GOSPEL LESSON Mark 12:28-34
HEBREW LESSON Ruth 1:1-18
Previously on Ruth and Naomi: A complicated relationship had developed between the Israelites and the Moabites, who held territory east of the southern part of the Dead Sea. The man named Moab was both the son and the grandson of Abraham’s nephew Lot (you’ll have to go back to Genesis 19 for that story! as the Book of Ruth has all the twists and turns of a modern-day soap opera). So Moab was Jacob’s (aka Israel’s) second cousin once removed. There was bad blood between the two peoples, and they remained persistent enemies into the days of King Saul and King David and long after. For the Hebrew people hearing this story, that the main character, Ruth, is a Moabite woman, means that she is a foreigner, a nobody, totally without status.
Famine and a bad economy had hit the territory of Judah, and so a man by the name of Elimelech, along with his wife Naomi and their two sons, picked up and moved from Bethlehem to Moab. After the move, poor Naomi – had one bad day after another.
Now you know you’re having a bad day when you put both contacts into the same eye.
You know you’re having a bad day when your twin sister forgets your birthday.
You know you’re having a bad day when it costs more to fill up your car than it did to buy it.
You know you’re having a bad day when your doctor tells you that you’re allergic to chocolate.
You know you’re having a bad day when you wake and find your waterbed has sprung a leak and then realize that you don’t have a waterbed.
My sister and brother-in-law in New Jersey have had a bad week, with, thanks to Hurricane Sandy, no electricity, which also means no water. No water means no showers, shaving, and . . .
But even they have never had a bad day like Naomi. First of all, sadly, Naomi’s husband Elimelech died there in Moab. Their two sons each married women from that region, Orpah and Ruth, and then the two sons also died, leaving Naomi, an Israelite with two Moabite daughters-in-law. These folks could have sung the old song, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. We have to understand this wasn’t the 20th or 21st century when women can have careers and become self-sufficient. In ancient Israel for a woman to have neither husband nor sons meant she was destitute, impoverished, poverty-stricken. No rights, no property, no power. Hearing word that the economy in Judah had turned around, Naomi made the decision to go back and live among her own people. Perhaps she had relatives who could give her shelter. Naomi gave the best advice she could to her two daughters-in-law – that they should stay in Moab with their own people, possibly marry again and maybe they could still have a good life. Both Orpah and Ruth loved Naomi, and wanted to go with her. Mother-in-law wisdom pointed out that Naomi wouldn’t be having any more sons; they should stay put and marry men from their own people.
So, Orpah bid her mother-in-law a tearful good-bye, but Ruth “clung” to Naomi and adamantly refused to stay in Moab. “Wherever you’re going, that’s where I’m going.” Your people are my people now. I’ve come to know and trust your God. I’m going with you. If you die there, that’s where I will die. Nothing is going to separate us; we will be buried there together. This story of Ruth, like the well-written story of Job, sets the ancestry line for King David and ultimately for Jesus and gives us a vision of what is involved with being part of God’s people.
God’s people know what it is to receive “hesed” from God. As a seminary student I had a great time with Greek. There are many words in English that originate from the Greek. The alphabet was already familiar, and it all just made sense. But Hebrew – now that was another story. There are few, if any cognates to English words. I worked hard at learning the letter symbols and alphabet for a year before enrolling in Hebrew I, and then there’s the problem of it being written from right to left, which for those of us who are right-left dyslexic, is a huge barrier. But there are two words of Hebrew that every Christian should know, even if you never study any other part of the language. The first is known to many of you: Shalom. Shalom means both “hello” and “good-bye;” and it means “peace,” although our English word ‘peace’ barely does it justice. It is the kind of peace that is much more than the absence of war or conflict. It carries a meaning of completeness, of safety, total wellness – happiness.
The second Hebrew word, is perhaps less well-known to us. “Hesed” is translated here as “kindness.” May the Lord show you “hesed (kindness).” Again, the Hebrew word carries much more meaning. “Hesed” is a loving-kindness that is central to Jewish ethics, . . It’s about compassion, . . .grace. May the Lord show you “hesed” calls for more than a contractually-required benevolence; it is a call for unconditional, sacrificial, love-based, healing care.
As Naomi suffers the painful depths of grief, as she faces economic devastation, she credits both Ruth and Orpah for having shown her kindness (hesed), loving loyalty. Orpah obediently returns to her family home. Ruth, with an oath formula swears the seriousness of her choice to remain with Naomi. There’s no warm “I’m so glad you’re coming with me.” Naomi may simply have stopped pressing Ruth to return home. Keep reading and you will see that Naomi did explicitly show care for Ruth (3:1). Ruth sets out for a new land, among a new people, trusting Yahweh as her God. And God will bring about remarkable things through her.
Who in your life has shown you loving kindness that comes up to the level of hesed – unconditional, loyal, loving, kindness? We are in the month of thanksgiving. Could this be a time to let them know how much you value their loving kindness? And who in your life has had Naomi-like bad days and could benefit from a bit of “hesed” from you?
As the choir sings for us now the “Song of Ruth,” and later as we come to the Table prepared for us to celebrate the sacrificial love of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us all consider if we also trust Yahweh as our God, what remarkable things God can yet bring about through us when we choose to build our future on unconditional, loyal, loving-kindness.