Widows and Orphans: What might Ruth teach us?

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction… (James 1:27)

God cares about the orphan and widow. More specifically, God cares that his people tangibly care for the orphans and widows. In the Old Testament, God had laws and roles assigned to make sure that the undermined were taken care of. One of these roles was a Kinsman Redeemer. A Kinsman Redeemer could perform a variety of functions, including: redeeming a relative who sold himself into slavery or servitude, assisting a relative in a lawsuit, redeeming a relative’s property that was sold out of economic necessity, redeem a deceased clansman by taking his wife and raising up offspring to continue that clansman’s line. All these actions promote mercy and justice and restore clan wholeness. (taken from the Zondervan NIV Application Commentary pp400-401).

In the New Testament, there are no laws, per se, but rather commandments. Like the verse in James mentioned earlier and “love your neighbor as yourself.” It seems almost easier to take care of the widows and orphans when there are laws dictating how to do it. Like the old testament law relating to gleaners. God commands his people: “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back and get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all that work of your hands (Deuteronomy 24:19).”

Far too often, the undermined are still falling through the cracks in the church. For example, there are often Mother of Preschoolers gatherings, but what about single moms struggling for day-to-day survival? What about the elderly struggling to find hope? I believe the church could benefit by bringing in more concrete concepts, like Kinsman Redeemer, on serving the undermined in our midst.

When I mentioned the term “kinsman redeemer” most of you probably associated the term with the book of Ruth. Yes, that’s where I am drawing from. In the modern world, Ruth’s plight is most similar to that of single mothers. Women who struggle to survive on a daily basis, trying to provide for their families. Like Ruth, true redemption is found in long term provision. Boaz’ redemption not only gave long term provision to Ruth, but hope to Naomi (a widow), and continued on the line of Ruth’s husband. One act directly affected three people and indirectly affected many more, since Boaz and Ruth are found in Christ’s genealogy!

Acts of redemption have a domino effect. Today for example, churches could come up with ministries that would equip women with tools to get a better paying, steady jobs, thereby providing a way to secure provision for their families. By seemingly just serving the mom, her kids, her family and friends are also going to be affected. A better job and education for the mom means a better future for her kids. A better job and education for the mom means the mom is not dependent (and burdening) other people. Offering night classes with childcare or connecting single moms with business owners in the Christian community would be practical ways of helping women towards a better future.

Redemption is aimed at restoration to the community. Serving God is not an individual effort, rather it is the effort of a whole community striving to bring God’s kingdom here on earth. God is constantly using what is weak and foolish in the world to shame the strong and wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). The more “established” members of the community should not rule out the widows, orphans, elderly, single moms, mentally disabled, and countless others from playing a vital role in the community. Besides Ruth, David and Rahab were some other “bad choices” that God used to further his kingdom in a big way. Ruth was a foreigner and widow. David was a lowly shepherd boy from a lowly tribe of Israel. Rahab was a prostitute! God used other people (Boaz, Samuel, the Spies) to bring them into his community. So we, as members of the church, should not try to judge who we feel will be able to play a vital role in the community. Rather, we should love other people in a tangible way, inviting them into community with us, and allow God to use his growing community to further his kingdom.