Week of Aug. 21: Sensitivity is essential when trying to help others
By HERCHEL SHEETS
Lesson for week of Aug. 21
Boaz is the strong, stalwart figure in the Book of Ruth - just the kind of person we had hoped would come along. Naomi had both acknowledged the desirability and denied the possibility of Ruth's finding a new husband if she went with her to Bethlehem. But wonder of wonders, it happened!
A woman without a husband "in the days when the judges ruled" was a woman in pitiable condition. Living in a man's world, she had no one to protect her and no one to provide for her. Ruth's husband, like Naomi's, had left her no property, no savings, no investments, no insurance, no social security, no pension. Naomi thought her daughters-in-law would have better chances of finding new husbands after their first husbands' deaths if they stayed in Moab instead of going with her to Bethlehem. But Ruth chose to go with her anyway. She was willing to risk widowhood, poverty, hardship, and even mistreatment in order to be faithful in friendship and love.
Living through poverty
When these two women, the older Naomi and the younger Ruth, arrived in Bethlehem, some immediately recognized Naomi as the former native and resident of Bethlehem. They were surprised, however, that she was still alive and had now come back to Bethlehem. They didn't know this woman with her. But one thing that was clear from the very beginning: she was devoted to Naomi. Naomi was nursing bitterness and self-pity, but Ruth was looking for ways to provide for her.
Naomi and Ruth were in the depths of poverty when they came to Bethlehem, but notice how differently each reacted to their circumstances. Naomi allowed her poverty to make her bitter, and she kept blaming God for her condition. Ruth was in widowhood and poverty, too, but she did what she could do. I remember a story my Dad used to tell about a man who was out of a job. Someone asked him what he was going to do, and he replied, "I don't know. I have preached, and I'm not too good to do it again!"
Ruth was not too good to work in the fields, to do whatever she needed to do. She did not let her circumstances stifle her initiative. That is easier to advise than it is to do, but Ruth did it. And she did not nurse her bitterness. Eventually, Naomi, too, saw the dawning of new possibilities, and hope was born in her again.
Wanting to help
When Boaz enters the picture, we see a person who "has things under control." He is a man of means. He has probably never known what it is to be hungry, yet we see him acting with compassion toward two women in desperate need. Note how Boaz reacted to Ruth's presence in his grain field. He sought her identity, for one thing, though the way he asked the question indicated that he expected her to "belong" to someone. He asked, "Whose maiden is this?" But at least he was not willing for her to remain one of the nameless poor.
Boaz treated Ruth with neither negligence nor disrespect. He showed appreciation of her industry and fidelity. He was impressed that she was willing to work, and apparently never thought of her as the stereotypical "shiftless deadbeat." He had heard about her faithfulness in caring for her mother-in-law, and he appreciated that. He was compassionate toward her. He could have said, "I have had to work for what I have, and I'm not going to share it with this stranger and foreigner." Instead, his heart went out to her in pity and compassion, and that put new heart into both Ruth and Naomi.
There is no hint of romantic love at this point. It may be, though, that Boaz sensed at least a little that his own life, in its most basic elements, might be enriched by this poor woman gleaning in his grain fields. How unusual that was may be seen when we stop to realize that many in our time have no idea of the poor as having anything worthwhile to contribute to their lives.
Helping without hurting
Boaz's task was to help without hurting, to do good without doing harm. He might not have thought much about this, but we ought to think about it. How can we give without humiliating the one to whom we are giving? How can we help another without stifling that person's initiative or discouraging his or her spirit of independence or smothering his or her sense of dignity and self respect.
Too often we want to do good, but in our way. That was really Martha's problem when Jesus came to visit in her home (see Luke 10:38-42). This was a critical time in Jesus' life and ministry. He was living under the threat of the cross. He needed someone just to be with him, to care about him, to support him with love and concern. Martha wanted to serve Jesus, but all she could think about was preparing a meal for him. She wanted to serve him, but she wanted to serve him in her way, not in his.
It takes real sensitivity, which requires willingness to listen, along with dedicated imagination, to be able to picture one's self in another's situation and to discern how to help without hurting. But without that, we may hurt when we are trying to help.