate love for us, though we tend to shy away from thinking of it those terms – we are redeemed, again and again, beyond the rhyme and reason of the world. And that’s how it should be – after all, Jesus was a foreigner in a foreign land…