Today’s first reading is taken from the Book of Ruth, a book I love and that we hear from too infrequently during Mass.
In today’s passage, we meet Naomi after the death of her husband Elimelech and her two sons, both of whom had married Moabite woman. Naomi makes the decision to return to Bethlehem, her homeland. Her daughter-in-law Orpah bids her a tearful good-bye. Orpah’s choice to remain in her homeland is a sensible, as well as honorable and safe decision.
Ruth however, makes a much bolder choice. Despite Naomi’s encouragement that Ruth do as her sister-in-law has done, Ruth chooses to go with Naomi to a land where she will be an eternal outsider and where the national prejudice against Moabites, let alone single Moabite women goes deep. (And remember, this is early Israel, where interracial marriages are frowned upon and where it is not easy to be a single woman in a culture where a woman’s social security depends on being linked to a man.)
Nonetheless, Ruth says to Naomi, in words familiar to us, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
Joan Chittister, in her book The Story of Ruth: Twelve Moments in Every Woman’s Life, describes Ruth as making the choice filled with faith “that the God of yesterday is also the God of today, that the God who took one thing away has something else in store for her. Ruth determines to follow a God who worked through Miriam, Rachel, Sarah and Leah, as well as through Moses, Jacob and Abraham to save a world and lead a people.”
Ruth seizes the moment to become someone new, to start again in a place other than the place of her beginnings. She stretches herself to the limits to find the God who waits for her in what she has not yet become. Chittister writes:
Life is not a mystery for those who choose well-worn paths. But life is a reeling, spinning whirligig for those who do not, for those who seek God beyond the boundaries of the past. All the absolutes come into question. All the certainties fade. A ll the relationships on which they once had based their hopes shudder and strain under the weight of this new woman’s newness of thought and behavior.
Suddenly – it seems to have been, but probably only slowly, one idea at a time – Ruth finds herself at odds with her culture, her country, her religion and her role in life. One by one, she chooses against each of them. A Moabite, she makes the decision to go to the Jewish city of Bethlehem where race and religion will marginalize her forever. A follower of the tribal god Chemosh, she professes faith in the one God, Yahweh. A marriageable young woman, she opts for independence with another woman rather than set about finding a man to care for her. Ruth has discovered what it is to be the self that God made and nourishes and accompanies on the way.
Do we have the faith and courage of Ruth.