Ruth and Advent

The Book of Ruth is rarely mentioned during Advent, but it makes for good Advent meditation.

There are obvious connections between Ruth and the Christmas story. Both Bo’az and Ruth are mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1. Outside of Matthew and Luke, only in Ruth do we have a story about a pious young Jewish couple having their firstborn son in Bethlehem.

When we read Ruth in light of all the Scriptures, we see in Bo’az a clear type, or image, of Jesus Christ. Jesus is truly our “Bo’az,” which means in Hebrew “in him is strength.” Jesus is our go’el, our Redeemer, which is what Ruth calls Bo’az in 3:9 (blandly rendered “next of kin” in the RSV). Jesus is the one who feeds us with bread and wine until we are satisfied (as Bo’az does for Ruth in 2:14) and even have an abundance to share with others (again see Ruth 2:24, and compare The Feeding of the 5000, John 6:11-13, 35). Jesus is the one who espouses himself to us (John 3:29; Eph 5:25-32), though we are poor and hungry (Matt 5:3,6), and not even of the race of Israel (Eph 2:11-13, 19-22). In Ruth 2:12, Bo’az invokes the LORD to bless Ruth since she has come under the LORD’s “wings” (Heb kanaphim); in Ruth 3:9, Ruth literally says to Bo’az, “Spread the wing (kanaph) of your garment over me.” The LORD’s “wing” becomes Bo’az’s “wing.” Bo’az becomes to Ruth the concrete manifestation of the LORD’s mercy, strength, protection, and love. This is also what Jesus is to us, the Church, in the New Covenant.

Marriage is not a human invention and cannot be redefined by human beings. Marriage is an natural icon designed by God to represent his covenant with his people. For that reason, marriage is a prominent theme throughout the Bible and salvation history, from the first marriage of Adam and Eve (Gen 2:21-24) to the Wedding of the Lamb (Rev 21-22). Pope Benedict XVI remarks, “Biblical revelation, in fact, is above all the expression of a story of love, the story of the covenant of God with man; therefore the story of the love and union between a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage was able to be assumed by God as a symbol of the history of salvation” (Address, 6 June 2005). Ruth is one of the best examples in Scripture in which a story of courtship and marriage typifies God’s plan of salvation.

The Messianic reading of the book of Ruth is not uniquely Christian. In conversations with Brant last night, he pointed out that the rabbinic tradition was strongly given to a Messianic interpretation of Ruth. In particular, Ruth 2:14, which has such Eucharistic overtones for Christian ears, was understood by the rabbis as a reference to the Messianic banquet!