Beyond the Minimum Threshold

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The word “TRUST” written in vintage wooden letterpress type

Throughout November we’re taking an in-depth look at Ruth, the little book that helped pave the way for God’s Messiah to come into the world.

Frederick Buechner has spent most of his life writing books to help open people’s eyes to the reality of God. 

When his daughter was a teenager, she fell into the grips of anorexia to such a degree that hospitalization was required simply to preserve her life.  Buechner tried to pray.  He tried to believe.  But he had never felt more helpless.  He drove out into the countryside near his Vermont home.  He didn’t know where he was going, and at that moment he didn’t even care. 

He parked by the roadside, overwhelmed by depression.  Suddenly, “out of nowhere a car came along down the highway with a license plate that bore on it the one word out of all the words in the dictionary that I needed most to see exactly then. The word was TRUST.” 

Hope was rekindled in his heart.

Not long after he shared that story in his book Telling Secrets, someone knocked on Buechner’s door.   The driver of the car – who turned out to be a trust officer in a local bank – was holding the very license plate.  He gave it to the author.  It “sits propped up on a bookshelf in my house to this day.  It is rusty around the edges and a little battered, and it is also as holy a relic as I have ever seen.”    

Hope is in the details.  Hope comes alive in us when we realize that nothing “just happens.”  God is at work in human history and he is alive in our own history, even when we can’t quite put our finger on it. 

That becomes plain as we continue to work our way through the second chapter of the book of Ruth. 

A good-hearted landowner named Boaz inquires about the identity of this young woman who has begun to glean in his fields. 

Bethlehem is a small town, and as in most small towns, news and gossip spreads from house to house just a little bit faster than high speed internet.  He has already heard about the tragedies that have befallen the middle-aged Naomi and the fact that Ruth has courageously chosen to stick with her.  Here’s what Boaz says to Ruth:

“I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband – how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.  May the Lord repay you for what you have done.  May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:11-12). 

To Ruth, these words must sound like a word of blessing from God himself.  She can hardly comprehend that a man of character is treating her with such respect. 

But Boaz is just getting started.  He notices her needs and takes action.

First, he ensures that she will be safe from the men who are working in his fields.  Then he empowers her to harvest beyond the margins of the field – to stride right into the standing grain, if she feels so led.  Finally, he welcomes her into the intimacy of the midday meal with the rest of the workers. 

The standards of hospitality in the ancient Middle East were already famously high.  People were used to taking in strangers who needed food, water, and shelter.  After all, there wasn’t yet anything approximating a restaurant or a Holiday Inn Express.  But Boaz goes well beyond his culture’s minimum threshold of civility.  He is lavishly generous with this widow who has been working her heart out all day long.

Boaz doesn’t have to do this.  He simply wants to do this. 

We can do the same. 

You never know what friend, neighbor, or total stranger you will meet this fall who will be silently starving for hope.  You may not have a license plate that will remind them to trust.  But you might speak a word of blessing or provide an act of kindness that will make all the difference in the world. 

Go beyond the minimum threshold of graciousness.    

Let God use you to be his vehicle of hope that seems to come out of nowhere.