Summary: Ruth proclaims her loyalty to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Her words at first appear foolish. She is not doing what is normal. Yet her loyalty honors God and God moves powerfully as a result of Ruth’s proclamation.
Ruth 1:1-22 “Foolish Vows”
Coping is an everyday experience and we all have various means of coping. We might call a friend and vent, or go for a long walk. Chocolate is sometimes an effective coping mechanism, as is taking a short break to pursue our favorite hobby. There are times, though, when we are challenged by more than a few problems with which we need to cope. We are threatened by situations through which we need to survive.
The story of Naomi and Ruth is not s story of coping; rather it is a story of surviving.
The first chapter of Ruth is rather dark. It’s like reading the morning newspaper or watching the evening news.
There is a famine in and around Bethlehem. Elimelech, his wife and his two sons flee the famine and move to the nation of Moab. The family settles into their new surroundings. Elimelech and Naomi’s sons get married to two Moabite girls. Unfortunately, Elimelech dies from causes and circumstances that we are never told. A few years later Naomi’s two sons die. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law must face life, in a male dominated world, with no male family members.
Life is hard. Somehow the three women eke out a meager existence. There is little hope, though. Naomi has no expectation of being married again, and as long as Ruth and Orpah are with Naomi they have little hope of being married again.
I suspect that many of us have experienced similar situations; situations where there is little or no hope. We may have lost our job and suddenly were not able to provide for the needs of our family. A doctor may have given us a diagnosis that we have a life threatening disease. A life altering accident may have happened or we may have experienced the death of a loved one. The question we face is more than, “How do you cope?” It is “How do you survive?”
One of Naomi’s actions was not helpful. She blamed God. In verse 20 she says, “No longer call me Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.” God did not punish Naomi, nor did God make life hard for Naomi. It is important for us to get passed the idea that when something bad happens God is punishing us and when something good happens God is please with us. The world and God simply do not act in that manner.
Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem. She heard that the famine had ended and that the Lord had given the people food. She was probably hopeful that she would be able to survive better in an area with abundant food. Naomi releases Ruth and Orpah from any responsibility for her. Orpah leaves to find a new husband, but Ruth clings to Naomi.
Naomi probably realized the importance of community and was headed back to her people in Bethlehem. She didn’t realize the importance of her relationship with Ruth until near the end of the book. Naomi could not survive by herself; Naomi needed community.
Community is an important gift that we have been given that helps us in difficult situations. Communities pray for each other. Communities care for each other. Communities help us when we cannot help ourselves. The Prayer Connections Team reminds me daily of our need to pray for each other. The Helping Hands ministry has often proved its value in caring for the needs of Streamers.
WALKING WITH OTHERS
Ruth determines that she will continue to be family to Naomi. Ruth could have turned in on herself. She could have been concerned with getting married again and with raising a family. Ruth could have become overwhelmed with her own needs to survive.
Instead, Ruth takes her attention off herself and looks to Naomi. She decides that Naomi’s needs are greater than her own. Ruth makes that commitment to go where Naomi goes, become a member of Naomi’s clan, and even serve Naomi’s God.
I am reminded of the apostle Paul who once remarked that had become all things to all people. More modern day examples would be Greg Boyle, a Roman Catholic priest who ministers to the gang members of East LA by living in their neighborhood and becoming a part of their lives.
We may not have anything quite so dramatic, but there are still examples of ministries where we build relationships with others. There are the Moppet caregivers, the people who help build homes for Habitat for Humanity, and the individual ministries of building relationships with neighbors and helping them in difficult times.
We often talk about spreading the Kingdom of God—that this is our ministry of disciples of Jesus Christ. We do this through relationships. We help people cope and survive. We enable them to experience God’s love and grace.