Reading: Ruth 1:6-22 (NLT)
6 Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again. So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she set out from the place where she had been living, and they took the road that would lead them back to Judah.
8 But on the way, Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mothers’ homes. And may the Lord reward you for your kindness to your husbands and to me. 9 May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.” Then she kissed them good-bye, and they all broke down and wept.
10 “No,” they said. “We want to go with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi replied, “Why should you go on with me? Can I still give birth to other sons who could grow up to be your husbands? 12 No, my daughters, return to your parents’ homes, for I am too old to marry again. And even if it were possible, and I were to get married tonight and bear sons, then what? 13 Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry someone else? No, of course not, my daughters! Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord himself has raised his fist against me.”
14 And again they wept together, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye. But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi. 15 “Look,” Naomi said to her, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.
19 So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.
20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara,[a] for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer[b] and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”
22 So Naomi returned from Moab, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth, the young Moabite woman. They arrived in Bethlehem in late spring, at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Homily by Rev’d Jo Joyce
The book of Ruth, is not only a great read but it’s very short. Just four chapters and well worth a read if you haven’t read it before. It tell the story of Ruth, a Moabite (in other words a foreigner) and Naomi her Mother in-law, an Israelite. There are a number of themes in the book, loyalty, love, care for the poor and the complicated system of kinship that led women at the time to be reliant on the men of their families. It is unusual in the bible in that these two women are the centre of the story and it is their responses to life that are the point of interest. There is even a suggestion that the book may have been written by a woman. The story helps us to understand the complexities of life at the time and encourages its listeners to celebrate love and loyalty.
The story begins when Naomi, her husband and their two sons moved to Moab. Then the first tragedy strikes and Naomi’s husband dies. However the family stays where they are settled and the sons marry Ruth and Orpah, local Moabite women, but ten years later tragedy strikes once more and both sons die. Naomi is faced with a stark decision. She must return to her home in Israel and find family to care for her. With no sons or grandsons she risks becoming destitute. So she blesses her daughters in law and encourages them to return to their homes and remarry amongst their own people. Orpah agrees and returns home, but Ruth refuses. Despite the dangers she decides to travel with Naomi back to Israel. Naomi tries to dissuade her but has no luck. Ruth is steadfastly loyal declaring; “Where you go, I shall go… your people shall be my people and your God, my God.” This declaration of commitment is often haled as one of special importance, but it should be noted Orpah is not condemned for returning to her people, Ruth’s special loyalty should never be held up as a standard for all relationships with in-laws, or within families like this.
The rest of the story could be read in several ways; as the divine reward for her loyalty, as a love story, as the cunning of a woman determined to force the male kinsman into giving the support she is entitled to, or as a tale of oppression as a young woman is forced to marry a man far older than her, who bargains with another to see who gets her, all so she may get the basic dignity any human should want for… I will leave you to reflect on which you think it is!
Ruth is gleaning for grain in a field, gathering the leftovers after the harvest. This is a sign of how poor they have become, that she picks the remnants of the crop to avoid starvation. That field belongs of Boaz, shortly to become the hero of our story. Ruth comes to his attention and he takes pity on her, instructing the harvesters to make sure they leave her some. He instructs the young men to leave her alone, a sign of the harassment she must have faced as a woman with no male relatives to defend her. It’s then that Naomi reveals who Boaz is, a kinsman, in other words a male relative whose duty it is under law to marry her in order to provide for her. The plot thickens as he seems not to take much interest in her beyond a general concern.
It is Naomi’s cunning that gets Ruth noticed. She instructs her to go to his bed and uncover his feet. Now ‘feet’ were often used as a euphemism for genitals, so I will leave you to imagine what may have happened in the bedroom that night… When waking up with her Boaz is confronted with his responsibility. Only one man is a closer relative but when he realises this deal also includes caring for her mother in law he swiftly backs off!
And so Boaz and Ruth marry, and have a son, thereby providing for Naomi, Ruth and the whole family, and from his descendants came the great Kind David. Thus in the line of Israel and of Jesus is Ruth the Moabite, a foreigner who adopted Israel’s God as her own.
So what is the story about? Is it about God redeeming tragedy, or providing for the poor and the destitute? Or maybe about answers to prayer, provision in the face of despair? Or Is it about loyalty and love, or about familial responsibility? Is it about courage and forbearance or hope and despair? Or is it about poverty, exploitation and oppression?
Why don’t you read the story and see what you think? Discuss it together – all of the above have been argued by different commentators, there is no right and wrong. Like many biblical stories it leaves us wondering. I wonder what it means for you and I wonder if God may be speaking to you through this ancient story today. Why don’t we take a moment to pause and pray, as we seek to reflect on this today?
Lord God, we lift your children before you.
May they find rest for their souls.
We pray for all in authority, that they will be respectfully
conscious of the weight on their shoulders, and that they will act
responsibly for the people they serve. We pray for them in their
personal lives, with the worries and cares that only they see.
We pray for our friends, family, colleagues. We pray that as we
walk alongside them, you will use us to bring them close to you,
and they will learn of your love.
We pray that we might be sensitive to the needs of those around
us – the people we see every day, perhaps as fleetingly as at the
shops, or in the bus queue. We have no idea what burdens they
are carrying, or if they need a kind word from you that only we can give.
We pray that we will see the positive in people, even when it’s
hard, and reach out to encourage them.