Ruth 3:1-15; 4:13-17 – The 24th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, November 8, 2015
“Ruth replied to her, ‘I’ll do everything you are telling me . . .” (Ruth 3:5)
Once I thought differently about family.
Family was your parents and grandparents, siblings and second cousins; family was blood. It was where you were born. It was the accumulated generations of names, revered and scorned, all remembered when you gathered for the holy days. Family was place and time, us against them, common hopes and shameful failures, odd nicknames and secret recipes.
Until my daughter-in-law Ruth, I thought I knew what made a family real.
Call me Naomi, which in my language means “pleasant.” But I also call myself Mara, which means “bitter.”
For I have been bitter.
Death and I have been intimate.
My beloved Elimelech died, my husband only of memory, who rarely put two sentences together in any conversation. But when he spoke, his words were wise and gentle. Now, he’s dead. Do I remember Elimelech more kindly than he deserved? I cannot say, other than for the rest of my breaths, my heart remains broken. And then my sons, Mahlon and Chilion, both strong and stubborn, always tenderly caring for me (because I was family, because they too knew death) also died. Yes, bitterness, loss, and disappointment refuse to leave me alone.
But who cares about my history? Who cares about my future?
At least I returned to the land of my family. At least my broken heart beats beside those who speak my language, share my stories, and worship the same God.
And yet there is Ruth.
The foreigner. The other. The strange one. The woman not of my blood. The woman once my son’s wife, but now—like me—a widow.
Why does she still cleave to my side? How can the one who is not blood seem more like blood than anyone ever has been?
Until I grew older, until I experienced loss, until I felt the burdens of dread and futility, I always thought God only spoke my language, only saw the chosen people as, well, chosen.
But then came Ruth.
How dare she trust me! She did. She does!
And though I could never explain it, and barely comprehend it myself, I sensed in the heart of my heart, in the deepest corners of my scarred and scared soul, that I should say words to Ruth that would take her away from me. I felt the God of my bitterness was also somehow even more the God of boldness. Who else but the One who is Holy, who seemed in the worst moments to abandon me until I realized it was really me that abandoned God, nudged me to speak aloud to Ruth.
Foolish me. Fearful me. Bitter me. Bold me.
I told Ruth to lie beside Boaz.
How dare I say anything? (How dare I not!)
Was it truly God’s nudge or another form of my bitter selfishness? Was it both? Truth be told, I didn’t want Ruth to have a life of loneliness like me. Truth be told, I longed for Ruth to have a future unlike mine.
Some will say I manipulated the pretty foreigner onto a man who should’ve married one of his own.
Some will say the ones who are different should stay away from the chosen.
Some will say I schemed to insure Ruth would stay near me.
Some will say I liked to tell Ruth what to do, so there’d be at least one thing in my life under my control.
Some will say I shamed my people, my family, my blood, and my village because I loved Ruth more than any of them, more even than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Let them mutter those lies. I know their prejudice, for their very words have been mine in the past. How can we so despise the other without ever knowing them? Why do we claim hope, but savor our hatred?
Ruth showed me love during the worst of my bitterness. She showed me to learn from, and delight in, the one who is different. She showed me how little I know about true family. She showed me how to trust my God again.
And so I did.
Who knows what will happen? But Ruth, thanks be to God, seems happy. No, she is happy. Boaz is a good man, like the sons I once had. I pray Ruth and Boaz have children. I pray, for I am selfish, that their children, and their children’s children, remember me. And tell my story.
Mine is a bitter story. I have seen death. I have lost family.
Mine is a hopeful story. I still worship a God of love, who knows no boundaries and offers new blessings.
I spoke the words of encouragement to Ruth. She listened, even to this old woman, and then she walked toward her future.
*Photo of “Ruth and Naomi,” plaster over armature, by Margaret Adams Parker (1996)