Today's Lectionary Text
During the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. A man with his wife and two sons went from Bethlehem of Judah to dwell in the territory of Moab. The name of that man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the territory of Moab and settled there.
But Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died. Then only she was left, along with her two sons. They took wives for themselves, Moabite women; the name of the first was Orpah and the name of the second was Ruth. And they lived there for about ten years.
But both of the sons, Mahlon and Chilion, also died. Only the woman was left, without her two children and without her husband.
Then she arose along with her daughters-in-law to return from the field of Moab, because while in the territory of Moab she had heard that the LORD had paid attention to his people by providing food for them. She left the place where she had been, and her two daughters-in-law went with her. They went along the road to return to the land of Judah.
Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go, turn back, each of you to the household of your mother. May the LORD deal faithfully with you, just as you have done with the dead and with me. May the LORD provide for you so that you may find security, each woman in the household of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.
But they replied to her, “No, instead we will return with you, to your people.”
Naomi replied, “Turn back, my daughters. Why would you go with me? Will there again be sons in my womb, that they would be husbands for you? Turn back, my daughters. Go. I am too old for a husband. If I were to say that I have hope, even if I had a husband tonight, and even more, if I were to bear sons— would you wait until they grew up? Would you refrain from having a husband? No, my daughters. This is more bitter for me than for you, since the LORD’s will has come out against me.”
Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth stayed with her. Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her gods. Turn back after your sister-in-law.”
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD do this to me and more so if
even death separates me from you.” When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her about it.
I had not read the book of Ruth in quite some time until our church’s Bible Book Club recently decided to read both it and the story of the judge Deborah. I dubbed it “Girl Power Month.” The club reads passages from the Bible and then discusses them just as we would a new release on the nonfiction or even fiction bookshelves. The idea is to gain understanding by discussing the story.
And oh, what a story Ruth is! This opening tells us the basics. A famine forces a family to relocate to foreign territory, in present-day Jordan. Once there, two sons marry two women, both Moabites. It means those women likely worshiped a false god named Chemosh. Still, these women are now part of a family descended from Abraham. But it’s a family thrown into turmoil when, over the course of about 10 years, the men die, leaving widows to fend for themselves — not a recipe for a high quality of life in the patriarchal ancient world.
Naomi, the mother-in-law, tells both of the young women to go back to their families so they can be supported, but one of them, Ruth, refuses to leave her mother-in-law.
A young woman in our book club made an observation that turned the lightbulb on inside my head: This desire for Ruth to stay with a woman she must have respected is a second love story in this book. Yes, this book is important because Ruth becomes the great-grandmother of King David. But Ruth’s marriage to Boaz and the critical progeny to follow don’t happen if first Ruth doesn’t make a strong connection with Naomi. Ruth says the words we hear recited so often in wedding ceremonies: “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”
It’s a beautiful relationship between two women who stick together through difficult times. And it’s an illustration about how relationships can lead people to the living God. In this case, Ruth vowed to follow the living God because of Naomi. Let’s all pray that we can make an impact on family and friends.
— Todd Seifert, director of communications
Prayer for Reflection
Gracious God, we thank you for the example of Ruth. Help us to build relationships with neighbors, friends — even our family members — so that we may introduce them to the true, living God. Amen.
This Week's Lectionary
This Week's Liturgical Color