In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. (Ruth 1:1-4)
Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.” So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. (Ruth 4:11-13)
The road to Bethlehem should have been a road closed to Ruth. Previous experiences with Moab left a bad taste in Israel’s mouth. The king of Moab tried to hire Balaam to put a curse on Moses and the people when they were in the wilderness. Failing to do that, the people of Moab seduced Israel to worship their pagan gods. Moses was very clear in Deuteronomy that people from Moab – people like Ruth – were not welcome in Israel.
That did not deter Ruth. She was committed to going with, living with and worshiping with her mother-in-law. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was abuzz. It took a lot of courage for Ruth to go and glean grain. And by grace, it was the field of Boaz, who not only welcomed her but offered her protection.
In the end, Boaz redeems the land previously owned by Elimelech, Naomi’s late husband, marries Ruth, and she is grafted into the family tree of David, making her an ancestor of Jesus. The road to Bethlehem not only brought Ruth to a foreign land, but also to the Lord. (If you have a chance, read the whole book of Ruth. It’s only four chapters, and an amazing story of faithfulness, mercy and grace.)
I’ll bet you’ve been in Ruth’s shoes and felt like you weren’t welcome. Like when you were hired to manage a group of employees who were all passed over for the promotion. Maybe you were completely over or under dressed for an occasion. Has a mistake or failure ever cast a shadow over you that makes you feel like an outsider among members of your own family?
Jesus was so good at welcoming outsiders and misfits. Tax collectors, Roman soldiers, blind beggars, clandestine Pharisees and timid disciples. By the end of Jesus’ ministry, you wonder, “Is there anyone Jesus doesn’t love?”
Actually, when you think about it, Jesus himself is from out of town. He’s the stranger. He’s the outsider. And that means he’s one of us! How about that? His whole kingdom consists of outsiders and misfits like us.
Welcome to our world, Lord. I think you’ll fit right in. Oh, and there’s a few people I want you to meet. Amen.