When Doing Right Isn’t Enough

Third in a series of posts on the women in Jesus’ genealogy. Read that list of men and women in Matthew 1 here.

“Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
Jesse was the father of King David.” (Matthew 1.5-6)

Ruth stakes her place on the list of Jesus’ ancestors with some fairness, we think. After all, she gets an entire book of the Bible named after her. She must have some more redeeming qualities than, say, the two previous women who either acted like or were actual prostitutes. Finally, we think, Matthew hits upon one woman who actually deserves to make the cut.

Ruth, still a young woman, loses her husband, as do her mother-in-law and sister-in-law. This family is hard on men, apparently. She leaves her country to travel with Naomi, her mother-in-law, back to her home. She knows there is little hope for her to remarry or even survive there. But she goes.

She chooses to come with her mother-in-law rather than leave her alone. Ruth could have returned to her own people and married again. She could have had a future. But she knew Naomi could not. She knew the older woman was likely to live in desperate poverty and loneliness, and she would not allow that if she could help it. She sacrificed her own well being for that of a woman who no longer had any legal claim on her but a heart claim that would be honored.

She works hard, long hours of manual labor to provide the smallest of resources. She obeys Naomi’s plans. She conducts herself with humility, modesty, and dignity. She does everything right.

Ruth is the unchallenged good girl of the list. Everyone loves her; everyone speaks well of her; she gets her guy in the end. If anyone deserves a place on the list, she does.

But I doubt she feels that way. I am guessing that, without the benefit of our retrospect, she felt very much forgotten and unsure of her future. As a foreigner, she felt stared at and suspected at every turn, aware that she could be turned away or taken advantage of anywhere because of her nationality. That probably sounds quite familiar to some people still today. Without the beautiful ending of the story we get to read, she must have felt more vulnerable than you or I can ever imagine.

Or maybe you can imagine it. Perhaps you feel like Ruth. You’ve done the right things. You’ve tried to follow God. You’ve chosen the right path, and you don’t understand why it’s leading not to success and prosperity but to not knowing every day where the things you need are going to come from. To feeling bare and open to powers that control you but may not have your welfare in mind. You’re not at all certain of the happy ending we read about.

Maybe you have done all you can to make good and choose well, but your skin color or your nation of origin or past record are strikes called against you before you can prove your integrity. (Why you even have to is another question, of course.)

Ruth is in this list because she needs provision. She needs trust in an uncertain future. She needs to know she’ll be taken care of, not because she did all the right things but because there is someone with enough power and enough love to lift her out of her worries and put her above them.

She finds it in Boaz, but we are offered far more than a human redeemer. We are offered One with all the resources of the universe who looks down on us and says, “I’ll care for that one. That one’s mine.”

That’s the promise of Christmas.

It’s not a promise of all we need and no worries forever. God is not the author of hakuna matata, Disney is. And much as I love the princesses, I do not look to them for my theology. (Follow your heart , tra la la . . . yeah, like that’s usually a good idea.)

What Christmas is is a promise of provision. A testimony that in the middle of whatever uncertainty life holds, there is sustenance for survival in turning to him. It may get worse before it gets better. It may honestly never get better in this life. But there is hope-sustaining love to keep the spirit alive sheltered in that baby in the manger.

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,

Whose forms are bending low,

Who toil along the climbing way

With painful steps and slow;

Look now, for glad and golden hours

Come swiftly on the wing; Oh rest beside the weary road

And hear the angels sing.”

Those words would have meant life to Ruth. They do to us, as well. Listen to the angels sing. Because it’s Christmas.