A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Christopher Mack

A Good Man Is Hard To Find

Scripture: Ruth 4:1, 3-6, 9-12

“‘A good man is hard to find,’ Red Sammy said. ‘Everything is getting terrible. I remember the days you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more.’”

—Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man Is Hard to Find

We are living through a time of upheaval and social tension. In such times, I am reminded of something my enneagram mentor, Suzanne Stabile, shared as words of wisdom she received from a therapist. He asked her, “On whose bones are you trying to hang your fear, anger, and shame?”

I don’t want to feel like I am hounded by anxiety, eaten up by resentment, or drowning in insecurity. Chances are you don’t either. We are all in search of someone or some group upon whom we can discharge all of the corrosive undoing we feel inside of us.

So we lash out at others. We have not learned how to grieve the losses or live within the tension. Familiarity encounters rapid change and leads to disorientation. Change is happening on a technological, social, political, economic, and cultural level. This inevitably means that people of faith are faced with how to respond in such times of unrest. Often times, we are tempted to blame people for the changes we either cannot understand or do not want to accommodate. “THEY are the problem.”

If I focus on demonizing them, then I do not have to address all that is uneasy within me. I get the temporary high of exerting my opinion, exalting myself as morally superior, and exorcising my rage. All of this gives us an illusion of security, control, and esteem. It does not lead to our transformation or the transformation of the world. Many people outside of the church wonder why people who claim to follow Jesus, and who spend so much time together in Christian community, look so little like Jesus. In this way, many Christ followers are not much different from the larger world.

As a culture, it seems as if we have devalued being formed by and following through on our promises, responsibilities, and values. We like retweeting the passionate quote. We languish when it comes to fostering the relationships, navigating the tension, understanding the problem, getting the buy in, and working together for the common good. We will share something on social media,   make a donation, wear a shirt, and vote for a candidate. However, if we are not careful, all of these actions can be a further entrenching within our ego. We think ourselves good, but in actuality we are not living for much more beyond our own self-interest.

In the Book of Ruth, we encounter an unnamed relative of Naomi and Ruth. He is first in line to be a redeemer of their family. He can ensure that Elimelek’s land and lineage endure. Yet he has not acted. Boaz, who himself is next in line to act for Naomi and Ruth approaches this unnamed relative in front of the community.

Boaz initially only mentions that Naomi, Elimelek’s widow, is seeking to be made financially whole by selling her land. Her unnamed family member replies, “I will redeem it.” It was easily said. Especially, since he could imagine how his own family would benefit for generations from the continual ownership of the land.

Then the other shoe drops. Boaz next reminds his unnamed relative that on the day he buys the land, he will also get Ruth, the Moabite. He will be joined to this foreign immigrant from an unpopular neighboring country. The lands will remain in the family of Elimelek, not his own. All of the personal benefit and profit evaporates before the unnamed relative’s eyes. He is invited to see beyond himself and his own self-interest, and he is either unable or unwilling.

A good man is hard to find.

The one who was most concerned with maintaining his good name and good standing in the community, is the one who goes unnamed in the scriptures. He might have remembered the recession from just a few years back and reasoned this made good economic sense. He might have been filled with a strong nationalism and thus rejected any responsibility to foreigners.

In Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” Ebenezer Scrooge asks those seeking a donation for the poor, “Are there no prisons? …and workhouses?”  He is assured that they are all busy and says he is glad they are on “their useful course.” Those seeking his aid for the poor continue…

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”*

Scrooge’s reply reminds me of the unnamed relative. “Nothing!”

The unnamed relative surely knew that his countrymen were required by the biblical law to leave some of their harvest for the poor. He might have thought to himself, “If these women are badly off, then that is the provision for them.”

Boaz will intervene. Where the unnamed relative only sees cost and a foreigner, he sees an opportunity to enact God’s lovingkindness in the world.

It is my hope to be like Boaz, but as I read this biblical passage, I am reminded of how often I am more like his unnamed relative.

Christopher Mack