Ruth and Naomi
Scripture: The Book of Ruth
When I read the story of Ruth I am drawn to the way Ruth and Naomi posture their lives toward each other as they journey through devastating loss and subsistence living. They personify the Apostle’s Paul’s instruction about how to live out one’s faith: “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those weep.” (Rom 12:15).
When Naomi stops and turns to the women who loved her sons to urge them to go back to their families, she is recognizing that for these two women, the path least likely to wound them further, is the one back to their family homes. They will be safe there and maybe with good fortune they will find husbands and bear children. Naomi knows, as a childless widow, that if she makes it back to Bethlehem she will only be burden for someone else. These two women represent her last comforts, companionship and shared memories.
Despite this she presses them to leave her, not once but twice, so persuasively that Orpah does leave. Ruth however, matches her mother-in-law’s unselfishness and determination. Ruth refuses to abandon Naomi. This posture of love isn’t naive but forged in a crucible of suffering. Ruth’s words don’t deny the reality of the losses they’ve experienced but draw strength from the relationship between them that has endured those losses.
When the women arrive in Bethlehem, the village is immediately aware of Naomi’s change in status, so much so that Naomi insists they acknowledge it outright by calling her Mara, or Bitter. Ruth, sensitive to how hard it is for Naomi, makes the first effort to work. She goes out to glean in the barley harvest and finds herself in the fields of Boaz, a near relative of Naomi’s husband’s family. Boaz treats her kindly and when Ruth returns to the house that night and tells Naomi where she was and who made her success possible, Naomi realizes that Boaz could be more than just a generous neighbour, he could be a kinsmen redeemer, someone who could marry Ruth and give them both a home.
Naomi reciprocates Ruth’s commitment by instructing Ruth in an intricate cultural tradition that only an insider would know – the rite of the kinsmen redeemer. Ruth simply could not have navigated this situation on her own as a foreigner. Ruth in turn trusts her mother-in-law’s understanding of the situation. For the second time, as a result of their mutual regard for each other, their situation is transformed. Ruth and Naomi shift from the obscurity of widowhood to the security of family.
The women of Bethlehem have the final say in this story and they see the truth of it well. It is the story of two women, bound in love for each other and bearing witness to God’s faithfulness in their lives. To Naomi they say: “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” (14-15)
Lord Jesus, as we turn toward Christmas, turn our hearts toward you. Amen
Naomi and Ruth above is by Luba Lukova.