We have explored Ruth’s great risks in remaining faithful to Naomi. But Boaz too is taking risks. I mentioned these risks in passing in yesterday’s devotional. Boaz is taking an economic risk in sacrificing some of his own profits for the benefit of someone else. Perhaps it is not a great risk or an immediate one, but it is still a sacrifice and a risk. This story, posted by Robert Reich illustrates my point.
United Airlines reports it’s outsourcing 630 gate agent jobs at 12 airports to companies paying near-poverty level wages. Employees who have been with the company for years, earning middle-class wages of $50,000 a year, will be replaced by people paid between $9.50 and $12 per hour. United says it must do this to cut costs and raise its profits relative to other airlines. But United CEO Jeff Smisek gave himself $8.1 million this year. If he cut his salary just $2 million (in line with the CEO of the more successful Southwest Airlines, who gets $4 million), United would save about as much as it will by cutting the pay of those 630 employees.
Moving on, Boaz’s risk is not dimly economic, it is also social and religious. Boaz lives in a culture in which Moabites are not welcome. This is not just a cultural norm, although that is pressure enough, but as we have said, a religious norm as well. Deuteronomy 23 specifically calls for Israelites to remain separate from Moabites. So Boaz does not just risk a slight loss in profit, but public shame for welcoming an unwelcome foreign woman to his table and taking her under his care.
Present in the story of Moab is the struggle to decide the right thing to do when that right is not necessarily clear. One could site Deuteronomy 23 and refuse care and compassion to Ruth with religious cover. One could also sight Exodus 22:22 and the others I listed on monday, to suggest that compassion and care for Ruth was religiously necessary. Boaz faces a decision in our story from sunday and it is not an easy one. Boaz’s response, which is to act with hospitality and compassion suggests to Christians today how it is that we should make these sometimes difficult decisions about love and compassion in action. Boaz risks being unfaithful in order to be faithful. Or, as the prophet Micah has told us, God requires mercy, kindness and justice.