Skivers, tax-avoiders and the generosity of God (Ruth 2)

Homeless man - flickr Creative Commons

Homeless man – flickr Creative Commons

It is hard for the rich to be generous.

 

This sounds counter-intuitive. Surely it’s harder for the poor to be generous? When you have so many extra resources you can spare them, you can afford to be more generous than those who have little.

 

This is true, yet it’s often the poor who are most generous. I noticed this in Africa.

 

I was doing a Holiday Club for children in Zimbabwe. I knew the drill, I had run dozens of Holiday Clubs in Britain. You did a craft and they would carefully take it home to show their parents. On this occasion, they baked cupcakes. At the end, they offered some to us. We smiled at how polite they are, thanked them, told them it was theirs to enjoy and they should take it home and eat it with their family.

 

In Britain, those children would have thanked us and taken them all home. A really generous British child might have given us one of the six cakes and we would have had tears in our eyes at how adorable they were.

 

These kids didn’t play by these rules. “No, no – really – have some,” they said. They took the cupcakes and put them into our hands. They were distributing them liberally. “Eat them, enjoy them.”

 

We British leaders were confused. “Don’t you like them?” we asked.

 

They looked blankly at us. “It’s good to share,” they replied.

 

I felt hollow. We had taught them all that week that it was good to share – but that’s just the thing you say to kids because you know they won’t do it. It was a shock to discover that someone actually believed it.

 

We sat and ate with them. It was indeed good to share, and it did something weird to my heart.

 

*****

 

There is a lot of noise from politicians today about so-called ‘strivers’ (those who earn a wage) and ‘skivers’, (those in receipt of benefits). Well, Ruth was a skiver: she was entirely dependent on handouts from those in power. If you recall, Ruth has crazily left the security of her home and family to come to the Lord’s country. She decides to work by gleaning and walks into that most miraculous of fields – one run by someone who happens to be obeying God’s law.

 

Boaz is a man of standing, a man with responsibility and wealth. he has workers and respect – he holds all the power. He could have abused his power so easily, and there are clues in the chapter that other men would have done so without a second thought.

 

But Boaz is different. He greets his workers with ‘The Lord Bless you’ and his actions show these words to be a prayer, not just something you say to tick the holiness box. He reveres God and takes His law seriously.

 

The law said that you were not allowed to super-efficiently harvest your fields for every last scrap, but only go over them once, leaving the bits at the edge for anyone who needed the food to gather it. Our tax system mimics this: we are not to keep 100% of our profits but they are distributed among the poor, sick and unemployed in our society.

 

And like our time, people were keen to get around these laws however they could. But Boaz was different. Boaz was not a tax-avoider. In fact, remarkably, Boaz goes beyond this, telling the workers not to harm Ruth, sharing his own lunch with Ruth, instructing the workers to allow her to glean even among the good crop, and even to pull out some stalks for from the bundles. Boaz is JK Rowling – happily paying his taxes and giving money to charity above and beyond that.

 

Ruth ends up with so much barley that Naomi cannot believe it. Boaz doesn’t just ‘do his bit’. He is crazily generous, ridiculously so, just as Ruth was stupidly generous to follow her mother-in-law to a foreign country. They are a good match.

 

Boaz’s heart beats with God’s own love for the poor and the vulnerable. He doesn’t shame Ruth. He doesn’t make her beg. He doesn’t give her grain in return for turning a blind eye while his workers molest the foreigner ‘because men have needs too, you know’. He goes out of his way to ensure she has more than enough.

 

And how does he interact with such a sponger? When Ruth comes to thank him, he doesn’t bask in his glory as beneficent provider, modestly reflecting on how grateful he is that God has given him so much and how he can help those less fortunate. His focus is on God and on Ruth, not himself: “Are you kidding? You have been amazing to Naomi – to leave your family and home like that and come to all the way here to live with us, just to make sure she was okay? Just – wow. You’re the blessing, not me. I’m just so pleased you’ve taken that courageous step of coming to God – may you find shelter under his wings. I’m so grateful you’re here and I pray that God will bless you abundantly. Thank you.”

 

Boaz’s actions shame me. The focus of his heart – on others and God – exposes my self-centred core.

 

But who deserves such generosity? We need to be practical here. I come back with the arguments: we can’t give to everyone. and what about those who have trapped themselves in poverty and just come begging? Surely we shouldn’t have to give our hard-earned profits to them? Don’t they need to learn from their mistakes first before we help them out?

 

In his book, Generous Justice, Tim Keller points out that if we hesitate to give to those who seem ‘undeserving’ then we are hypocrites. God gave to us when we were undeserving. God’s generosity will always far exceed our own. We don’t make judgements, we just give generously.

 

So this is how we should do justice, like Boaz: with hearts that echo God’s generous heart; with eyes that see the person and raise them up. Boaz honours Ruth as an equal, not an object of his charity; as a woman, not as a project.

 

We are generous – crazily, foolishly – because God has been crazily generous to us. This is our God: the Father who did not spare His own son but gave Him for us all; the Son who was rich beyond all telling yet became poor so that we by his poverty might become rich; the Spirit who is poured out abundantly, generously on the church, who gives us gifts.

 

It is harder for the rich to be generous.

 

Let’s not just reserve one of our cakes to parcel out to the most deserving. Let’s be foolishly, extravagantly generous.

 

I speak this to myself and I squirm as I see the hardness of my own heart, beating like a closed fist; shut tight like a padlocked treasure chest.

 
Over to you:

  • How easy do you find it to be foolishly generous?

 
I am itching to dig a little into the Bible. I want to hear the whisper of God in the words and lives of Bible characters. Over these next few weeks I will be doing a series on the book of Ruth, to look again at the story breathed out by God and let it write me.

 
Do read the relevant passage and join in with your responses to (and questions of) the passage in the comments.

  • Thurs 21 Feb – Ruth 1
  • Thurs 7 Mar – Last-minute God – Ruth 1, part 2
  • Thurs 14 Mar – Ruth 2
  • Thurs 21 Mar – Ruth 3
  • Thurs 28 Mar – Ruth 4 and overview

 

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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