June 12, 2022
Ruth 1: 1-22
It is a chaotic time in Judea.
It is an in-between time before the rise of kings and judges had been left to handle leadership duties. For the most part, the people were left to their own devices. So, there was a lot of uncertainty in the air.
Add to this normal state of affairs, there has been a drought and Bethlehem was in the midst of a famine. Bethlehem … by the way .. means “House of Bread.” So, there’s some irony present … the house is almost empty of food.
Elimelech hears that things are better in the land of Moab, so he, his wife, Naomi, and their sons leave their native land for the distant region in search of food and refuge. After they arrive, Elimelech dies … leaving behind Naomi and the boys.
Still, the family survives and flourishes.
Even though it was frowned upon by tradition, the sons married Moabite women and the families built a life over the next decade.
But then, the sons die … leaving the three childless women … Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth … in a bad way. With no men in their lives, the women are left destitute … no work, no food and no home.
They are all vulnerable to the whims of the world.
And the world was not kind to women left on their own. It all likelihood, they would be left to life on the streets … existing on the charity of others.
Naomi heard that things had changed in Bethlehem in the time since she left… there was food to be found there and … perhaps … a sense of security. So, the three women set off to return to Naomi’s native land …
At one point, Naomi turns to her daughters-in-law and tells them to turn back and return to Moab and to their own god … it will be safer for them there than it would be living as foreigners in Bethlehem. In Moab, the younger women can still find husbands and have a future, Naomi tells them
In the culture of the time, the custom called for the younger women to return to their culture and leave Naomi to her private journey.
The three widows cry … giving voice to their pain.
Naomi believes that God has turned against her and she has no future to offer the younger women. Naomi makes the plea two more times.
Orpah accepts Naomi’s reasoning and turns back. Ruth … who is David’s great-grandmother … refuses and clings to her mother-in-law.
Ruth offers a beautiful statement of her love … of her commitment and of her new faith:
“Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people
and your God my God.”
The original Hebrew is even more direct and powerful a statement:
“Where you go, I go;
where you lodge, I lodge;
your people, my people
and your God my God.
Ruth affirms her bond with Naomi … declares her love and devotion to her mother-in-law and turns away from the god she knew in Moab.
Ruth will remain present in Naomi’s tragedy, grief and bitterness.
Ruth declares that every step Naomi takes, Ruth takes as well … in her answer to Naomi … she is re-defining family to something that goes beyond blood.
Through Ruth’s declaration, family members are now tied by love … a relationship with God isn’t restricted by race, blood or your native land, but rather by commitment and a shared experience.
It’s interesting that in today’s portion of Ruth’s story God never speaks and doesn’t make an appearance. Naomi only hears that God had given food to the people in Judea and sets the stage for love to act.
This is … as one scholar puts it … a story of everyday people, where we see what love for the neighbour truly should look like.
That love comes through in Naomi’s concern for her daughters-in-law and in Ruth’s commitment to Naomi. It’s a commitment that goes against all sensibilities of the time … Ruth bonds herself to someone whose life is filled with tragedy and whose future seems iffy at best. But her bond is a love that is anchored in the promise of something more.
The passage ends with the women arriving in Bethlehem just as a bountiful harvest is being enjoyed.
There is a word in Hebrew … hesed … which refers to covenantal love … the love that we receive from God and one that the people are called to share with one another.
It is a love that is in action … it is an action where faithful, loyal, love is lived out.
This is where grace is shared … where it is extended out into the world like ripples in water.
Next weekend, some of us will be walking with members of the 2S-LGBTQQIAP+ community and their allies.
Viewed through the lens of today’s passage, it is a moment when we can be like Ruth and join people on their journey
It is an act of support and love … when we can put love in action. It will be when we will be among people who have felt the pain of hatred and anger most acutely … who have felt uncertainty over their place in the world or over their future. It will be an opportunity for practising hesed… covenantal love.
Some have trouble with a church community being part of such an event … I look forward to the calls and emails that ultimately ask how can we love. Ruth offers the perfect response.
Ruth’s proclamation remains relevant in our times. The voiced bond that exists between the two women is a display of love and commitment that each of us are called to follow as we re-define family.
It calls us to consider how we love our neighbours … how well we practice hesed.
To ask ourselves if we willing to echo Ruth’s declaration of love and devotion for others … to walk with others in their pain, uncertainty and grief … to hear others’ stories as they give voice to the effects of their experiences and help ease their suffering?
Are we willing to say … “where you go, I go…. “