Good News Bad News

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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.

“There’s good news and there’s bad news.”

That’s the premise for a number of classic jokes, including the one about the two best buddies who spent a lifetime enjoying baseball.  They both wondered if there would be baseball in heaven. 

Shortly after one of them died, he suddenly appeared to his surviving friend.  “So what’s it like in heaven?” his friend asked.  “Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news.  The good news is there really is baseball in heaven.  The bad news is that you’re pitching next Thursday.” 

Interestingly, the humble account of Ruth also plays out like a good news / bad news story – a narrative that swings back and forth between triumph and tragedy. 

As the book opens, a woman named Naomi has married a man named Elimelech.  They have two sons.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that a famine hits Israel and they make the unfortunate choice to move to Moab, which is kind of like a Baptist family relocating to Bourbon Street. 

The good news is that both of Naomi’s sons get married in Moab.  The bad news is that sometime later both of the boys and their father Elimelech die, leaving behind three widows.  There’s good news, however.  One of the daughters-in-law, Ruth, promises Naomi that she will never abandon her, even though they now have no food, no income, and no realistic chance for a happy future.  She puts her hope and security in the God of Israel.  The bad news is that the other daughter-in-law, Orpah, looks at that same set of data and walks away.

The good news is that Naomi and Ruth successfully make it back to Elimelech’s home town of Bethlehem.  The bad news is that Naomi, whose name means “Beautiful,” puts out the word that she now wants to be called Mara, which means “Bitter.” 

There’s good news, though.  Ruth announces that she will take the initiative and go out and work to put food on the table.  The bad news is that the only job available is the backbreaking, socially humiliating task of gleaning in the barley fields.  But then comes good news:  Ruth “just happens” to end up gleaning in the fields owned by Boaz.  He’s a man of high spiritual integrity who also happens to be an extended family member who can play the special role of kinsman-redeemer.  But here’s the bad news:  The harvest season is ending and the job market is bleak. 

Good news, though:  Ruth courageously presents herself to Boaz as a potential bride – her marriage to him would meet all the long-term needs of both these women – and Boaz is more than willing to go to the altar. The bad news is that there’s another man in Bethlehem who according to Jewish law has the “first rights” to marry Ruth…if he so desires.  How is this cliffhanger going to end?

Have you ever noticed that your own life is a good news / bad news story? 

It can feel as if the happiest moments of our lives are more than balanced out by scary MRIs, dismal financial reports, and heartbreaking decisions by family members.  So where does it all end? 

If we stick with the “rules” of the good news / bad news perspective, then it all depends on the last turn.  If it’s bad news, then everything is lost.  If it’s good news, then everything that has ever happened to you – whether joyful or crushing, encouraging or depleting – will actually have been part of a long story in which everything is being redeemed.

One of the oft-overlooked marks of spiritual maturity is the declining need to label the circumstances of our lives. 

When we no longer say, “What’s happening to me is really good,” or “What’s happening to me is really bad” – but rather, “God is at work in all of these circumstances, no matter how I happen to judge them” – we’ve arrived at a place where we understand that God is ultimately in charge of our stories, no matter how they happen to look in the present moment.  

Boaz, for his part, quickly looks for a public opportunity to connect with the other kinsman-redeemer in the family – the one who has the inside track on purchasing Elimelech’s family property. 

There’s a catch, however.  If this fellow should want to buy that land, he needs to know that Ruth comes along as part of the package.  He would have a moral obligation to marry her and to start a new family.  His inheritance would then be split between his existing children and any new children borne by Ruth. 

In the presence of the elders at the city gate, he thinks it over:  Does he really want all the complications of an extra wife and additional kids? 

No thanks, he says.  I’ll pass. 

Thus this kinsman-redeemer, whose name the author does not even bother to report, turns out to be no redeemer at all. 

He’s not thinking about Ruth and what might transform her life for the good.  He’s focused on protecting his own stash.  So he declines the opportunity to purchase the family property and to marry the young widow who comes with it – which is why he will always be known as Ruth-less.

In the end, however, he has thrown away something far bigger. 

He has lost the chance to be part of the genealogy of the Messiah.  He could have been in the family tree of Jesus.

Boaz doesn’t know that his selfless attitude is about to make history. 

That’s the very good news we get to explore as the book of Ruth comes to a dramatic end.