There is a popular TV show where CEOs disguise themselves and go undercover as regular working stiffs. The attraction of the show is that, like Scrooge on Christmas morning, the bosses wake up to the value of the wage-and-hour people they employ, and they become more giving, compassionate and empathetic.
Undercover Boss is so-called “reality TV.”
For the business leader looking for a genuine model of compassion and empathy, there’s a better reality episode that plays out in the Old Testament book of Ruth. In that story, a young, destitute widow named Ruth follows her also-widowed, also destitute, mother-in-law to Bethlehem, the small agricultural town that later gave the world David the king and Jesus the Christ.
Trying to sustain herself and her mother-in-law in Bethlehem, Ruth goes out to glean some barley from a nearby farm. According to the laws of given by God to Moses, all Jewish landowners were required to allow the poor to enter their fields to pick up grain left behind after the harvest. Gleaning was sort of a welfare system for the poor and hungry.
The field was owned by Boaz. A quick read of Ruth chapter 2 shows us some very important insights into Boaz, his role as a boss, and his perspectives on both his employees and have-nots like Ruth.
First, Boaz prayed the Lord’s blessing on his employees (verse 4). He greets them with a blessing and they return the greeting with respect.
He reacts thoughtfully to the strange woman picking in his field (verse 5-6). He does not jump to conclusions. He asks questions and gets information about who Ruth is and what she is doing there.
Then Boaz responds with kindness toward Ruth and obedience toward the Lord’s commands on gleaning (verse 8). He also observes God’s instruction about treating foreigners kindly while they are in your land (Leviticus 19:33-34). Ruth was a Moabite, not a Jew. Boaz encourages her to glean from his field, and only his field. He assures her his workers will not only allow her to be there, they will protect her, and provide her water.
In our contemporary culture, we would say that Boaz creates a non-threatening work environment. He tells his male employees not to touch Ruth, or harass her in any way. He tells them it is ok to leave some unpicked stalks of grain behind so that Ruth will be able to find enough to gather and eat.
There’s more to the story. Ruth and Boaz ultimately marry. But as I recently read the account of their first meeting, I was struck by the reality that Boaz was a great boss and a business owner who was not at all reluctance to put his faith into action through his work. He took his responsibilities to his business, to God, to his workers, and to his community all seriously.
Boaz would have made good TV.