Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
There is a quote by Jurgen Moltmann that I have been enamored of recently. Perhaps I have shared it with you in these pages already, but I am sharing it again; ‘…That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man. Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present.’
I share this because the book of Ruth is just such a goad. Diane Jacobson has suggested that the book of Ruth was written as Israel’s elites returned home to Jerusalem after the long exile in Babylon, which is recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah. The great promises of prosperity and security offered by second Isaiah did not come true, and the people had complicated challenges to face, such as, what to do with the foreigners that had settled, and in some cases, been forcibly resettled in the land of Israel? The presence of these foreign people was the catalyst for important questions about God’s promises of security and status for Israel. Would it extend to these foreign people? Who would be considered part of God’s family and who would not and how would society be organized? Ezra is the voice of those whose answer to the above questions, is to create distance, a separation between Israelites and foreigners. Jacobson suggests that Ruth is a story written in response to Ezra's voice. The foreign are not to be distanced, but embraced. Hospitality for the vulnerable is always the highest priority of those who would follow God. Ruth is a foreign woman, a Moabite, who becomes the hero of the story because of her courage, tenacity and compassion for her mother-in-law Ruth.
Most recently very similar questions have been raised in our nation by the high numbers of children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras that are crossing our borders. In it’s time, Ruth was a goad which urged its readers to reconsider the experience of others, specifically to rethink the value of the foreign. It begins to do so by opening with the universal experience of loss. Naomi, the Israelite and her daughter-in-law, the foreigner Ruth, are united in the tragedy of their loss. From it’s outset, the book of Ruth begins to undermine the walls that divide us with tunnels of human experience that connect us, such as the sadness we feel when we loose the ones we love.
While it is a daunting task, the story of Ruth reminds us that one of the spiritual practices of the Christ-follower is the consideration of the least of these. Jesus was often found living the daily experiences of the suffering and struggling. How can we or do we open our hearts to those who suffer?