Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favour.’ She said to her, ‘Go, my daughter.’ So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, ‘The Lord be with you.’ They answered, ‘The Lord bless you.’ Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, ‘To whom does this young woman belong?’ The servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, ‘She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, “Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.” So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.’
Then Boaz said to Ruth, ‘Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.’ Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?’ But Boaz answered her, ‘All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!’ Then she said, ‘May I continue to find favour in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.’
Have you ever had your DNA tested to find out where your ancestors hailed from? Those who have tried this are sometimes amazed to find that their roots lie in faraway countries. Since time immemorial, people have trekked across territorial borders, established themselves and built up whole new family trees.
These days, borders are harder to cross than they were in history and anyone attempting to establish a home in our country will face a barrage of obstacles and legalities that often seem designed to deter. Those fleeing, for example, war or famine may be described as refugees in sneering tones or even “illegals” and there is no guarantee that they will be tolerated, let alone welcomed.
Ruth the Moabite, transplanted in a foreign country to care for her mother-in-law, finds an unexpected welcome when she goes shyly into the fields to gather up gleanings from the harvest, the stalks of grain deliberately left behind for the needy. Boaz first greets his pickers kindly before spotting Ruth and inquiring about her. And when he learns who she is, he ensures that she is safe with the other women in the field and that she can refresh herself whenever she needs to. Moabites were not generally treated so warmly!
The ancient story of Ruth may be just that – a story – but one with a purpose. The theory is that it was written around the fourth century BC with the deliberate intent of softening attitudes towards foreigners and people brought up as non-Jews, and also to tackle fears about mixed marriages.
There is an important reminder here for us. God’s love does not discriminate. Man or woman, rich or poor, regardless of skin colour or country of origin, we are all loved. As Christians, we are asked to share that love.
Blessed are you, Lord Jesus Christ. You crossed every border between divinity and humanity to make your home with us. Help us to welcome you in newcomers, migrants and refugees.
You work in the hearts of all to bring about harmony and goodwill. Strengthen us to welcome those from other lands, cultures, religions, that we may live in solidarity and hope. Amen
Excerpt from Immigration through the Lens of Faith.