Contagious Courage

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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.

The common cold has proven to be uncommonly hard to defeat.

For years, British scientists operated a research facility called the Common Cold Unit.  It finally closed in 1989 without finding the elusive “cure” that humanity has been seeking for millennia. 

Adults typically experience the symptoms of coughing, sore throat, and runny nose two to three times a year, while the average child catches cold six to eight times during the same period – numbers that have mercifully declined during the pandemic because of mask-wearing and social distancing.  For a long time doctors were puzzled why people didn’t develop a natural immunity to this run-of-the-mill sickness.  We now know that the common cold is not caused by a single virus, but by as many as 200 different viral entities.  There are lots of different ways to catch a cold, in other words, and a number of them are always lurking.

A few years ago, researchers at the University of Arizona coated the metal handle of the front door of an office building with a clear fluid.  It contained a dye visible only under ultraviolet light.  Employees, who didn’t know they were part of an experiment, came and went through the door and pursued their work as usual.  How long would it take for the “virus” to spread through the entire building?

As we might guess from our ongoing encounter with COVID, it didn’t take very long. 

Four hours into the experiment, the research team turned on the UV light.  The “infection” was everywhere – in the elevators, restrooms, and meeting areas, and on virtually every coffee machine, photocopier, and keyboard.  No wonder the common cold quickly becomes a common experience.

As we step into the third chapter of the book of Ruth, we come face to face with what spiritual teachers sometimes call the common cold of the soul. 

It’s fear – the overwhelming human desire to play it safe, to hunker down where things are predictably comfortable and secure instead of scaring ourselves to death by taking spiritual risks.

Make no mistake: God wants Naomi and Ruth, this widowed mother-in-law and widowed daughter-in-law who have seen their share of difficult days, to grow.   And every time God wants any of us to grow we will face the specter of fear.  Growth and fear go together like chips and salsa.  Risking failure is one of the primary requirements for going forward with God – this God who will never consent to let us go through the rest of our lives on spiritual autopilot.

Fear, unfortunately, is just as contagious as a virus.  In no time flat it can work its way through a family, a work team, or an entire community.

But courage is contagious, too.  One person’s willingness to step out can turn the spiritual tide – which is the very thing we now see in Ruth and Naomi.     

Ruth has been gleaning in Boaz’s fields for something like two months.  Let’s pick up the story in Ruth 3:1-2:

“One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, ‘My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for?  Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman-redeemer of ours?’”

Until this point, Naomi has essentially imagined herself to be a victim.  God has had it in for her. 

But as hope begins to form in her heart, a plan begins to form in her head.  She will play matchmaker.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if Ruth could marry Boaz? 

He is, after all, an eligible bachelor.  He also happens to be a go-el, which is the Hebrew term translated as “kinsman-redeemer.”  That means Boaz is a male member of the extended family who, if he so chooses, can offer special protection and advocacy for anyone who is in serious need.  And Ruth definitely qualifies as someone who is in serious need.

Naomi says to Ruth, “Should I not try to find a home for you?”  The word translated “home” is manoah.  That doesn’t mean a three-bedroom ranch house, but a joyful setting that provides long-term security.  Naomi is beginning to look beyond her own pain to imagine a way in which God might bless her daughter-in-law. 

What Ruth needs now is an opportunity to present herself to Boaz as a potential bride. 

But this is the Middle East, where even today in many countries it is impossible for a woman to approach a man in broad daylight for any reason whatsoever.  Many would assume that only a prostitute could be so bold. 

So how and where is Ruth ever going to get a few minutes alone with Boaz?

Naomi’s plan isn’t just courageous.  It’s flat-out crazy. 

But if spiritual audacity is the cure for the common cold of the soul, she’s determined to go there.

And we’ll go there with her tomorrow.