From the Sunday Readings
Ruth 1:1 (NRSV) In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Mo'ab, he and his wife and two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elim'elech and the name of his wife Na'omi, and the names of his two sons were Mah'lon and Chil'ion; they were Eph'rathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Mo'ab and remained there. 3 But Elim'elech, the husband of Na'omi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Mo'abite wives; the name of the one was Or'pah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mah'lon and Chil'ion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
6 Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Mo'ab, for she had heard in the country of Mo'ab that the LORD had considered his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. 8 But Na'omi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back each of you to your mother's house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The LORD grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband." Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10 They said to her, "No, we will return with you to your people." 11 But Na'omi said, "Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the LORD has turned against me." 14 Then they wept aloud again. Or'pah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15 So she said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law." 16 But Ruth said,
"Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
17 Where you die, I will die--
there will I be buried.
May the LORD do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!"
18 When Na'omi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
The Old Testament reading is the selection according to the Revised Common Lectionary
, which the Church adopted at The General Convention, rather unceremoniously, given the significance of the change. The selection highlights one of the strengths of the RCL: a renewed focus on the role of women in the Scriptures and their great contributions to our understandings of holiness, and of the LORD Himself.
The excerpt presents us with two women returning from the land of Moab to Israel. The women are Naomi, an Israelite who went to Moab with her husband and sons, and Ruth, her surviving daughter-in-law, who is a Moabite. In the time of the Judges, the land of Moab is known, from Genesis, as a land of sin and wickedness. According to Genesis the people of Moab are the offspring of Lot and his youngest daughter, who when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, fled to live in a cave.
In Israel itself, it is the lawless and dangerous "days of the judges," the time after the death of Moses and his successor Joshua but before the appearance of the great kings David and Solomon.
As Naomi decides to return to Israel, fleeing a famine, Ruth pledges her fealty, and in the process, proclaims the LORD as her Lord. In the book, the two settle in Bethlehem and Ruth weds Boaz, a wealthy man; Naomi becomes nurse to their children. Throughout, Ruth and Naomi show a fealty and loyalty that is commendable.
More importantly, perhaps, is Ruth's proclamation of her fealty to the LORD, and the blessings he later showers on her. He showers life and love on her despite her status as an outsider. Indeed, not only is she an outsider, she is a descendant of the proclaimed enemies of the Israelites, enemies not only because of their territorial ambitions, but because to the Israelites, they were descended from an impurity that defiled the Lord's chosen. To the Israelites living in the time of the Judges, the Moabites are the ultimate outsiders.
How, then, could the LORD so favor Ruth? He blesses Ruth. In fact, He blesses her to a great extent. The book tells us near its end that Ruth gave birth to a son whom they named "Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David."
In Matthew's genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ we are told: "and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David....and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Christ."
This is a blessing by the LORD indeed. Here is a Moabite woman, a stranger to Israel whom the Israelites of the day would have recognized not as one of the lowest of the Gentiles, but as a person completely cast out of God's sight. Yet she proclaims the LORD, and from her direct line, then comes not only Israel's greatest kings, but the earthly father of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It is truly extraordinary. It is completely unexpected. Not one prophet, historian, patriarch, or angel, anywhere in the Bible, announces that from the line of a Moabite woman, would come the earthly father of the Savior of the World.
We are reminded in the life and charity of Naomi and Ruth, and in Ruth's legacy, that the world is the Lord's creation. He does with it as He pleases, in ways that we may not always expect, understand, or appreciate. We may remain quite confident that since He is good, the world is likewise, and everything He does in it, is thereby by definition good as well. We may also be sure that in the Lord, there can be no strangers. And no one who calls on Him is cast out, no matter what others may say, for it is not their decision. It is the LORD's.
We see in the lives and love of Ruth and Naomi, the very best of humanity. We see in them the welcoming of the stranger into our own lives, and by His command and example, to the Lord's table. We see the love and charity given to the outsider, the fealty to the LORD, and the promises of His blessing.
And in Ruth's direct connection to the Lord Jesus Christ, we see the assurance that it is these things above all, that He treasures and commands us to display towards one other.