God of All

November 1, 2020/All Saints’ Day – Ruth 1:1-17

How many times have we heard Ruth’s words lifted up in a wedding ceremony?  In times past, when women were valued for their place in the family rather than for any particular talent, skill, or intelligence, they made a kind of sense.  “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge.  Your people will be my people, and your God my God.”

But these words really don’t belong in a wedding ceremony.  They don’t really have anything to do with the relationship between a woman and her husband.  These words, spoken as a plea to Naomi, strike us most deeply when we hear them for what they are – words of belonging, of family, of faithfulness.

Consider the two main characters in our story.  Faced with a famine that covered the land, Naomi along with her husband and two sons had migrated from her home in Bethlehem to the land of Moab.  They managed well in this land of Israel’s enemies.  Even when her husband died, Naomi had her sons to care for her.  The boys grew into manhood and married Moabite women.  But ten years on, they also died.  And Naomi found herself alone with Orpah and Ruth, with no one to provide or care for them.

Naomi learns that things back home have improved.  Once again, the Lord has provided food for the people of Israel.  Packing up all she has, Naomi sets out for home with a bitter heart.  The daughters-in-law seem only to add to her load; she urges them to return to their own homes.  Once Naomi points out no husband will be in the cards for her or them, Orpah turns for home.  But not Ruth.  Ruth – whose name means “friend” – insists on traveling with her mother-in-law.  “Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”

A reverse migration follows.  Naomi and Ruth together will go to Judah, with Ruth now the outsider living among a people whose language she does not speak, whose customs she does not know, and whose God she can only imagine.  “In the ancient world, tribal and family origins firmly fixed one’s identity and one’s gods.  Yet Ruth abandons people and gods to vow undying love for her mother-in-law and for the God of Judah.  The outsider is the faithful one.”[1]

As the story continues, Ruth will encounter a distant relative of Naomi’s, whom she will marry.  She will become the great-grandmother of King David – and one ancestor in the long genealogy of Jesus Christ.  Ruth – a foreigner – takes her place among the saints, acting “as a savior of the nation.”  Had Ruth not immigrated to Judah with Naomi, there would have been no Obed, no Jesse, no David – no line of King David from which Christ would descend.  But God acts in this story to “tear down some long-admired and carefully crafted walls.   Leaving Moab, Ruth [will] face … the constant subtle and not-so-subtle reminders that she [is] ‘not one of us.’”[2]

The book of “Ruth speaks to us of possibilities, great possibilities that can emerge when we live beyond the walls that would define us and confine us.”[3]  This  little book stands in sharp contrast to the instruction of Ezra and Nehemiah, who urged the Israelites to expel their foreign wives and children following the return from exile.  Both prophets spoke out of concern for the purity of a nation that had been divided and subjugated by the Babylonians for seventy years.  In contrast, the book of Ruth tells the story of “God’s radical possibility.”[4]  “In view of the plans of Ezra and Nehemiah … the seemingly simple story of Ruth becomes a … political counterclaim and an implicit theological affirmation of God as the God of all people.  This God does not belong to one people alone but gathers peoples into this wide family.”[5]

The story of Ruth and Naomi calls us to reflect on Israel’s history as a people living in a foreign land.  Lifting up the dual story of migration, it demands we recall God’s words to the Hebrew people in the law: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:33-34).

The verses we’ve read from Ruth this morning begin “a story of how God can work across and despite the most entrenched positions and established boundaries to bring new life and new hope.”[6]  They illustrate the broadness and wideness and depth of God’s love for this world.  And they challenge us to love the same way.

[1]Kathleen M. O’Connor, Feasting on the Word B/4, 244

[2] Gary W. Charles, Feasting on the Word B/4, 242, 246

[3] Ibid., 242

[4] Ibid., 244

[5] Kathleen M. O’Connor, Feasting on the Word B/4, 244, 246

[6] Charles, 246

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