Monday, July 18, 2011

Real Manhood

A good number of years ago I ran across this statement: a real man is one who knows how to love a woman. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten the source now, but I liked the definition very, very much. It struck me as rather “chivalrous”; it appealed to me and inspired me to strive to “live above” the tawdry standards and low expectations of our culture. I think it has always been difficult to be a real man, but it is particularly so today when there are so few genuinely inspiring role models, and when the standards that popular culture holds up for imitation are either twisted or scornful of real manhood.

Chivalry is often considered a quaint notion today and probably has not been taken seriously for generations—at least, as such, in general. Yet I think that a chivalrous man shows manhood at its best. Chivalry is about honor and virtue, and in spite of popular opinion is probably always, deep down at least, truly the ideal of manhood. I have known a number of truly chivalrous men, and thankfully some of them are among the past and present young men at Blessed Sacrament. They are rebels.

This is why I really like Boaz in the Book of Ruth. I read Ruth a couple of weeks ago, and the gentle and strong manhood of Boaz impressed me deeply. I had, of course, read the book many times before, but Boaz came across to me this time in a deeper way than before. He showed the fulfillment of the powerful and ringing definition of manhood in the New Testament: Ephesians 5:25-30.

The eponymous Ruth was a young widow, a foreign woman living in Israel. She had married the son of Naomi, an Israelite who had gone with her husband and two sons to the neighboring land of Moab during a famine. After her husband and sons died in Moab, the newly widowed Ruth returned to Israel with her widowed mother-in-law, pronouncing the well-known and much-admired vow, “Wherever you go, I shall go; wherever you live, I shall live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16).

Ruth was a most amazing and admirable woman. Indeed, the book is about her and bears her name.

But let’s not overlook Boaz. Once back in Israel, Naomi and Ruth were poor, but it was Israelite law that close kinsmen, according to a formula, were to provide for the widows of their family by marrying them, thereby preserving the family line of the deceased husband. It was also Israelite law that the poor were to be allowed to glean in the fields during harvest time, picking up grain that was left over after the reapers had covered the field.

Naomi urged Ruth to glean in the fields of Boaz, their near kinsmen. Ruth did so, and was humble and deferential. Boaz noticed of her, and clearly took a liking to her. He saw to it that his menservants did not bother her and that the reapers would leave her plenty of grain to find. He thereby provided for her and Naomi, and did so honorably. He did not just give Ruth a few bushels of grain in place of her gleaning; that would have been patronizing. He preserved her dignity by allowing her to continue to glean, thereby showing her respect by permitting her to “earn” her grain by her labor. As she worked in the fields he also gave her access to drink and provided her meals. (See Ruth 2:8-16.)

Boaz was obviously a godfearing man. His first words recorded in Scripture are, “The Lord be with you” (Ruth 2:4), with which he greeted his servants. From this may well come the greeting that has been so much a part of the liturgy for many centuries. Today we use Boaz’s words many times in worship.

Naomi urged Ruth, of course, to continue to glean in Boaz’s field, as Boaz himself had also urged. Naomi eventually encouraged Ruth to claim the privilege of Boaz’s protection under Israelite law, even though she was a foreigner. She then went to sleep at Boaz’s feet, throwing the end of his blanket over her (Ruth 3:7). When Boaz discovered her in the middle of the night, he treated her with honor and courtesy, preserving her safety and praising her for her virtue (Ruth 3:11-12). He addressed her more than once, including on this occasion, as “daughter”, a sign both of intimacy and honor.

Boaz then moved to ensure that Ruth would become his wife in the fullest, most proper fashion, treating her claim honorably and ensuring that he would make her his own formally and legitimately even though there was one other relative with the right of redemption ahead of Boaz.

And then, as the short book makes clear, they became the great-grandparents of King David, who governed Israel and established its golden era, and through whose line the Messiah is traced. David, then, was one-eighth Moabite—partly of foreign blood.

It is often claimed today that women were little more than property in the age of the Old Testament and for centuries afterward. The story of Ruth shows that the real situation was much more complex than that. There are those in every age—most undeniably including our own—who consider women, and men and children too, as throwaway property. Perhaps our own age is even more guilty of this than most ages of humanity. But there have been and will always be men who are godly and chivalrous, going against the trend of their culture. These rebels know how to love a woman. They know how to love God.


Monica Romig Green said...

I love this post. It reminds me of a plaque my dad always had by his bed that read: "The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother." A real man, indeed.

Gazelle said...

Your reflection on Boaz made me see that Ruth also showed "real womanhood" by honorably providing for herself and her mother-in-law to the best of her ability and means, and was gracious enough to accept the extra help offered her. I wonder what she thought of Boaz, as she acquiesed to the marriage norms in the new culture in which she lived. Wonderful reflection on the book of Ruth, with a practical application for our own time. Thank you for sharing.