The story of Ruth comes to life in a special dramatic reading

Monday, November 1, 2010

TEXT: Ruth chapter 4

IDEA: Men and women do not have to do evil acts to fall short of God’s standard; merely self-centered acts can cause them to fall short of God’s hesed.

PURPOSE: To help listeners feel the impact of the transaction between Boaz and the kinsman-redeemer.

NARRATOR: In Ruth 4:1-6 we read the following story: “Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat down there just as the family guardian he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, ‘Come over here, my friend, and sit down.’ So he went over and sat down. Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, ‘Sit here,’ and they did so.

“Then he said to the family guardian, ‘Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.’ ‘I will redeem it,’ he said. Then Boaz said, ‘On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.’ At this, the family guardian said, ‘Then I cannot redeem it because it might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.’ ”

NARRATOR continues: Let’s see if we can get a better insight into what is going on in this segment of the story of Ruth by talking to the man who turned down the chance to redeem Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Imagine that we were able to talk with him just after his encounter with Boaz at the city gate had ended.

INTERVIEWER: Pardon me, Sir. I wonder if I could have a few minutes of your time to have you explain to our listeners what has just taken place.

KINSMAN: Look, I’m on my way to work in my field. I don’t have a lot of time to answer questions.

INTERVIEWER: It won’t take long. Tell me how you and Boaz are related to each other.

KINSMAN: We’re both in the same clan. The same one that Naomi’s late husband belonged to. Boaz and I would be cousins. I guess I am a first cousin. He is a second cousin. Something like that.

INTERVIEWER: Why did Boaz approach you about buying a field from Naomi?

KINSMAN: Well, Naomi owned the piece of land that belonged to her husband, Elimelech. But there was no way that Naomi and that daughter-in-law of hers could have worked that field by themselves. It would be too much for two women. So they put it on the market.

INTERVIEWER: After Boaz told you about the field, you agreed to purchase it?

KINSMAN: Yes, I did.  You see, I am the nearest relative and I wanted to help Naomi, and it wouldn’t have been right to let that land fall into the hands of outsiders. It is one of the duties of the nearest relative to redeem that land. And the purchase price would help Naomi survive. My wife heard it from her own lips that she came back from Moab with nothing.

INTERVIEWER: That would have been a thoughtful thing for you to do. You would help take care of a helpless widow.

KINSMAN: I wanted to help. Besides, the field she owned was quite productive. Now that the drought has ended, it would produce enough grain to earn back the purchase price in a couple of years. If the good rains came after I got back the purchase price, I could help the old woman, Naomi, and I would have a choice piece of land for my children’s inheritance.

INTERVIEWER: So that’s why you agreed to buy the field?

KINSMAN: I like a win/win situation. I would keep that field in the family and also add the land to my personal holdings. It would also provide for Elimelech’s wife, Naomi, in the bargain. Boaz was next in line for it, but I felt that it was the proper thing for me to do as the relative who was first in line. I agreed to serve as what we call “the kinsman-redeemer” of the field.  It was an application of our law. My buying the field makes sense to you, doesn’t it?

INTERVIEWER: Yes, I suppose so, but the deal seemed to fall apart. Why did you back off from the agreement?

KINSMAN: Well, that fellow, Boaz, added another factor that he hadn’t mentioned before. He told me that Ruth the Moabite went with the property. That was a deal-breaker. To get the land I had to take her.

INTERVIEWER: I’m not sure I really understand how Ruth went with the property.

KINSMAN: If I acquired the rights to Elimelech’s land, then I as a kinsman-redeemer also had to assume the responsibility to rescue Elimelech’s line.  That line hangs on two very thin threads: the old woman, Naomi – she isn’t going to have any more children at her age – and the other thread was that Moabite girl, Ruth, that Naomi brought back with her. She is Elimelech’s daughter-in-law.

INTERVIEWER: I am still a bit confused. Tell me why all of this bothered you enough to give up the land.

KINSMAN: For me to rescue the line meant that I would also have to acquire Ruth. I would then have to marry her and father a child with her on behalf of Elimelech and his dead son who had been her husband. I didn’t want the land that badly. It was no longer a good bargain. In fact, it could ruin me.

INTERVIEWER: Oh? Why is that true?

KINSMAN: Think about it. Add up all the costs involved. First, I would have the cost of redeeming the property. Second, there is the expense of supporting the widow, Naomi. Then there would be the cost of marrying the Moabite daughter-in-law and having a child through her. I said a child.  We could end up with several children. Instead of building up my family assets, I would be draining them.

INTERVIEWER: You don’t think that you could have handled that in order to save Elimelech’s line? We all know how important it is to keep a name alive.

KINSMAN: There’s more. Let’s suppose I had a son with Ruth. That child would legally be considered the heir and descendent of Elimelech. The land I would buy would legally be his and because Elimelech’s name would continue, the kid might inherit my estate and my own line would disappear. It’s much too risky.

INTERVIEWER: Well, you did a lot of quick thinking, didn’t you, while the elders of the town looked on.

KINSMAN: I had to consider my family.

INTERVIEWER: Your family?

KINSMAN: Yes, my family. How would my wife feel about bringing home the Moabite woman as a wife? I understand that she is strong and attractive and still young. My wife isn’t young any more. I don’t know how she would handle the competition. It could set up a lot of needless tension in my house.

INTERVIEWER: That could be irritating, I suppose.

KINSMAN: And there’s something else besides the wife. What would people think about my bringing a woman from Moab into my line? And the child, if we had one, would also have Moabite blood in his body. Above all, a person like me wants to do everything he can to keep his line pure. I don’t want to contaminate it with foreign blood. You understand that, don’t you?

INTERVIEWER: I suppose so. Maybe . . .

KINSMAN: Elimelech’s boys may have had no problem marrying Moabite women, but I do. Why should I suffer the consequences of their mistakes? That’s why I waived my rights and let Boaz take them. There was just too much at stake for me to act as a kinsman-redeemer. That’s why I changed my mind. I said to Boaz in the presence of the elders and with people from the community listening, I said, “I cannot do it. You do it.” I hope people understand that a man like me has to be practical and not take risks. You understand, don’t you?  That’s why I gave the right to buy the land and marry Ruth the Moabite to Boaz. I simply couldn’t do it. There was too much at stake.

NARRATOR: The man left no doubt about his decision. Boaz was now free to keep the promise that he had made to Ruth that he would find her a kinsman to redeem her. Boaz and this man stand in stark contrast to one another. Without a word of praise or blame, the storyteller juxtaposed this kinsman and Boaz. Though living under the same circumstances, Boaz joyfully accepted the duty that the kinsman declined. The kinsman did what was prudent by not risking financial loss. Boaz modeled the faithful love of God. The story doesn’t fault the kinsman for being practical and responsible. He is not blamed for not taking on more than he could manage. He was a normal, solid citizen. But he put himself and his family first.