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The most essential profession

Faithfulness and redemption /8 - Fraternity is a satiety measured on those who are not full or have no table.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  23/05/2021

"Name in the centre,
your sound calls filled with voices
but no one holds you, no one dares let you in
sounds, in letters or numbers. In your never called solitude. How strange everything is.
It seems. Very strange to me.
I plant you, I investigate you, I approach millimetre by millimetre. I have you in my voice
without any sounds coming out
".
Mariangela Gualtieri, Nome che stai al centro/Name in the centre

Boaz's benevolence towards Ruth and Ruth's generous sobriety revive Naomi's faith in God and in life. This indirect structure lies at the heart of the often invisible plots of our lives and salvations.

Ruth returns to Bethlehem carrying the barley gathered while gleaning behind the reapers on her shoulders, the reapers who became generous because they obeyed Boaz’s command, their master. We see her advancing, in the sunset, after a long day spent outdoors and under the sun, carrying the heavy sack full of barley on her back. Hard work, work for the poor, for poor women. Two and a half millennia have passed since these verses were written, but we continue to see too many women advancing at the end of a long day carrying loads that are too heavy on their backs. This pandemic has been painful for many, in some respects, it has been painful for everyone; but above all it has been hard for women, who had to take charge, and bear their parents and children on their backs. Too many Ruths who go home too tired in the evening. Care work, which is increasingly necessary, will only become sustainable for women when it becomes the art of everyone, women and men.

(The Book of Ruth 2,18). As her first gesture, Ruth gives Naomi a part of the toasted wheat she had set aside during her lunch with the reapers. The text says that is was the grain that was left over because of her "satiety", but we know that it has always been part of the job of the women of back then as well as today to scrape together part of their meal to share it with those who have not yet eaten.

That toasted grain set aside in a piece of cloth and kept until the evening was not superfluous to Naomi, it was probably necessary. Women and men often have different means to measure what is necessary and separate it from the superfluous. It is rare to see a woman, especially a mother, who can remain satisfied without including those who have not yet eaten in her satiety. They cannot, they are not able to feel fully satisfied while someone they love is still hungry. It is a collective satiety, a satiety of communion, which comes only when and if we are full and satisfied together. It is this partial and shared satiety that enables less fragile and poor people in a community to die in during a crisis or famine. Like the various welfare systems, this different form of satiety of mothers has saved and continues to save lives. The canteens at home are often places of fraternity and sorority and not of abuse of the strongest, because there is at least one woman, who keeps food for those who have not yet returned from school, for the little ones and for the sisters, who takes care of the absent who have not yet satisfied themselves. Fraternity is a satiety measured on the basis of those who are not full or have not yet arrived at the table.

Naomi, who is more of an expert than Ruth, immediately understands that all that barley could not possibly be the result of simple gleaning, because it is much greater than the result of a normal day of harvest. She realizes that some landowner had been particularly kind to her. Ruth did not know that all that barley she had found behind the reapers was the result of the order given by Boaz to the men, to "let ears of grain fall" - only we know this. Naomi senses it, and therefore discerns a great gift in that payment.

Naomi blesses the anonymous man who has shown an "interest" in Ruth. We can translate the verb nakar as "showing an interest" but also and perhaps more accurately "to acknowledge", in particular to acknowledge a stranger. That great harvest brought home by Ruth is the result of acknowledging a foreign woman (Moabite), who was in a triple condition of disadvantage: female, poor, and foreigner. The recognition and acknowledgment of a poor and foreign woman materialized into a particularly generous "salary", an intertwining happening made up of gift and work. Here, we find ourselves in front of another anthropological and economic pearl. When we are faced with a person in an inferior and "alien" condition in the world of labour, any true acknowledgement and recognition must begin with a generous salary, which exceeds the one expected by the regular labour market. Because in any society the wages of the poor are never fair even when they are regulated by the market - the market is an almost perfect image of the power relations that govern a society. Acknowledging a poor worker means above all acknowledging a higher salary than what would be "normal", because the normal wage would be insufficient. Here, the gift becomes necessary so that wages can become fair. Instead, back in the day as well as today, the most normal form of non-recognition of the poor, foreigners, and women is to humiliate them with "normal" wages that are never fair because they are far too low. Today, normal market wages pay a seasonal migrant laborer a monthly wage that is lower than one hour of work of an economist. They are regular and unjust wages, which do not recognize the dignity of male or female workers. However, when a "different" kind of entrepreneur increases the wages of his workers, including a part that should not even be there according to the law of the market, he or she is using the gift to do an act of justice. The history of labour has known many gestures born as gifts and later matured into actual rights.

«Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said» (The Book of Ruth 2,19). Now that Naomi knows the name of Boaz as well, she blesses him a second time: «“The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law.“ He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead!"» (The Book of Ruth 2,20). Now the blessing is personal, specifically for Boaz. It is not clear from the Hebrew text whether the pronoun "that" refers to Boaz or to YHWH, which of the two is the merciful one. Perhaps the author did not want to clarify the ambiguity in order to link the hessed (mercy) of both God and that of Boaz together. According to the Bible, in order for the mercy-love of God to be manifested, it must be manifested through the mercy-love of men and women. And here the book of Ruth continues to reveal itself entirely as our own book. It is a book about us. Here the voice of God and his providence come through the voices and providences of both women and men. Not all of us are prophets and not all of us have the gift of directly hearing the voice calling to us, but we can all recognize the hand of God in the hands of the men and women who become providence and mercy to us. Too many people do not experience the hand of providence because our hands are not generous enough. The kind of recognition that calls on gratitude still takes an indirect form: Boaz (A) acknowledges and recognises Ruth (B) and Naomi (C) gratefully blesses Boaz (A). The most beautiful blessings are those that come to us from those who look at our action of recognition and fill us with gratitude. Three is the prime number of social grammar.

When Ruth got up at dawn and went out to glean, Naomi was left still sad, "bitter" and "empty" (The Book of Ruth 1.20), convinced that God had abandoned her. Now, at the end of this first day, Naomi seems to be full of life and words, finding the true meaning of her name Naomi ("the sweet one"), blesses someone twice and mentions the name of YHWH with kindness and gratitude. It is the experience of the benevolence of God and of men (Boaz) that awakens the voice of God in her. Yet another great message from this book. Spiritual depressions, unlike psychological ones, often originate when a person, who has made her inner life the most precious capital of her existence, begins to strongly and for a long time feel the disappearance of an intimate presence, the most intimate one. In a first phase of struggle, she looks for other more subtle or profound attunements, but if the absence persists, the person sinks into a real nighttime of the spirit, in which neither dawn nor the hope of it can be discerned. The belief that the voice that had been the very soul of her soul has disappeared forever and will no longer speak begins to seep in. The Bible tells us that these special depressions, which are very similar to "normal" depressions (and yet very different), can be overcome in two ways. The most common solution is a direct intervention of God who breaks into the life of the spiritually depressed person (Elijah, Anna, Abraham, etc.). However, now we also discover the solution of the Book of Ruth, where a woman (Naomi) comes out of a depression because she finds the presence of God through the benevolence of a man. However, unlike other biblical passages where the person who awakens the extinguished presence of God in another person is a prophet (Elisha, Isaiah, Nathan, and Jesus himself); in the book of Ruth it is the action of a man that reawakens God in Naomi, the action of an ordinary man, a normal person, someone like us. And she finds it, again, indirectly: Naomi (A) sees Boaz (B) acting with mercy towards her daughter-in-law Ruth (C), and in this generous action Naomi feels the love of God (D) and of life towards herself (A). The biblical God likes to sneak into our dynamics of reciprocity, to hide behind the mask-persons of human comedy, which is also divine.

We cannot know how many Naomis find God within their soul because they witness a Boaz turn into generous providence for a Ruth. The Bible reveals the plot of the story to us, giving us an overview of the story at the end, where everything becomes transparent. However, in the book of life the masks do not always come off at the end. We only know a few passages, sometimes only a few words of the story we are writing. Perhaps we will only realise how many Boaz were part of our own resurrections in heaven, and how many Naomis we helped to rise because we acknowledged, loved and welcomed a poor person, a foreigner, a victim, and someone saw us. And we will finally understand that even behind our own mysterious resurrections, that sometimes made us get up when we thought it was all over, that made us rediscover our real name, there was someone who had love for us as well. The Bible is paradise-down here, telling us and assuring us that the invisible plots of love that are composed around us are more numerous and precious than the few that we can see with the naked eye.

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