I love the story of Ruth in the Old Testament. Not so long back we spent a few weeks working through it together as a Home Group. The story is of a family who leave Bethlehem during a famine for Moab. It’s a story about economic migrants. They settle in Moab and the sons marry but sadly, dad and the boys all die. Ruth was one of the Moabite wives. She returns with her mother-in-law Naomi to Bethlehem. As the story unfolds, Ruth takes up the opportunity glean in the fields of a wealthy relative of her husband called Boaz. This leads to her marrying him in fulfilment of the law’s provision for widows. Ruth and Boaz have children and one of their descendants is King David. This means that Jesus was also descendent of Ruth.
To modern western eyes, this appears primarily as a romantic love story. There clearly is love and romance in it. This is no mere marriage of convenience. However, I don’t think that’s how we are meant to read it. Rather, this is all about how the Law provides for the protection and care of righteous people leading to the fulfilment of God’s salvation plan. You could say that the book of Ruth gives us a very specific example of how Jesus fulfils the Law. The result of this is that people from outside of the physical nation of Israel, Gentiles, can be included in the covenant and receive salvation.
Now, the specific laws, gleaning and levirate marriages were designed for the people of Israel as they lived in the land God had given them under his covenant. This means that we are not meant to try and literally replicate them in our contexts (this is an approach known as Theo nomism). However, I think that there are lessons we can learn about life because those rules were rooted in God’s character and in the way he had created the world.
For example, God created a world that was subject to times and seasons and so I believe that weekly and seven yearly sabbaths building up to a fiftieth year Jubilee do in some way reflect some of those patterns. Therefore, I am not surprised that every so often we experience economic recessions or that we hit the type of crisis we have seen with a nasty pandemic.
Therefore, if we can expect these things, then we can and should prepare for them. We saw with the furlough scheme that there are ways in which we can provide for sabbaths and in effect to allow the land or the economy to lie fallow. What if we built that kind of consideration into our planning? I am not saying this is a Government responsibility but more of a societal one. What does it look like to set aside something for the lean years?
Similarly, gleaning, levirate marriages and festivals such as Harvest were a reminder that God’s people were “in it together.” They were meant to look out for each other. This was not about charitable hand outs but sharing in the goodness together. Each person had a part to play in society, no-one was meant to be redundant. The church is meant to exemplify this in the way that we all bring our different gifts as part of the body. This is about spiritual togetherness but there is also a strong sense of practical love and care for one another there too.
Now, I’m not big on state intervention. However, at the same time, I don’t believe that we are just meant to look after number one. So, in what ways can we encourage a sense of togetherness in churches and indeed in the wider community. Here are some thoughts.
It starts with finding ways of recognising the different contributions people have to bring including those that are not necessarily economic. Then we need to find ways of sharing together. This means that it is less about a charity handout via a voucher and more about saying to people that they are loved, welcomed, and valued.
It’s for this reason why I would prefer to see a family sharing the shopping with another family or having a meal together (outdoors if your COVID rules require it). It’s also why I’d like to see us find more ways of encouraging those who aren’t able to get into traditional forms of employment to discover useful things that they can contribute to the good of the community.
I’d love to hear about people trying out these sorts of things and coming up with ideas of their own too. Most of all, though it’s a change of mindset and attitude that we need towards each other.