A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The God of Refugees, Part 3: The Foreigner in Our Space

by L. Daniel Hawk
Links to previous post can be found at the bottom

May you receive the full amount of your wages from Yahweh, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.
Ruth 2:12b

Home is where the heart is, as the saying goes. Material space and social space are intertwined. Our sense of identity, the network of our relationships, our sense of belonging, and our formative experiences are attached to a sense of place. 

A home is what Naomi wants for Ruth, and undoubtedly for herself. At the beginning of the story, she tells Ruth to find a home with her people back in Moab (1:9). Yet after Ruth gleans in the field of Boaz, Naomi is determined to find Ruth a home in Israel. (3:1). What has changed Naomi's perspective?

When Ruth enters the field of Boaz (2:1-23), she also enters Bethlehem's social space and the web of relationships that defines it. She makes the decision driven by necessity but without a connection to the community she enters. She is the proverbial sore thumb. Have you ever been in a space or among a group of people where realized you didn't fit in at all, where you felt uncomfortably conspicuous? Because she is a Moabite, Ruth is particularly vulnerable. This becomes apparent later, when Boaz commands his workers not to harass or demean Ruth (2:9, 16) and Naomi tells Ruth that she might be abused if she goes to another field (2:22; modern translations tend to soften the force of the Hebrew verbs). 

My attention, however, is drawn to Boaz, the owner of the field and a person of prestige and influence. Boaz is the narrator’s vehicle for demonstrating how God’s people are to respond to the outsider and the immigrant. This is apparent when Boaz first appears in the field and asks about the woman who has entered the field. The field hand whom he asks sees only "the Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from Moab."

Boaz, however, addresses Ruth with a term of endearment: "my daughter." Then he tells her not to go to another field but to stay with his people in his field. It is a powerful declaration: you belong here with us.

In what follows, Boaz uses his position to draw Ruth into Bethlehem's social space, from its outer rung ("join my young women" [v. 8]) and to a place beside all the workers (v. 14). Then he goes farther by giving her special treatment that responds to the need she has but has not expressed (a gift of grain and a command that his workers leave stalks of grain in the field for her). He also takes measures to ensure her safety and see that she has more than enough to eat. Boaz, in short, does not merely tolerate or give permission for the Moabite to work in his space. He takes active steps to provide protection, provision, and a sense of belonging.

I see a vision of hospitality and a type of the Church reflected in the person of Boaz. Boaz speaks words of blessing to the immigrant who arrives with little more than the clothes on her back and works hard in the field to get enough to eat (v. 7). Boaz uses his position in the community to help her feel at ease in her new home, connect her to the community, and take the steps necessary help find security, stability, and a place to work.

Boaz recognizes the refugee and welcomes her. He does not just allow her to be in his space or communicate acceptance. He becomes the advocate she needs to become a part of a new community.
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Warren said...

I believe in the Creator of the refugees. He is the one the slaves and Indians prayed to and for. He is the One who directed Abraham away from all Abraham new encouraged by a promised future. I need to have a greater relationship with this Creator and God the slaves and refugees pray to. Beautiful observations of parallels that fit our day. Not just "old testament," but new revelation.

mike helbert said...

It seems as though one of the greatest fears that folks have of the immigrant 'other' is what happens when they are here and on their own. Won't they cling to their own ways rather than work to fit in with ours? What if they try to impose their ethics and morality on our people? (Not unlike what happened in Germany recently.) One thing I see from your picture of Boaz and the problem (?) of Ruth is that Boaz actively intervened to help Ruth understand and assimilate to her new environment. He cared enough about Ruth and Naomi to take a hands on approach to her well-being. We could perhaps take a lesson here. What would happen if when the refugee and immigrant show up in our community we, too, took a pro-active and caring approach to them in order to help them become a part of our community?

Dan Hawk said...

Mike, I think you are spot on. It's one thing to tolerate refugees in our communities. It's quite another to take the proactive stance you describe - not just welcoming refugees but taking those actions that give them access to the community's resources and communicating that they belong. That also entails living in a tension between their assimilation and the changes their presence brings to our society. I see Ruth raising that tension. Ruth the Moabite follows Israel's God and enters the community - but the end of the story also emphasizes that what she brings as a foreigner makes the community stronger.
Warren, the hospitality that I have seen practiced by my indigenous sisters and brothers has had a deep impact on my thinking about welcome - which has in turn alerted me to the prominence of this motif in the book of Ruth.
My apologies to both of you for the late reply. I posted comments yesterday morning but evidently they didn't stick.