Ruth 1: 1-18
In the days when the judges ruled,there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion.They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
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.
Naomi and Ruth Return to Bethlehem
When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah. Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”
At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-lawgoodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
Ghar Wapsi (returning home) has become a very contentious religio-political issue in India. Some fringe outfits have assumed that like the wayward prodigal son left the divine fold of Hinduism, many converted to other religions and it is time they return home, but unlike the father in the parable who gently waits for the return for the ghar wapsi, the so called defenders of faith of Hindutva want to microwave this process of ghar wapsi by the year 2021. Returning home is a very important theme in the bible too and home as a metaphor holds the narrative of the Word of God. Abraham left his home and land in wake of the call God gave him promising him a nation and an offspring. Adam and Eve had a home that they were evicted from. Homelessness is a state of humanity and Revelations 21 perfectly sums up the home coming of humanity with the New Heavens and the New Earth which we look forward to. But today the protagonist of our meditation is one who refused to do a ‘Ghar Wapsi.’ It is her story that we will pursue a little longer.
Broken dreams and miscalculations and heart break sets the tone for the plot. We normally jump right to get to Naomi, Ruth and Orpah, but that misses the thrust of the narrative. As Hebrew names in the original language added texture to the story, let us see what a Hebrew reading man gets that we miss. Bethlehem means “House of Bread”. So there was famine in the House of Bread and this man Elimelech which means “My God is King” and his wife Naomi which means “pleasant” have no bread to eat in the house of bread. Paul E Miller puts it succinctly when he says Elimelech decides that “I am my God and King” and decides to make life pleasant (Naomi) for a while by travelling to Moab which is a split of “Mo” which means “who” and “ab” which means “father”. So leaving the land of God, the question the new land poses them is “Who is your daddy?” It is important to note that the initial plan was to be there for a while, but they remained there. They had sons there called “Mahlon” and ‘Kilion” which means “Sick” and “Frail” respectively. That is like naming your child as ‘Jaundice’ and “Malaria”. Who does that? Straying a bit, there was an interesting case in New Zealand where parents named their girl child “Tulala does the Hulala from Hawaii”. I kid you not and the court took the custody of the child from the parents as the parents condemned their child to life time of mockery and disdain. If there were such laws in Moab, sure Elimelech and Naomi would be deported to Bethlehem and the story would go no further. Now Elimelech to avoid death left Bethlehem. But the sad part is, even in a land of plenty, he died. Not only that, his sons who married Moabite women, also died. The city of dreams turns into a nightmare.
From verse 7 we see that the three women are leaving Moab to travel down to Judah. But from vs 8, a sudden realization dawns on Naomi and she urges her daughters-in-law to return back to their mothers’ home. She ends the sentence with ‘May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.’ (vs 9) So she is requesting Ruth and Orpah for a ‘Ghar Wapsi’, so that they have future with another husband and their life flourishes. So the thrust is “Look after yourself. Do not walk with a living dead like me. Look for a future. Get back to the security of a home that awaits you.” L’Oreal has a slogan that says “I’m worth it”. Naomi says “I’m not worth it”. I have nothing to offer. So with logic of “First take care of yourself”, Naomi persuades Ruth and Orpah. But both persist that, no matter what, they will still follow. At times we find following the path of faith very tough and the wordly logic of compromise and do all to take care of yourself is very lucrative and we would like to return to the house of addictions, pleasure and vices because “I’m worth it.” Ruth and Orpah keep walking with Naomi.
But Naomi does not give up. From vs 11- 13 she graphically describes that she has nothing to offer by saying that even if she marries and have twins, will they wait for the twins to grow to get married? She proves that there is no hope with her. They are walking towards a dead end. Nothing good will come out of this. Orpah is persuaded by this logic. When it dawned upon her there is no future here she realizes “I’m worth it” She kisses her mom-in-law and does a ghar wapsi. Buth Ruth persists. She says even if there is no future, still I will follow. This is a tough call in faith where we give up when we see there is no future. We do this in the relations that we invest. If I am getting nothing out of it, let me quit. This Church has nothing for me. Let me quit.
Naomi does the last trick to persuade Ruth. When all failed to deter her, Naomi tries to apply peer pressure by saying “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” (vs 15) This is where I will certainly fall. I would love to stand for my beliefs and convictions, but I need people around to hold on to. I do not like the loneliness of being right and alone. I am way to people pleaser for that. But Ruth responds with a classic poem of commitment.
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Vs 16b and 17). Ruth sees nothing ahead of her. Still she “I will follow”. Naomi promises her that future is dead and there is no life. Ruth says “Still I will follow”. Naomi says “Even your sister in law has gone to make a life. Ruth answers “Though no one joins me, still I will follow.” If we just pause and think who is called the father of faith, boom comes the answer. “Abraham”. Abraham had to leave his home and land to a land shown by God. But there was a promise of offspring and a nation. In the story of Ruth, there is no call from God and no promise. Just the sure assurance of Naomi, that all will be bitter. I guess the faith shown by Ruth to leave her land and her house is far greater adventure than that of Abraham. So if anybody asks you, “Who is the mother of faith?” do not think twice. The answer is “Ruth”.
What quality does Ruth portray? The main theme of the book of Ruth is the Hebrew word ‘Hesed’. I am sorry; I have done a lot of ‘show-off’ of my shallow Hebrew skills. I promise this is the last. I love this word! The only problem is that there is no real good English equivalent for it. Probably the best is “God’s loyal covenant-keeping love for His people.” Some translations call it “loving kindness” or “mercy” or “kindness” or “steadfast love.” It is most often mentioned with God as the subject and His people or humanity as the object . Humans also can also show “hesed” to one another. It is found 246 times in the OT and 127 times in the Psalms. It is found in 5% of Psalms (read Psalm 136 for a psalm full of them), 4% in Jonah and Ruth comes next with 3%. Someone has defined it as “the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love of our Father God. Hesed shows up everywhere in Ruth and in looking at it in light of the New Testament, we know it is God’s hesed that is shown in Jesus Christ and keeps us in Him. So Hesed love is a love that is way too deep. It does not see what I can get from this relationship. It is a deep seated love with commitment. I will like to illustrate and end this meditation with one of my favourite story that I learnt in school. It was a Marathi lesson and let me remind you I was extremely bad at the subject failing in it with the consistency of Rohit Sharma. So if I remember this Marathi lesson, it is because of the sheer brilliance of the story. The story goes like this
There is a boy Dinu of age 9,whose father is a doctor and mother is a homemaker. One day his mother asks him to buy some groceries from the nearby shop. He goes and tells “Uncle give me 2kg Rice, 1 kg salt, 2 kg sugar and 500 grams coffee.” The shopkeeper heeds to his demands and gives Dinu what he has requested for. Dinu promptly gives the money. He collects the groceries and the change and gets ready to run home. But the shopkeeper calls him “Hey Dinu, take your bill along.” Dinu sees a bill for the first time and gets confused about what it is. But in the abandon of childhood he forgets about it. Then when he sits in his father’s clinic, he sees that his father too gives a bill to his patient. That is when it strikes to Dinu and he asks his Father “What is a Bill?” His father takes an old bill and shows him
Consultation Charge- Rs 200
House Visit- Rs 100
Medicines- Rs 200
Total – Rs 500
His father explains that, Bill shows the services one gives and the service charge is the amount one charges. Dinu gets very excited. He goes home and decides to make a bill for all the service rendered to his mother.
Buying Groceries- Rs 25
Helping in Cleaning the House- Rs 20
Helping in carrying water from Bathroom to Toilet- Rs 5
Helping in starting Scooter- Rs 8
Total Cost- Rs 58
With Discount – Rs 55
After preparing the ingenious bill, he excitedly goes to his mother and gives to her. She looks at it and smiles and says. “Dinu, go to sleep, tomorrow morning I will give you the full amount.” When Dinu got up in the morning he saw the bill on the table and some money. He got excited and counted that there was Rs 55 and then thought it was his bill. But it was another bill from his mother and it went like this.
Having borne you 9 months in my womb- Rs 0
Sleepless nights I spent when you had fever- Rs 0
When you had jaundice, even I ate salt less food- Rs 0
When something hurt you, tears were in my eyes- Rs 0
Total Amount with Discount Rs 0
Dinu took the bill and cried hugging his mother. I am sure he was beautifully introduced to the understanding of Hesed. Ruth in following Naomi and refusing a Ghar Wapsi shows ‘Hesed’ which is seen in the life of Jesus as well. May God help us to follow God with hesed and invest in our relationships with the spirit of Hesed. God bless us all.
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal