When I lived in California and I worked in San Francisco, there were times I had to take the train to get to work, because of traffic, But I never mind it. It never failed to happen once I got to the more industrial portions of the city to find a small older woman with one of those Stall carts that you would buy for yourself to bring your groceries home Fill to the top with bags some little grocery bags some large garbage bags filled with Soda cans and they would be tied under the sides. You would see the women checking the garbage cans, and picking out the cans to add to her bags. As they walked down the sidewalks you could hear the crinkling of bags and the rattling of cans. They would wait at the bus stops, Sometimes the bus driver would tell them no the bus driver didn’t want them on the bus with all of their cart and bags full of cans. But not always and when they did get on the bus, they would navigate their cart and their bags for cans onto the bus and off of the bus to the places they needed to go to turn the 10 cents a can.
There was someone in our neighborhood who came through for a while looking at everybody’s recycling bins and collecting out the camps up-and-down the street. And I’ve wondered about the lives of these folks, both the women and San Francisco and the folks here in Milwaukee. Do they need this money, were they supplementing their income or had rent gotten too expensive or it was difficult to buy essentials? Can’t imagine anyone doing it for fun. I imagine there have been a lot of assumptions made, That maybe they were Too lazy to work which doesn’t make any sense because it’s a lot of work for not a lot of money. Or maybe done they didn’t pay for the cans in the first place, why should they get any of the income from them now, even though the cans had been thrown away as trash? Did you know that some restaurants and grocery stores that throw away food at the end of the night or throughout the week when it gets too old to sell, put locks on their dumpsters to keep people from taking food from them, as if the folks who root around in a dumpster for food are getting away with something? They live their lives, gleaning for the leftovers, the scraps, the discarded pieces of the lives of others.
I’ve had to make some guesses and some assumptions about this story. I assume a limit had owned land and property inside and outside of Bethlehem for a home and for farming, But that during that time of famine and in preparation for leaving for Moab he sold it. A fact that will become important later on. What I don’t know is where Naomi and Ruth slept at night. I don’t know is where Naomi spent her days when she had returned to Bethlehem with no husband, no sons, with nothing. Ruth asks Naomi for permission to follow behind the harvesters and collect whatever is left behind because she and Naomi have nothing And they must eat. And Naomi, seeing the dire of their situation, seeing no future, knowing the end is near just says, “OK child.”
I know Bethlehem was a tiny little town when Jesus was born, So I’m assuming it was a small town at the time of the judges as well. That there would have been a few families big families but a few families live in in the village and their farms would be just outside. I’m assuming a knowing eye would be able to distinguish the fields of one family from another but maybe for someone like Ruth, you could just wander from one field to another not knowing who’s field it was.
We meet Boaz in this chapter. And we learn that he is some kind of familiar relationship to Elimelech. The 1st few verses are intentionally vague To leave us wondering and asking questions about what role he’s going to play. He is a prominent man, a prosperous man. His name is written on a pillar of the temple like a stained glass window that says In honor of the generous gift of Boaz of the tribe of Ephraim from Bethlehem. He was also valorous perhaps he was a large man a man who fought in battles.
A man of his probable age and social status would be married. We don’t know if he is currently married it was not uncommon for people men of that time to be able to have as many wives as they were able to afford. Perhaps his wife had died the acts of giving birth and being born were incredibly dangerous. We know that Boaz’s eye focused on one of the women following his labors picking up what they left behind.
Built into the laws of Israel is this care For those who lived on the margins. We always remember that Moses king on the mountain with the 10 words the commandments the laws of God that established a covenant between the people of Israel and their God. But The laws didn’t end there. Found in the writings and Leviticus and Deuteronomy are the laws that would establish a community and good order. The laws would allow for their religious traditions and for this community to live and be well together. There are food laws that may have been established to keep people safe for health and safety reasons. Like the prohibitions against shellfish, because how do you cook them in a way to keep them safe and what if there are a lot of people with allergies and they’re basically the cockroaches of the sea which you’re going to remember the next time someone says we should go stay fair and eat bugs which are basically the lobsters of the land.
But also there were laws about how to Harvest or glean the fields. When harvesting you should leave the corners of the fields and the edges. You shouldn’t take everything you see and collect it. People moved, sometimes the ancient world was unstable. There were famines that made it difficult for someone in their homeland and they needed to travel to another. These laws were Built-in the place to care for those who had nothing. The immigrant, the widow, the orphan could collect food behind the harvesters. You didn’t harvest everything because there was someone coming behind you who needed it.
But Boaz went above and beyond for Ruth. He made sure that she wasn’t just having to pick up The Leftovers that fell from the hands of those who were harvesting. Not just the ones that maybe they decided were good enough for Boaz or for selling. They were to take what was already harvested already bundled and leave some of that for ruth to collect as well. Boaz made sure she was safe from the men because being a vulnerable woman put her in a dangerous situation.
Boaz welcomed Ruth to this community keeping her safe and giving her more than what was expected and more than she could ever have anticipated.
So I wonder about those who have and the edges on the margins. Who are they who are living off the gleaning up when it’s leftover. That we want to make sure have something, but maybe not the best things from what we have collected. I think about our food pantries and how when the call goes out to head to our pantries and pick out the cans we aren’t sure why we bought but we haven’t used them so, maybe someone else will. Or we look at all the dates and realize that they are so close to expiring that we ought to get them out… We offer our canned vegetables we didn’t get to before they expired because we bought fresh ones. Or the fruit because we realized it was so full of sugar. Our food pantries are peanut butter and no bread or crackers to eat it with. And the food pantries are lacking in bathroom necessities that aren’t covered by SNAP benefits. And we’re so certain we know what people need in their meals that we don’t give sweets, simple cake mixes, because we forget that everyone has a birthday, that there are children who deserve to be celebrated.
What if we were like Boaz Refuse to stop at the bare minimum Of letting people pick up the scraps, of letting people collect the grain that had fallen haphazardly to the ground, of letting people collect the cans from our trash, or Be resigned to the expired food from our pantries. What if we chose extravagance? What if we chose to go above and beyond? Who sees somebody far off and says you are a part of our clan, our tribe, our community, our family? And so are worthy of more than just what is left over.
A decade or so ago, event planner Paige Chenault was pregnant with her 1st child and so excited. She was dreaming about the parties she could have for her child When she came across an article about a child in a picture with a picture and she realized that while she was planning these elaborate parties that child and others like him Kim might not get the chance to celebrate. She started the birthday Party project in 2012, There were no birthday parties for the kids of Ann and homeless shelters In Her city of Corpus Christi, Texas. For the last 10 years or so so they have thrown birthday parties every month In states across the country Celebrating the children whose birthdays would fall during that month. She refuses to let these children just have the scraps and the leftover pieces of our world are there valuable and they are worthy. They are welcomed into the party and into celebration and she’s celebrating who they are And the day they were born.
The world is full of people who will stand on the edges, Who live on the margins and hope to glean what they can just to survive. Whether it is food or it is a celebration or it is love or it is welcome. Are we giving what’s left over in our pantry at the end of a season or are we giving people what they need and a chance to celebrate? Is our welcome just going to say hello or is it how we would want our love wants to be brought into community? Can we see those on the edges and margins as our loved ones too?
Maybe it is the work of extravagant welcome and love. The opportunity to keep each other safe in a world that is often unsafe for those who live on the edges. Did you know our corner of the world made national news? The Kettle Moraine School board has decided that their policy that prohibits teachers from promoting any particular political or religious view includes rainbow imagery, including flags, in the school. What the flag has done for LGBT young people is let them know that there is a safe place in their schools, that there are safe adults in their midst, that they are not alone, and when 40% of LGBT youth seriously consider suicide and attempt at rates higher than the national averages, I am for anything that saves lives. It is part of what makes our welcome so important, as a reminder that no one deserves leftover love, leftover welcome, the scraps of community, or support, but that are part of the family of God and part of this family of Christ, already, regardless, fully.
So beloveds, may we, like Boaz give generously, love extravagantly; maybe together, unlike Boaz, we’ll see all the people who are scraping by not just one, maybe together we can create a world where they have more than just gleaning scraps but may they have more than enough.