Scattered around the room are signs that a large group of people had recently been present. There are extra seats tossed about the room, and crumpled napkins sitting on coffee tables. A number of large plates are placed around the room. They still contain small amounts of the food that they used to hold in abundance; there are a few sandwiches, some baked goods and vegetables. A woman sticks her head out of the kitchen wiping her hands dry she says, ‘All of the dishes are done, I am going to get going. Let me know if you need anything.’ Her words are met with a thankful nod. She returns a weak smile, picks up her things and leaves.
The room looks like a party had been here, but it wasn’t a party it was a wake. In the middle of the room seated together holding on to cups of partly drunken tea sit three women. The woman in the centre is the oldest, the women on either side of her are a fair amount younger. She could be their mother, but she is not. She is their mother-in-law. The wake was for her sons, their husbands. To make matters worse this wake follows one held years earlier which was for the older woman’s husband.
It is in this space that we meet our next set of notable women; Naomi, Ruth and Orpah. After the funeral is over these women have to figure out what comes next for their lives. Naomi begins to pack a bag, she plans to go back to her home town. Ruth and Orpah follow suit.
They plan to travel with their mother-in-law. As they travel Naomi stops and thanks them for their kindness and tells Ruth and Orpah that they should go back to live with their biological families. The girls both refuse. Naomi insists, Orpah finally agrees, but Ruth does not. She tells her mother-in-law this;
“Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!” When Naomi saw that Ruth had her heart set on going with her, she gave in.
This is one of the most beautiful speeches in the bible. Naomi has resolved that her life will never improve beyond being a poor, childless widow. But Ruth would rather risk living as a destitute foreigner in a strange land then abandon her mother-in-law.
As the story unfolds because of a combination of Naomi’s cleverness and Ruth’s compassion things work out for the women. Ruth remarries, and she has a son whom Naomi considered a grandson. The story ends with this little gem;
The town women said to Naomi, “Blessed be God! He didn’t leave you without family to carry on your life. May this baby grow up to be famous in Israel! He’ll make you young again! He’ll take care of you in old age. And this daughter-in-law who has brought him into the world and loves you so much, why, she’s worth more to you than seven sons!”
If I were to take only one lesson away from this story I would say it is that we need to respond to people with sacrificial compassion. Ruth took a major gamble by staying with Naomi. There was no guarantee that life would improve for them. In all likelihood the two women would end up living on the fringes of society for the rest of their lives. But I think Ruth was willing to take that risk. Because she loved Naomi too deeply to abandon her, even if it meant her life would be more difficult because of it.
As I have been reading Ruth and Naomi’s story I have been left wondering, who in my life am I willing to risk it all for? 1 John 3:16 says this, ‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.’
This is the kind of love the Ruth demonstrated, this is the kind of love I hope beats in my heart.