Before I began my research on the book of Ruth for my parish’s Bible Study, I was well aware of the title character’s status as an immigrant. My completed musical draws on relevant passages from the Torah to underscore the legality of the young Gentile widow to work in the fields outside of Bethlehem and provide for herself and her mother-in-law. (In song, of course.) But the deeper I read the book, the more I see the wisdom of placing the text after the book of Proverbs, as the Jewish Scriptures are organized.
Boaz refers to Ruth as a “worthy woman” (Cf Ruth 3:11), an echo of the canticle that concludes the book of Proverbs (31:10-31). If Ruth is a midrash not only on “worthy women” but also on immigrants, I don’t think the book can be dismissed as a harlequin romance story dropped into the historical narratives of Israel.
It’s not necessary to go proof-texting Old Testament passages on immigration (though it is nearly impossible to find them in the con argument). But the reminder in Deuteronomy 8 is well worth considering, especially for us norteamericanos who see ourselves as a self-made people of Christian virtue:
You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your God
for the good land that he has given you.
Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God,
by failing to keep his commandments,
his ordinances, and his statutes,
which I am commanding you today.
When you have eaten your fill
and have built fine houses and live in them,
and when your herds and flocks have multiplied,
and your silver and gold is multiplied,
and all that you have is multiplied,
then do not exalt yourself,
forgetting the LORD your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery,
who led you through the great and terrible wilderness,
an arid waste-land with poisonous snakes and scorpions.
He made water flow for you from flint rock,
and fed you in the wilderness with manna
that your ancestors did not know,
to humble you and to test you,
and in the end to do you good.
Do not say to yourself,
‘My power and the might of my own hand
have gained me this wealth.’
But remember the LORD your God,
for it is he who gives you power to get wealth,
so that he may confirm his covenant
that he swore to your ancestors,
as he is doing today. (8:7-18)
James Tissot’s painting of Ruth following the harvesters is one of my favorites for the Visio Divina aspect of the Bible Study. I noted how she raises above the others in the foreground, inviting the viewer to be with her, not standing apart. While she may cast a wistful eye back to Moab where her family of ancestry lives, her labors reveal a loyalty to Naomi beyond the words, “wherever you go …”
People have many reasons to come to the US. Occasionally the reason may not be a good one. But usually that’s not the case. Unless a human being is a native of the African rift valley, everyone has “immigrant” stamped into their genealogy. That’s worth remembering in the present age. And keeping well in our tradition as we move out among the planets and stars in the millennia to come.
As for the Christian, we are all pilgrims, no matter what our citizenship, residency, or immigration status may be. Any cockiness on our part is unseemly, unfaithful, and probably untrue. Clearly, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel disapprove.