The Perils of Pragmatism

Published by Brian Hershey on

In the fourth chapter of Ruth, we are introduced to an interesting character. He is a character that in many respects looks a lot like me — and maybe even you.

It’s not Boaz.

Nor Ruth.

Nor Naomi.

No, this character doesn’t even have a name.

Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat there. When the kinsman-redeemer he had mentioned came along, Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down….Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, you acquire the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” At this, the kinsman-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it” (Ruth 4:1, 5-6).

The man is the next in line to redeem Naomi’s property and preserve her family line. Naomi had lost her husband and two sons during their stay in a neighboring area. Her two sons had married wives who lived in that host country. So when Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem empty-handed, she urged her widowed daughters-in-law to remain in order to find rest through remarriage. Orpah returned to her country; Ruth did not.

Thus the only hope for Ruth and Naomi in their patriarchal society was for the next of kin to consider their plight and rescue them from certain poverty and social abandonment. Boaz presents this unnamed “kinsman-redeemer” with a tremendous opportunity to do a noble deed on behalf have these widows.

What does he do?

He considers the pragmatism of the scenario…and punts.

Perhaps he’s old in age and has already parceled out his possessions to his descendants. If he adds more children to the equation, then he must go back and redo what has already been done. And worse still his own children would get less of the inheritance. So rather than bother with all that headache, and seeing that there was another, more willing redeemer, he abdicates his role. He’s more concerned with his own interests and opts to let someone carry the added responsibilities. (He’s actually a perfect contrast to Boaz!)

So despicable is his rationale that the narrator never even names the man, even though Boaz most definitely knew the guy (Afterall, they were relatives!). “Mr. So-and-So” is how the Hebrew reads. He’s a common man. Nothing special about him. Everybody else in the story gets a name, but not him.

He’s practical. And selfish.

Just like me.

I am struck by the narrator’s subtle but condescending critic of such stinkin’ thinkin’. Yet, how often do I evaluate my options in terms of what is most practical or least resistant? Or seek the win-win solutions when I should go after the right one regardless of the circumstances?

This “Mr. S0-and-So” serves as a poignant reminder of the perils of pragmatism. He made the wrong decision for the wrong reasons.

Fellow travelers, the outworking of Christian faith is never selfish and rarely practical.

God sometimes asks us to do things that make no sense from a human point of view. We must never let reason rule the day, instead we should leave room for faith to express itself. This is not to suggest we cease to be wise when making faith-based decisions. But it does challenge us to look at everyday experiences through the lens of God’ bigger purposes.

Boaz did.

Ruth did.

And through them came the Savior.

Wow, what a legacy!

Brian Hershey

Brian Hershey currently serves as the Campus Life Military Senior Advisor for the Greater Omaha Youth For Christ chapter in Omaha, NE. He holds an undergraduate degree in education, a Masters in Theology from Dallas Seminary, and 20 years of youth ministry experience. He and his wife, Bonnie, have been serving military teens and families since 2001 in Bad Aibiling, Wurzburg, Heidelberg, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and Kaiserslautern, Germany as well as Naples, Italy.


Joe Pytleski · July 10, 2012 at 11:10 am

Definitely interesting how the guy is more than willing to take the inheritance of land. It’s only when confronted with the task of raising the family and taking on Ruth that he rescinds the offer.

Brian · July 10, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Joe, thanks for responding. You make a great point. It seems those additional responsibilities complicated things too much for him. Makes me wonder if I ever turn down opportunities simply because it looks too complicated initially. It was great visiting with you this morning over coffee! Blessings, Friend!

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