You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin–-to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–-closer than you yourself keep it. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway: there it is.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Like many of the books in the Writings section of Hebrew Scripture, you need to read the whole book of Ruth to get the real picture. At least it’s shorter than e.g. Job, so it is something you could easily do settled into a comfortable chair with a cuppa.
The book is very likely a critique of male-centred law and culture, a challenge to the power of patriarchy and the powerlessness of women (and children) when they have no men to attach to. It is clearly also a critique of xenophobia which patriarchy feeds into. Now that’s very much a topic for contemporary consideration.
The important characters in this story turn out to be the least powerful people. The people at the margins.
Do you know what it is like to be disregarded? To feel dispensable. Not sure of being any use. To feel on the margins of a group.
The heroes in the book of Ruth – it might look like it’s Boaz the man in the story who rescued them from poverty, but actually it’s Naomi and Ruth – are margins people.
Bitter Naomi – that’s what her name means. Her first thought in her dire situation is the welfare of others, of Orpah and Ruth. That’s her response to being a nobody in the world’s view.
This is a clear pointer to her faith – her God is expansive, inclusive. Even when she is suffering, even when she feels abandoned, she doesn’t lose this sense of all-encompassing life-giving Spirit and so can give of herself.
Ruth’s response to the dire situation is a promise to an “other”, to someone who in standard terms she does not belong with and has no connection or responsibility to.
This is a clear pointer to her faith – her God doesn’t take belonging as a cultural given, determined by birth and place in the world, but chooses belonging. Her God doesn’t see boundaries of social or political or cultural or economic making but, like Naomi’s, is expansive, inclusive.
Like Naomi, her response to being a nobody, counting for nothing in the world’s view, is to think of the welfare of this other person.
Here we have an unexpected God shown to us by unexpected people. An understanding of Spirit and life that means it’s possible to risk the new and different. We don’t have to stay within the confines of the known which so often require us not to care beyond our own zone. For the sake of our own security and survival we shouldn’t risk too much compassion.
And we see God at work in unspectacular ways. God’s presence in the book of Ruth is through the characters, not grand action, but the little things of relationships. Little things that really are the big things. God is seen in what’s called in Hebrew hesed. Faithfulness, kindness, compassion, loyalty, never faltering love. Aroha.
That’s the heart of who we are.
Shalom Rangimarie Peace, Robyn