Given our brief sampling of the Book of Ruth in daily Mass, perhaps a reflection is in order.
The detailed background to the text is too lengthy to go into here, but a few points will help. The story features three main characters: Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi. Boaz is clearly a picture (or “type”) of Christ. He was born and lives in Bethlehem; he ultimately acts as Ruth’s “kinsman-redeemer” by rescuing her from poverty and paying the price so as to cancel her debt. This, of course, is just what Christ does for us: He redeems us by His blood, canceling our poverty and debt. Ruth is a picture of the individual soul in need of Christ’s redemption and mercy. Naomi plays several roles in the book, but in the passage we will consider here she is a picture of the Church; she advises Ruth in what to do and draws her to Boaz, her redeemer.
Consider the following text and then let us see how Naomi symbolizes the Church.
Naomi said to Ruth, “Is not Boaz ... a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.” “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered (Ruth 3:2-5).
The advice that Naomi gives to Ruth is very much in line with the instruction that our Mother the Church gives us. In our poverty and under the debt of our sin, we are exhorted by the Church to seek our “Boaz,” who is Christ. (I am indebted to Rev. Adrian Rogers for supplying the alliterative headings below. They are his; the rest of the text is mine).
Be Firmly Convinced - Naomi says, Is not Boaz ... a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Ruth knows her poverty, her pain, and her debt; so does Naomi. She exhorts Ruth to seek Boaz because he is near and can help. Boaz is wealthy and thus has the power to save Ruth, to draw her out of her overwhelming poverty; he has the capacity to cancel Ruth’s debt. She is to seek him at the threshing floor, where he is preparing and providing the bread that will sustain her. She must go, firmly convinced that Boaz will love her and save her.
So, too, does the Church exhort us: Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near (Is. 55:6). Yes, there is one among us, a near kinsman, who is not ashamed to call us his brethren (Heb 2:11); His name is Jesus. As God, He has the power to save us and to cancel our debt. Cast your cares on him, for he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus is at the threshing floor of His Church, preparing a banquet for you in the sight of your foe (Psalm 23:5). The grain He is winnowing is the Eucharistic Bread of His own flesh. Yes, says the Church, come to Jesus, firmly convinced of His love and His power to save.
Be Freshly Cleansed - Next, Naomi simply says, “Wash.” In other words, the first step in finding help from Boaz is to be freshly cleansed.
So, too, does the Church draw us to Christ with the exhortation to wash. Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Yes, the love of God will be poured forth on us and the cancellation of our debt will take place as we are cleansed of our sins.
Here are some other texts in which the Church—our Naomi, our Mother—exhorts us to be washed:
- Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:8).
- Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (2 Cor 7:1).
- Wash and make yourselves clean (Is 1:15).
- Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the vessels of the LORD (Is 52:11).
- And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name (Acts 22:16).
- Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (Heb 10:22).
Be Fragrantly Consecrated - Naomi says to Ruth, “and perfume yourself.” In other words, make yourself nice to be near; Come with an aroma that is sweet and pure.
So, too, does the Church, our Naomi, exhort us to be fragrantly consecrated. The fragrance we are called to is that of a holy life, which we receive in baptism. Our life in God should be like a sweet incense or perfume. Consider some of the following texts that the Church gives us:
- Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph 5:2).
- For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing (2 Cor 2:15).
- [The groom (Christ) speaks to his beloved:] You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain. Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with every kind of incense tree, with myrrh and aloes and all the finest spices (Song 4:12).
- Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps (Ex 30:7).
Be Fitly Clothed - Naomi says to Ruth, “and put on your best clothes.”
Our Mother the Church also advises us to be fitly clothed. For a Christian, this means to be adorned in the righteousness that comes to us in Christ by baptism. In the baptismal liturgy, the Church says to the newly baptized of the white garment that he or she wears, You have become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ. Receive this baptismal garment, and bring it unstained to the Judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you may have everlasting life.
In other words, be fitly clothed. Wear well the garment of righteousness that Christ died to give you. Scripture, too, speaks of the garment in which we are to be fitly clothed:
- I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (Is 61:10).
- Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints (Rev 19:7).
Be Fully Committed - Naomi continues, Then go down to the threshing floor, ... until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down.
In other words, she is telling Ruth to place herself at the feet of her redeemer. This action of Ruth’s was a way of saying to Boaz, I put myself under your protection; I am fully committed to you.
The Church bids us to do the same: go to the threshing floor, to that place where the threshed and winnowed bread becomes the Eucharist.
Beneath or near every Catholic altar is the cross; on that cross are the uncovered feet of Jesus Christ.
The most sacred place on earth is at the feet of Jesus Christ. The Church, our Naomi, bids us to gather each Sunday at the altar, beneath the uncovered feet of Christ. The Church says to us just what Naomi said to Ruth: Place yourself at the feet of your Redeemer.
Be Faithfully Compliant - Naomi says to Ruth, confidently and succinctly, He will tell you what to do.
Here, too, the voice of the Church echoes what Mother Mary said long ago regarding her Son: Do whatever he tells you (Jn 2:5). How can our Naomi, the Church, say anything less or anything else? The Church has one message: Do whatever Christ, your redeemer, tells you.
So Naomi is a picture of the Church, Boaz a picture of Christ, and Ruth a picture of the soul in need of salvation.
How does the story end? I’m tempted to tell you to read it for yourself, but since Boaz is a picture of Christ you already know the ending. Ruth, firmly convinced, freshly cleansed, fragrantly consecrated, and fitly clothed, fully commits herself to Boaz and is at his feet. Boaz, who saw and loved Ruth before she ever saw or loved him (cf Ruth 2:5), arises and takes her as his bride, paying off all her debt and giving her a new life. Sound familiar? It is the story of salvation, if we but have eyes to see it.