Summer of Hospitality #3 - Hospitality's True Reward
At this she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me a foreigner? Boaz replied. Ive been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.
At first it can be hard to understand why Ruth was so grateful to Boaz. After all, it seems hes done nothing more than allow her to gather leftover grain from his fields during the harvest. That hardly seems like good hospitality by any standards! But there are at least two things that make this Old Testament story simply amazing.
First - while it would have been customary for a man like Boaz to allow local widows to glean in his fields - it was not at all customary in Boazs day to show such kindness toward strangers and foreigners. In fact, a widowed woman like Ruth was taking a tremendous risk by gleaning in the fields since a few immoral harvest workers were likely to take advantage of a foreign woman living without the protection of a family. Unfortunately, such attacks were well known even though Gods word was clear that both foreigners and widows were to be treated with dignity and kindness (Exodus 22:21-22). This is why Boazs declarations of protection for Ruth are so remarkable. He knew she was vulnerable as a foreigner, and he took strong steps to ensure her safety.
Second, then, just as now, there was tremendous temptation to show kindness and hospitality only to those who could repay you. After all, hospitality costs us something, and when we choose our friends and guest wisely we are often handsomely rewarded! To this very day the concept of hospitality in some middle-eastern cultures involves an obligatory expectation of repayment.
But Ruth could never repay Boaz. As a widow, she was destitute. As a foreigner, she had little hope for remarriage. His gesture was unselfish; rather than repayment, Boaz was motivated by a desire for something else, a desire, in fact, to repay Ruth.
When her mother-in-law Naomi lost everything, and decided to return to Bethlehem, Ruth left her own family - her only real hope of stability and protection and remained by Naomis side, demonstrating a remarkable compassion and loyalty for her grieving and lonely mother-in-law. Just as Ruth could never repay the hospitality of Boaz, so Naomi could never have hoped to repay Ruth. Ironically, by displaying loyalty and compassion in the face of personal risk and sacrifice Ruth, a foreigner, demonstrates that she understands the heart of the Lord better than many of the Israelites themselves.
In other words, Ruth demonstrated her own kind of hospitality. A hospitality that provided a home-in-the-heart for someone whod lost her own home and family. And even though Naomi couldnt pay her back, God could, and in a remarkable act of faithfulness to a woman who wasnt even a part of His covenant, the Lord brings Boaz into Ruths life, and reveals that the blessing of the Lord is hospitalitys true reward.
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