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Sunday, October 29, 2006
Leaving home risks the loss of place and family, yet grace may gift us with a new place and kin. Naomi and Ruth begin such a journey of leaving and finding home. The scribe who seeks out Jesus asserts love as the path on such pilgrimage. Along with all these, we assert that our home is always and everywhere in God. Ruth 1:1–18 This story begins with refugees who are widowed and hungry. Naomi’s husband and sons die. She is without means of support. In search of bread, Naomi turns toward her former home of Beth-Lehem (“house of bread”). The refusal of Naomi’s widowed daughter-in-law Ruth to leave her side begins the turn toward renewal. Naomi and all of Israel will find a new future through Ruth, who now leaves her home. Ruth’s actions, now and later, embody the keeping of covenant. This particular story and the entire book of Ruth pivot on the theme of “turnings.” The Hebrew verb shub occurs no less than twelve times in Ruth 1:1–18. At times, shub simply indicates a physical change in direction (1:15). Naomi uses it to describe her perception of God’s rejection of her (1:13). By the time this book ends, all sorts of unexpected turns and reversals will come. Ruth the Moabite gives birth to the ancestor of Israel’s greatest king. Many scholars identify this work as being written in post-exilic Israel. In that era, foreigners in general and Moabites especially were despised as enemies of God’s people. The setting of Ruth only underscores the power of the theme of turnings. When Naomi blesses Ruth and Orpah (1:8), she uses a key word from the traditions of covenant faith: hesed. Hesed expresses the love, loyalty, and commitment that one partner has for the other. Such loyalty exceeds legal requirements or duties. In the Hebrew Scriptures, hesed typically describes God’s nature in covenant with Israel. Beginning with her vow to Naomi (1:16–17), however, Ruth proves to be the example and source of hesed in this story. Such loyalty will eventually restore Naomi, whose faith, at the moment, can only lament God’s turning against her. Ruth’s vow in verses 16–17 uses verbs exclusively in the future tense. The whole of this work aims toward future and promise. Even the child, whose birth climaxes the book of Ruth, is a signpost to his own grandson named David. The psalmist praises God, who upholds those who are vulnerable, including widows. In reading Psalm 146 one is tempted to ask God, “Why has this happened to Naomi?” As already hinted above, God’s watchfulness takes shape through the care and devotion of Ruth. Ruth’s Moabite background would have made her an unclean woman in the eyes of purity laws. Yet Ruth brings good to Israel. Hebrews 9:11–14 uses the language and imagery of ritual cleanliness to affirm the good God brings us in Christ. Beyond that, Matthew 1:5 lists Ruth in the genealogy of Jesus, whom the Hebrews text says will purify us. The command to love God and neighbour is summarized memorably in Mark 12:28–34. Such love finds eloquent example in Ruth’s covenant with Naomi, and its subsequent keeping. Leaving home forms a metaphor for journeys we all undertake at various points in our lives. While we may feel we are setting out alone, the gift of community or companionship on such a journey changes us. In the course of the journey, we may be surprised to find ourselves “at home.” Who needs you to accompany them on life’s journey, come what may? What does it mean to show love toward these persons?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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