Reflecting on Ruth & Immigration
Yet as a Christ follower, I can reflect on the one thing I do know (at least a little) - the Bible. Our mid-week Bible study group recently finished working through the book of Ruth. Our reflections from these last several weeks feel particularly helpful as our country considers the complex issues of welcoming immigrants, caring for families, and respecting the laws of the land.
So as one traveler to another, here are some insights from Ruth for today:
Ruth is the "ideal immigrant" and yet still faces danger.
From the very beginning of Ruth's story, she's described as a woman of noble character and selfless compassion. She decides to make the journey from Moab to Bethlehem not for personal gain, but because her Mother-in-law (a Bethlehem native) needs help. She goes out of her way to conform to her new culture, and yet it's still made abundantly clear that she could face danger if she winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time (1:11-18; 2:8-16, 22).
Nobody knows Ruth's character or history just by looking at her. Like the rest of us, they make snap judgments when they recognize that she's a Moabite. Even if laws make sense and immigrants do everything the right way, their experience is not guaranteed to be universally positive.
Boaz is celebrated for making things easy for Ruth.
Before any romance even buds between the two, Boaz goes through extra effort to provide easy work for Ruth. The practice of foreigners and widows gleaning the leftovers from the field was an established system to care for the most vulnerable (Lev 19:9-10; Dt 24:19-22). Boaz goes above and beyond by instructing his foremen to leave entire stalks for her to pick up, rather than just the normal leftovers (2:15-16).
Like Israel, most nations have systems to provide a social safety net. That doesn't mean folks won't fall through the cracks, nor that newcomers will magically know all the rules when they arrive. Going the extra mile to make things easy for others can mean the difference between survival and thriving.
Choice matters in God's plan.
Ruth's story is full of choices and their consequences. In particular, the choices of Ruth and Boaz stand in stark contrast to those of Orpah (Ruth's sister-in-law) and the other, unnamed kinsman redeemer. After their husbands die, Ruth and Orpah both face the choice between caring for their mother-in-law in a new land or returning to their parents' homes. Ruth goes with Naomi, but Orpah makes the decision to seek a future with her parents and her own people (1:11-14). Likewise, when a man with first rights to claim Naomi's land discovers that doing so means he'll have to marry and take care of Ruth, the man decides that it is more trouble than its worth and passes the right off to Boaz (4:1-6).
Orpah and this unnamed man are not wrong or sinful for their decisions. They are making shrewd decisions based on their best discernment of what is right for them and their families. But Ruth and Boaz make history in God's redemptive story because they show exemplary loving-kindness and sacrificial generosity. Our choices can mean the difference between temporary calm and lasting change for redemptive good.
Ruth was written at a different time, in a different culture, and under different circumstances. However, it can give us meaningful insights as Christ followers in our current responses to immigration policies and positions.
First, we recognize that while we desire to uphold the rule of law, even those who do so are likely to experience hardship and prejudice. Christians ought to be the first to step up as protectors of the vulnerable.
Second, we recognize that existing laws and social safety nets are not always easy to navigate. Christians ought to support policies and programs that make it easy for those in need to receive help.
Finally, we recognize that God's ultimate purpose for redeeming this world doesn't lie in governments but in a people transformed by the love of Christ and His redemptive work in the world. As Christ's followers, we ought to do whatever we can to go above and beyond the norm in order to provide loving-kindness to the stranger.
May we be like Ruth and Boaz - a people of integrity, shaped by sacrificial love. And may God give us wisdom and discernment for the journey ahead.
Updates and devotional thoughts for and from our faith family.