So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. He was intimate with her, the LORD let her become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son. – Ruth 4:13 (CEB)
Once, I’d have done anything for Naomi.
Anything at all.
Wherever you go, I will go;
wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people;
and your God, my God.
I kept my promises,
I went to Bethlehem
and to the barley fields
and to Boaz.
But no one told me how far this road would go.
No one said that as soon as I bore my baby
the women would carry him away,
chanting a chorus of blessings.
Not on me;
No one said that milk would leak from me
while my baby nestled at Naomi’s breasts.
Even if I loved her with the love of seven sons
(and I’m not saying that I don’t)
I’d not relinquish my child.
Not without regret so strong that it paralyzes
and silences me. Forever.
Ruth is a story of redemption — Naomi’s redemption. We began our journey with Naomi declaring that the Lord came out against her, making her empty and bitter. She ends the story full once again. This redemption came at a cost.
In Bethlehem, Ruth goes out to glean in the fields at great personal risk. She faithfully brings back the food she is given as well as what she has gleaned. She is obedient to all Naomi asks for, including offering her body to a man. Even when Ruth returns the morning after with six measures of barley, which is likely a gift for Naomi representing the bride price for Ruth, there is only recognition of what Boaz has done. Ruth willingly marries a man to save Naomi’s life and her own and survives pregnancy and childbirth to bring forth a son. But there is never a blessing for Ruth. The most she gets is recognition for her faithfulness because it is a blessing for Naomi.
We get the feeling in the beginning that Naomi could care less if Ruth is there. When Ruth becomes helpful, Naomi doesn’t acknowledge Ruth’s faithfulness and sacrifice. In the story we’re given, she does not say thank you. Naomi’s focus is on her loss; her blessings are reserved for Boaz.
Ruth is God’s instrument of redemption. It is through Ruth that Naomi comes to recognize God’s favor upon her. Ruth incarnates God’s faithfulness and self-sacrificing love. The end situation for Ruth was a best-case scenario for the time. No woman would have asked for more, especially not a poor, widowed, foreign woman.
But that doesn’t mean this was easy for Ruth and that she didn’t suffer along the way.
I hope we all have our Naomi story to tell of how God has seen us in our suffering and brought us through. Of the ways God has performed miracles in our lives. How our souls have been restored and our lives sustained. We offer our thanksgiving to the God who redeems us.
But we might also have our Ruth story to tell of a time when we were faithful to a relationship when we didn’t need to be, how we have sacrificed self for others, when we gave so much and were never acknowledged. Even though we do these things out of love and a response for what God has done for us, it still hurts when we it’s not recognized. At times, we might regret our faithfulness.
Ruth witnessed Naomi’s redemption. Maybe between the lines of their story, or at some other time, the women looked back on their life together and Naomi acknowledged the ways Ruth bore the presence of God to her. But Ruth never read the book that bears her name. She never saw David become king. She didn’t read Matthew’s Gospel to see that, along with Tamar, she is included in Jesus’ lineage. Ruth hasn’t stood on this side of the resurrection.
But that isn’t why Ruth did what she did.
The love of God is bigger than all or any one of us. Maybe we will witness how God uses us in the redemption of someone else’s suffering. Maybe we will be acknowledged for our participation in it. But for the most part, we will never know how all the ripples of our faithfulness touch others — nor will our part in it be known.
There are some saints among us that never need to be seen or thanked, but even the most humble heart is lifted by a kind word of recognition. Therefore, we are reminded to recognize the offering others make on our behalf.
When our sacrifice appears to be unseen or thankless, when we have “Ruth’s Regret,” let us take that grief and anger to God. These feelings are honest and valid. We’re only human. In these times, may we find comfort in the knowledge that God sees our offering of love. May God help us move from hurt to thanksgiving for the invitation to be an agent of God’s love. And even when it comes at a cost, may the joy of others help make our joy complete.
God of our salvation, we are thankful for your sacrificial love. It is too wonderful for us to fully comprehend. We give you thanks for those who have loved us well despite our lack of notice or failure to acknowledge their gifts.
Knowing we are your redeemed, strengthen us that we may respond to your call to love others in sacrificial ways. Sustain us with your presence when we feel all we do is give and have nothing left. Make your joy complete in us as we witness the joy of your redeeming love in others. May we be faithful instruments of your love. Amen.
My new book is out!
Come to the Table is a collection of communion liturgies inviting worshippers to experience and respond to the Gospel. These meaningful liturgies enhance and reinforce the biblical message of the day as they welcome worshippers to the Table to experience the Word, preparing them to go out into the world and live it. Come to the Table includes liturgies for the entire liturgical year providing pastors with a valuable resource in worship planning.