Monday, October 26, 2009

Unintended Consequences to Exceptional Faithfulness

Do you ever feel like all the good things you do don't really amount to much? Even though you are always trying to do the right thing, it doesn't seem to make any real difference? Or maybe that the world's problems are too big to be impacted by your minuscule contribution?

The biblical book of Ruth tells the stories of some people who weren't exactly VIPs. The story of Ruth isn't the story of great kings or mighty warriors. It's the story of an average woman and her daughter-in-law.

The story begins with something as mundane as a family's search for food. Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, journey to Moab with their two sons because they have heard that there is food there while Bethlehem, which means house of bread, has run out of bread. While they are in Moab, Elimelech and his sons die. This leaves Naomi with her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. Naomi, looking out for the safety of her daughters-in-law in a culture where women are dependent upon men for income, urges Orpah and Ruth to leave her and go live with their own people so that they might find another husband. Naomi knows she is too old to remarry but she is willing to fend for herself if it means that Orpah and Ruth can start a new life. Orpah does the reasonable thing and follows Naomi's advice to go back home. Ruth, however, demonstrates exceptional, almost absurd fidelity to her mother-in-law and promises to remain with her whatever the circumstances. This is an exceptional act of faithfulness on the part of Ruth that goes well beyond any of the cultural expectations of her day.

But it turns out that this is not the only exemplary act of faithfulness in the story. Ruth manages to meet Boaz, a relative of Naomi. He also exemplifies faithfulness well beyond what is expected of him by taking special care of Ruth and seeing that her and Naomi have plenty of food. Ruth and Naomi take note of this special care from Boaz and Ruth uses it to the advantage of herself and Naomi by asking Boaz to "spread his covering over her", a sort of marriage proposal. Boaz says this act of kindness by Ruth is greater than her first (presumably referring to Ruth's kindness toward her mother-in-law which the story earlier indicated Boaz knew about). Boaz says that Ruth could have sought marriage with a younger man than himself but instead she has selflessly sought the marriage of a man related to her mother-in-law. This is significant because it gives Boaz the right to redeem (take ownership of) the land that belonged to Elimelech, Naomi's husband, thereby keeping it in the family. In short, Ruth has once again demonstrated remarkable faithfulness toward her mother-in-law by seeking marriage with her kinsman. Likewise, Boaz is remarkably faithful by taking responsibility for his dead relative's family when he is not obligated to do so.

As I mentioned before, the book of Ruth records a fairly mundane, everyday, family ordeal. These are just average people who exhibit extraordinary faithfulness in their ordinary circumstances. But then at the end of the book we learn an interesting fact; Ruth gives birth to a son with Boaz. His name is Obed. His son's name is Jesse who was the father of David. Though the lives of Ruth and Boaz may have seemed small and inconsequential, their extraordinary faithfulness lead to the birth of the greatest king in Israel's history.

The truth is we never know what kind of enormous consequences might follow from the simplest acts of faithfulness.

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