It wasn’t the most efficient way to harvest a field, nor the neatest, nor the most profitable. Yet it was the kindest way. It was the way Boaz chose, when he saw the lonely, hardworking foreign woman bent gleaning in his field.
I wonder what Ruth thought about as she worked? Surely the labor was tedious, and as her back ached and her eyes stung with streams of sweat, she must have thought that her pile of barley was growing very slowly. Then suddenly, among the stubble, not a single stem of barley, nor even two or three, but a whole handful! How gratefully she added it to her collection, and went on with renewed energy. Perhaps, as she continued to find, here and there, these handfuls of barley, she wondered where they came from. Was one of the reapers more careless than the others, too lazy to harvest thoroughly? Then, as she caught up with them, perhaps she saw one of the reapers, and then another, pull from their bursting sheaves a handful of barley and drop it on the ground. And she knew they were doing it for her.
But they would not dare to be kind on their own initiative, for Boaz was no insignificant farmer, and it wouldn’t be good for them to be caught doing a slovenly job. The only answer, then, was that he must be behind this kindness—and indeed she could believe it of him, for he had served her so generously at the noon meal, and provided so thoroughly for her while she worked in his fields. Now she looked for the bunches of barley, and smiled to herself when she gathered them, for they were silent witnesses that he was thinking of her.
I’ve never seen a barley field, but lately I’ve been noticing the handfuls of barley that lie here and there along my path.
The other day at work, I started humming, half unconscious that I was doing it. My patient said, “That’s beautiful. It must be something about Jesus.” I was startled for a moment, and stopped to indentify what I had been humming. It was one of my favorite hymns, the first verse of which runs, “Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know, gracious Spirit from above, Thou has taught me it is so. Oh this full and perfect peace, oh this transport all divine, in a love that cannot cease, I am His, and He is mine.”
“Why, yes!” I said. “It is about Jesus! What made you think so?”
“I don’t know,” she answered. “I just knew that it was.”
And I smiled, startled by the suddenness with which this handful of barley had fallen at my feet. Somebody was thinking of me.