“Mercy and Compassion–Above
Cornerstone Covenant Church
When we started out in Ruth a couple of weeks ago I gave you a homework assignment to read through the book of Ruth a few times. How many of you have actually read through the book of Ruth in the past couple of weeks? How many of you have thought about reading through Ruth? How many of you know that Ruth is a book in the Bible.
My job is so fulfilling.
Actually, people have been coming up to me saying – “I’ve been reading Ruth” – it’s really, really good. Yeah, of course it’s good. Why are you so surprised?
This is not just a lovely story but it is very moving – it almost brings tears to my eyes when I start to enter into it and realize the acts of mercy and compassion that are exhibited here. These are highly unusual people – exhibiting outrageous mercy and compassion.
As a matter of fact, this is the key point this morning. THE STORY OF RUTH IS INTENDED TO BE AN EXHIBITION OF OUTRAGEOUS ACTS OF MERCY AND COMPASSION.
This is not your standard fare. These are not people just doing the minimum to meet some kind of social obligation. What is happening here in Ruth is outrageous – wild and extreme.
Now, there are three exhibitors in the story – at least in chapter 2. There are more characters in the story but at this point it highlights three exhibitors for their outrageous acts of mercy and compassion.
The first, of course, is Ruth herself.
You know the story. Naomi and husband and two sons move to Moab because there was a famine around the hometown of Bethlehem. The sons marry Moabite women. Naomi’s husband dies – as do the two sons. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem. She encourages her daughters-in-law to return to their original families so they can get married again.
One does – but not Ruth. She is hopelessly devoted to her mother-in-law. So leaving behind her native land, language, culture, and people she goes to Bethlehem with Naomi.
This was a great sacrifice on the part of Ruth. Although, in chapter 1 you’re thinking – Oh, poor Naomi – now she has to look after a daughter-in-law who is going to be going thru culture shock. You’re wondering if she’ll be more of a burden than anything.
But as soon as we get to chapter 2 we see that Ruth is no slacker and that she has come along to take care of her mother-in-law.
Verse 2 – “One day Ruth said to Naomi, ‘Let me go out into the fields to gather leftover grain behind anyone who will let me do it.’
“And Naomi said, ‘All right, my daughter, go ahead.’"
This is a reference to the practice of gleaning. According to Hebrew law a landowner – a farmer was required to leave a part of his crop in the field so the poor people could come in after the official harvesters had done their thing – and the gleaners would pick up what was left over. It was a form of welfare.
Think about it – if the law required that you leave some of your almonds on the ground or some of the peaches in your tree so that the welfare crowd could come in after you harvest and they would pick your trees clean...
For example: Leviticus 19:9-10 -- "When you harvest your crops, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop.  It is the same with your grape crop—do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners who live among you, for I, the Lord, am your God.”
God has given you a harvest. God has given you success in your business. So make sure that you leave something for the less fortunate.
This was how society looked out for the poor. It was not charity. It was not a nice thing that you did for people. It was the law. Those who had were obligated to look out for those who had not – regardless of why they were poor.
Now, notice that it wasn’t a total handout. Gleaners had to come in and actually pick-up the left overs themselves. They had to work, too!
And this is what was happening in Ruth 2. Ruth says to her mother-in-law “How about if I go glean in the fields some grain so we have something to eat.”
Apparently, Naomi was not strong enough to do that kind of work or she would have been out there, too.
This again points to Ruth’s compassion. She had no legal or even social obligation to her mother-in-law. But she is making life happen for Naomi who had nothing.
This kind of outrageous compassion and mercy does not escape the notice of Boaz. Speaking to Naomi (and at the risk of getting too far ahead of myself here) verse 11 – “I also know about the love and kindness you have shown your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers.”
Now, there is a certain irony here that you need to catch. Boaz is heaping the compliments on Ruth – talking about how kind she has been. And there is nothing in the story to suggest that he has ulterior motives – that he is going to hit on Ruth.
He is genuinely impressed with Ruth’s not-so-random acts of kindness. But the irony is that Boaz himself is about to outdo Ruth in HIS mercy and compassion – and he does so without even thinking about it. So BOAZ IS exhibitor #2.
We’re first introduced to him at the beginning of the chapter. Verse 1 – “Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech.”
This going to turn out to be a very important bit of information as the story unfolds. For as a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband he is a potential kinsman redeemer. We’ll talk more about this later.
It just “happens” that Ruth is gleaning in a field that belongs to a to this relative of her late husband.
Apparently, even though he has heard of Ruth and what she has done for Naomi, he had up to this point not actually met her. For when Boaz goes out to his field to check on the harvest he notices this new girl in the field.
“Who is that girl?” he asks the foreman.
Verses 6-7 “And the foreman replied, ‘She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi.  She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest over there in the shelter.’"
Boaz, in verse 8 goes over to Ruth and says: “Listen, my daughter. (This, by the way, tells us that Ruth is significantly younger than Boaz) Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the women working in my field.  See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to bother you. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well."
Boaz is giving her permission to get in even closer behind the harvesters. And he speaks to the male harvesters to make sure that they don’t “bother” her.
“Move in close and don’t worry about any of the guys – they’ve been warned to keep their paws to themselves.”
And on top of that he invites her to share their water.
All of this is way, way over-and-above what Boaz was obligated to do for a foreign woman gleaning in his field.
Then, verse 14, – “At lunchtime Boaz called to her, ‘Come over here and help yourself to some of our food. You can dip your bread in the wine if you like.’ So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her food—more than she could eat.”
As a matter of fact it says later in the story that she took a doggie bag of lunch food home to Naomi that night.
Are you starting to get a picture of what kind of man Boaz was?
And don’t overlook verses 15 & 16 – “When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, ‘Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her.  And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!’"
That is, make sure that you leave some of the extra good stuff for Ruth to collect in her basket.
Wow, this guy is extravagant in his generosity – so much so that when Ruth meets up with Naomi at the end of the day she arrives home driving a semi-truck load of grain. Well, not exactly, but it wasn’t that far off – “So Ruth gathered barley there all day, and when she beat out the grain that evening, it came to about half a bushel.  She carried it back into town and showed it to her mother-in-law. Ruth also gave her the food that was left over from her lunch.
"’So much!’ Naomi exclaimed. ‘Where did you gather all this grain today? Where did you work? May the Lord bless the one who helped you!’"
And this leads us to the third exhibitor in the story – that is God himself.
Put this whole thing in context and you see that this is really about the Lord’s generosity extended to Naomi and Ruth – and ultimately Israel and the world.
God is behind the unfolding of this story of mercy and compassion – which is the paradox because in chapter 1 Naomi was convinced that God was out to get her – to do her in. But by chapter 2 the curtain starts to open a bit and the light of hope starts to shine a bit – and suddenly you realize that the Lord is behind it all.
I mentioned a couple fo weeks ago that verse 12 here in chapter 2 is pivotal to understanding all of Ruth. Boaz is speaking to Ruth – “May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully."
Why are these things happening? Because Ruth, a foreigner, has taken refuge under the wings of the Lord, the God of Israel. That is, she has turned to the Lord for her refuge. And when we turn to the Lord for refuge we experience his outrageous mercy and compassion.
You see, this story isn’t just about a poor Moabite woman. It’s about all women – and all men – and all children – all people – all who seek refuge in the Lord.
By nature God is compassionate and merciful – he is the living definition of grace.
Ruth and Boaz are merely agents of that compassion and mercy. Hey wouldn’t it be great if the two of them could get together to form a compassionate and merciful family line? A whole stream thru history thru which God exhibits his mercy and grace...
Now, we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves in the story – but let me drop a few names to suggest that something like that is happening here. King David. And then there is his distant grandson Jesus – God born into human flesh in Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem – Savior of the world.
Are you seeing how these stories are all starting to bump together? – a long chain of mercy and compassion – that eventually makes its way to your life.
Which raises the question – just what am I suppose to do with all of this? This is a great exhibition. But what is the intended response?
When I go to an art exhibition I look at it, enjoy, but then I walk away from it and my life doesn’t change a whole lot. I still get up on the same side of the bed. I still use the same tooth brush and pretty much eat the same kind of food throughout the day.
What does God want us to do with his exhibition of mercy and compassion?
Perhaps God is asking us to go and do the same – that is, togo out and live merciful and compassionate lives – caring for the poor – looking out for the foreigners in our midst. Maybe we won’t all be Mother Teresas but we’ve all got some room for improvement.
We’re surrounded by foreigners – modern Moabites – Assyrians and Latinos and Sikhs and Asians and Portugese and dozens of other peoples who have come to this place hoping to be able to glean – just a little bit – in our fields.
Do you see those people as a hassle or a threat? Or do you see them as an opportunity for compassion and mercy – the same kind of compassion and mercy you and your family have received?
Jesus said, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things (that is, gave food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, visited a prisoner, took care of the sick) Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” – says Jesus. (Matthew 25: 39-40, The Message)
So is the story of Ruth a call to live compassionate and merciful lives?
Maybe – and that certainly is an implication of the message here. But, I want to suggest that on a deeper level, it is also a call to worship and faith. Trust and praise the God of mercy and compassion.
You’ve seen what God has done with the stressed out – beat-up lives of Ruth and Naomi – when they placed themselves under the protective wings of the Lord.
You’ve seen how they end up praising God through the adversity.
I love the Message’s rendering here in verse 20 “Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, "’Why, God bless that man! God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all! He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!’"
So trust God – just like Ruth – just like Naomi. And praise God – just like Ruth and Naomi.
We sang it a few minutes ago when we sang the song that Cheryl just finished writing – “I want to sing with David, I want to sing with Paul, I want to sing with all the saints that Jesus is Lord of all. I want to sing with Anna, I want to sing with Ruth...”
Give up your despair. Give up your frustration and join in the chorus celebrating God’s mercy and compassion.
You, God, are merciful and you are compassionate beyond what we can comprehend. You take lonely and desperate people and bring meaning and joy to their lives. You are the one who makes it happen. So we celebrate your goodness to us. And in particular we celebrate your greatest gift – Jesus Christ the Savior of the world – the source of new life for all who trust in him. Help us to trust him more – especially those of us who have never begun to trust him. Some may even be starting to do that today. Help us all to trust and proclaim and confess that Jesus is Lord of all. Amen.