Recently I preached a retreat for a good number of women here in our Archdiocese, and I based the the retreat on the Book of Ruth, a beautiful love story that is a kind of allegory for Christ and the Church. More specifically it is also an allegory of the individual’s salvation by Christ and relationship to Him.
The remote background to the text I want to share here is too lengthy to detail 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 is Born, and lives in Bethlehem, and he acts, ultimately, as Ruth’s “kinsman-redeemer” by rescuing her from her poverty and paying the price to cancel her debt. This of course is just what Christ, born in Bethlehem, does for us: redeeming us by his blood and canceling our poverty and debt. And Ruth is a picture of the individual soul in need of Christ’s redemption and mercy. Naomi serves several roles in the book, but in the passage we will consider here, she is a picture of the Church, as she advises Ruth in what to do, and draws her to Boaz (Christ), her redeemer.
Consider the following text and then let us she how Naomi pictures 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 is quite in line with the instruction that our Mother the Church gives us. For in our poverty, and under the debt of our sin, the Church exhorts us to seek our “Boaz” who is Christ. Observe the advice given by Naomi and consider how it sounds so like our Mother the Church. Namoi advises:
1. 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. Naomi does too, and she exhorts Ruth to seek for Boaz, for he is near, and can help. Boaz is wealthy and thus has the power to save her, to draw her out of her overwhelming poverty. He has the capacity, unlike any other to cancel Ruth’s whole 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.
And 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 and he, as God, has the power to save and cancel our whole debt. Cast your cares on him, for he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). He is at the threshing floor of his Church preparing a banquet for you in the sight of your foe (Psalm 23:5). And 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 power to save.
2. Be Freshly Cleansed – Namoi says next and simply, “Wash.” In other words, the first step in finding help from Boaz is to be washed, to be freshly cleansed.
So too does the Church draw us to Christ with the exhortation, “Wash,” that is, 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 washed from our sins.
Here are some other texts wherein the Church, our Naomi, our Mother exhorts us to be Washed:
- James 4:8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
- 2 Cor 7:1 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.
- Is 1:15 Wash and make yourselves clean.
- Is 52:11 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.
- Acts 22:16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.
- Heb 10:22 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.
3. Be Fragrantly Consecrated - Namoi says to Ruth “and perfume yourself” In other words: Be nice to be near. Come with an aroma that is sweet and pure.
So too does the Church, our Naomi, exhort us to to be fragrantly consecrated. The fragrance we are called to is that of a holy life, which we receive in baptism. Like a sweet incense, or perfume, should our life in God be. Consider some of the following texts the Church gives us:
- Eph 5:2 – Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God
- 2 Cor 2:15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
- Song 4:12 [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.
- Ex 30: 7 Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps.
4. Be Fitly Clothed – Naomi says to Ruth - and put on your best clothes.
Here too does our mother the Church advise us to be fitly clothed. And for a Christian, to be fitly clothed is 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 they wear: 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:
- Is 61:10 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.
- Rev 19:7 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.
5. Be Fully Committed - Naomi says, 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, Ruth place yourself at the feet of your redeemer. This action of Ruth was a way of saying to Boaz, I put myself under your protection. I am fully committed to you.
And so too the Church bids us to do the same, that we 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. And on that Cross are the uncovered feet of Jesus Christ.
The most sacred place on earth is at the feet of Jesus Christ. And to that place, to that altar, beneath the uncovered feet of Christ, the Church, our Naomi, bids us gather each Sunday. The Church says just what Naomi said, “Place yourself at the feet of your Redeemer.”
6. Be faithfully Compliant - Naomi says to Ruth, confidently and succinctly: He will tell you what to do.
And here too the voice of the Church echoes what Mother Mary also said long ago regrading 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? Well I am tempted to to tell you to read it for yourself. But since Boaz is a picture of Christ, you already knows how it ends. Ruth, firmly convinced and having been 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 have eyes to see it.