There is in the world of super hero movies, Marvel’s Avengers. And now there are so many movies and so many characters that you can watch the arc of a character through whole hours of movies.
Natasha Romanoff was kidnapped and brainwashed by Soviets with bad intentions. She was train to be an assassin and spy. There came a point that she woke up, realized the wreckage she had caused and the people she had harmed and wondered at what redemption would look like for her.
We have reached the end of the book of Ruth. And it’s almost like we could wrap the whole thing up in a nice little bow. Everybody is cared for, Their legacies will continue. And well it’s a really nice story and I hope you have enjoyed it, it is also just filled with its cultural context and in many ways, it is a world that looks very different from the one that we are part of. In the world of Ruth, legal matters are handled at the city gates, and there might be a passing of shoes along.
We find again in our story the go’el: in our text translated as the kinsman, but more formally the kinsman redeemer. This is the person who would buy back land or property to assure that it would stay in the family, to assure that someone’s place in the community would be retained, and sometimes to avenge the status and the murder of a family member.
Here, Boaz was working to extend the role of the go’el beyond just the retain of a property but the to the carrying on with a name and a family, in this case, Elimelech’s through Ruth and Naomi.
The go’el is the kinsman redeemer. And I want to spend a few minutes on that word redeemer. We can redeem coupons and tickets for a discount or a prize. A movie might be redeemed with a good ending, or something might be irredeemable because of all lost of reasons. But, we’re in church, so perhaps you thought of Jesus, a song about Jesus, or resurrection.
Sometimes I’m stuck on an text and I wonder what other preachers are say about it. Early on in our time with Ruth, I listened to other preacher’s sermons and almost all of them quickly came back to Jesus, which is not something I generally do in our Hebrew stories because these are sacred stories to a group who don’t see Jesus the same way we do and they still have value. Those other preachers often look at Ruth as a metaphor or parable or prophecy about Jesus who as Bible gateway says “becomes the go’el who purchased with his blood our lives and who wrote vengeance on our enemy Satan.” Or that Jesus redeemed us back to God who was so full of anger toward humanity, God couldn’t even look at us. And so, while redemption is something that is important to us as Christians, I often bristle at the word.
When teaching about this chapter, the title is often the redemption of Ruth, which makes it seem like Ruth did something wrong. I think, we take one understanding of redemption that we find in a letter at the end of the new testament, and read it backward into all the stories that say redemption, or sound like redemption.
And that is not what it means to be redeemed in the book of Ruth.
Redeemed, in a go’el sense is to be some right: set right in your land, set right in your community, set right in your name. It is the restoration of one’s property and the restoration of one’s lineage. So, if this is our starting point for what it is to be redeemed, who is the person who was redeemed here? While the story is named for Ruth, it is Naomi who is redeemed, who is set right.
It’s Naomi’s story. The story begins with her and her family and they are living In Bethlehem the name means house of bread in the middle of a Famine. By the time she returns to Bethlehem she has nothing: No husband, no sons, no resources. She tells the women of the community that she went away full and came back empty and bitter. And here we are, perhaps a year later and her land has been restored, her lineage will carry on, and she has been filled. She was freed from a present that had no future, freed from a system that didn’t include her, she was moved from the margins and the edges of society back into community.
This whole story is filled with redemption and restoration. The land that had been infertile was now growing in abundance. The young woman who had been barren and has now given birth. The widow who had nothing and was empty is now overfilled and able to give nourishment.
But here’s the thing: Natasha wasn’t going to get the red from her ledger by herself. Natasha, Black Widow, is redeemed and restored when she mends relationships with her family and by finding a family. She was called to good by one who would be a friend. In community she becomes a leader who holds everyone else together when the world fell apart. She was redeemed, given abundance, set right by the community around her.
And no on in Ruth and Naomi’s story could do this by themselves. Ruth and Naomi needed each other, and needed both Boaz and the community to come and gather around them, to redeem them in into the abundant life and living that God has hoped for all of us– that we all might be and happy enough, that we are brought into and have a place in the community, that we are made whole, and able to nourish others.
What if that were the narrative that we carry forward into our understanding of who Jesus is and what it means be redeemed?
When Jesus offer forgiveness of sins to the people who needed to be healed, it wasn’t a forgiveness of sins because they had done anything wrong, Jesus never condemned their actions! He condemned the actions of religious leaders, but not those on the edges and margins and those he healed. When Jesus healed forgave, he restored individuals back to the wholeness of their community. When he offered forgiveness of sins it was freedom of the shame or the bonds that had been placed on them by others and by the system to restore them back to their community. If the story of Jesus redeeming is seen through the story of Ruth, perhaps we should see who Jesus was by how his mother sang of him * “he has shown strength with his arm he has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud intentions. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.”
What if our place starting understanding of who God is and how God moves in the world is the God who restores abundance, who fills what seems empty, who brings life?
And that is a story we find over and over again in our scripture and our text from the very beginning of creation to our revelatory ends, it is a restoration and a bringing of life so that all who live on this Earth might find abundance. What we see again and again is that we don’t do it alone. Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz all had each other, and the community, lifting them up.
Jesus proclaimed and gifted healing and life to everyone that he touched and interacted with from the the disciples to the 5000, and then called the disciples went out into the world in pairs, or more, to bring that abundant life to those that they met. They built communities, families who would feed the hungry, care for the widow and orphan, shelter those without, they cared for the sick and the imprisoned, they lifted up the indebted, they wanted for nothing, and there was abundance. They brought redemption by way of restoration so that there could be life.
We are the legacy of those communities–we are part of the communities of redemption, that bring life. Perhaps you are feeling empty, may you take an example from Naomi: name your struggle, express your feelings to God, to this community, and feel the welcome of a this community that loves for your wholeness, with help bring, advocate, fight for abundance. Do you stand on the edges, the margins, may you take an example from Ruth: refuse to be excluded, demand your place, call us in when we have missed the mark, need to learn, extend the table.
Or maybe you’re feeling well today, may your example be Boaz: you have something to offer that could redeemed, bring wholeness to another. It might look like not just letting people into our space but welcoming them abundantly. It is welcoming the immigrant with resources, community, and hope. It isn’t just feeding those who are homeless but it is offering in kindness and support and resources where the person is, and it is recognizing that everybody wants them. It is finding a way to end the cycles of debt that trap people whether it is short term, payday loans that are predatory in their nature, and can have 600% interest rates. And, for generations we’ve convinced young people that their lives will be better with a degree, more than 16 million folks in the US borrowed money for a degree they didn’t or couldn’t complete for multitudes of reasons. Even those who do often have a difficult time finding a job in their field, or in general, or work their passion, teaching, social work, pastor, that may never pay back the money needed to get there. Forgiving loans, redeems people, it restores their lives.
Medical bills that can completely destabilize a person family with just one serious medical event. There are churches out there that are paying people’s medical debts because often, they are beyond what anyone could reasonably manage. My sister got the bill from her surgery and every time she was giving an aspirin they charged another $120. Forgiving debt, and we can talk about it after, universal health care redeems people, it saves lives.
That is what we’re doing by joining with other church in Family Promise. That is what we’re doing by joining with other church to support a refugee family, which we’re going to do as soon as they have one! Welcoming the immigrant, the stranger in a way that they might have life redeemed–restored and abundant.
Being part of the work of redemption is not because anyone has done anything wrong, and certainly not because we are better than them but because they are made in the image of God and deserving of abundance and wholeness and to be free from the bonds that keep them oppressed and that keep them outside of community.
And that is what the story of Ruth and Naomi has to do with Jesus. There is wholeness and abundant life and that we do it together. That is what all of it has to do with who we are as church today. We are a community that comes together in a desire to bring wholeness and abundance to each other and the world. That is the hope and promise when they come to this table, that there is abundance and there is life and we are connected and united and made whole. And we do so by coming together as different people, with all of our diverse experiences, in our years–from Naomi to Obed and learning from each other and being a part of each other’s lives; and bring together what we have, what we know, who we are and letting it grow together that it might become more than we could have ever imagined in mysterious and divine ways.
May we be the church to each other and to the world. May we be Ruth and Naomi and Boaz. May redeem the last, lonely, least to restoration, wholeness, and abundance.