Ruth 3: 1-5; 4: 13-17
Ruth the Gleaner by Marc ChagallAs you know, I recently, very recently acquired a daughter-in-law and I became a mother-in-law. After a decade of dating my son, she and I have entered into a new relationship so this story of Ruth and Naomi is rather timely. Ironically though, I find myself reflecting upon my relationship with my former mother-in-law, Addie, more so. My daughter-in-law and son are still on their honeymoon so I have a short reprieve before we begin anew.
You see my relationship with Addie was never completely horrible per se, but there were some kinks, some challenging incidents that happened over the years like the time she announced our third pregnancy to the Town of Fairfield in her article, “Once Over Lightly” for the Fairfield Citizen-News, way before we had told anyone. She wrote often about our children publically and it wasn’t always in the best vain although she was humorous, or so she thought.
There were other times too when she really overstepped her boundaries like the time she tried to call the Fairfield Police because she thought someone had broken into our house and stole her reading glasses.
My own mother said I was going to be a saint when I died for all that she put us through. Ironically though, when my mother died, and I was divorced from her son, Addie became more of a mother figure to me providing help with the children - although she did once dress our first son as a girl - and her carefree, Italian attitude towards life picked me up on more than one occasion. Ah yes, mothers and daughters-in-law! It’s complicated.
Last week Doug introduced us to Ruth and Naomi and their loyal in-law relationship with one another. Naomi loses her husband, tragically her sons die too, and so she prepares to go back to the land of her ancestors in Bethlehem. Widows lived on the edge of survival, the margins; they were the ‘untouchables’ of the ancient near east. She was blessed in that her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, set out to go with her.
But at a certain point Naomi encourages them to go back to the land of Moab. She knows that she has nothing to offer them in the way of stability or riches even in Bethlehem. Orpah returns but Ruth does not and says, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Naomi accepted Ruth’s insistence to stay and they return together to Bethlehem in Judah and back to her kinsman, Boaz. A very rich man whose compassion for Naomi and Ruth is remarkable.
Today we continue on in the Book of Ruth, third chapter,
Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, ‘My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing-floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing-floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.’ She said to her, ‘All that you tell me I will do.’
So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.’ Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi.’ They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David. Amen.
The Gleaners by Jean-Francois MilletAnd you think modern day in-law relationships are complex! At least we don’t have the overlay of the levirite marriage laws that mandate the brother of a deceased man marry his brother’s widow, which was the norm in the Ancient Near East. In spite of this dreadful law though, the Book of Ruth shows us that in-law relationships can be filled with selfless love, devotion and care. And that there can be compassionate people living within a bad system.
I am well aware that you may have never heard such words of scripture from this pulpit, this meeting at the threshing floor and lying at someone’s feet; it sounds perhaps like some cheap and sordid romance novel. But in order to comprehend, if we possibly can, God’s mighty hand in the grander scheme of things we need to look at how it can be accomplished through human lives in every day, ordinary experiences and these were the experiences of Ruth and Naomi. Plus…it’s the recommended lectionary reading for today, so lucky me!
Without a doubt, Naomi worked the system. She was a woman living in a man’s world. She knew the law and she was wise. She orchestrated a prosperous and safe future for Ruth first by sending her out to Boaz’s fields to glean the leftover grain, and then encouraging her to sleep with him and produce offspring. And Naomi, by becoming the wet nurse for their child, secured her place as well. Boaz and Ruth wed and they named their son Obed.
And Obed, became the father of Jesse, the father of David, the greatest Israelite king of all times, and from the house and lineage of King David comes Jesus, many generations later. Ruth, a foreigner, Ruth, a widow, Ruth, who was just about as down and out on her luck as she possibly could get, had no idea that when she lay with Boaz she would be a direct descendant of Jesus. There was a larger scheme in play.
Ruth trusted. She trusted with all of her heart that sticking by Naomi’s side was the right thing to do for her own survival and for her devotion to Naomi. She displayed courage in a time of uncertainty and faithfulness to the one who cared for her the most at a really terrible time in her life.
I want to talk with you today about trust because I’m sure that there have been times in your life or even in the life of this congregation that you have had to trust in what is to come; that you have had to trust in something that you could not yet quite vision.
Trust - that a child going off to college will be all right and figure out that he could do his own laundry and can make good decisions. Trust - that when you put your father into a nursing home that his welfare will be the utmost thing on the aids and workers minds. Trust - that when given a diagnosis the doctor will proceed with the right course of action for your health and well-being. Trust - that with every ending comes a beginning and that that beginning will be grander than what was.
Trust takes almost all of our being to believe that an outcome will be good for us even if we don’t quite know what it will be and even if it was not something that we had planned on.
But there is responsibility – you will still need to call your son each week – you will still need to check up on your father in the nursing home – you will need to follow the course of action that the doctor prescribed – you will still need to prepare your heart and mind for a new beginning.
Ruth trusted that sleeping with Boaz was the right thing to do and my friends, that’s a real tall order. But she believed Naomi and she trusted that Naomi would take care of her in any way that she possibly could. I also believe that she had a deep faith in God, remember before when she said, “Your God will become my God”.
Because of faith you can trust in your future. “Trust is the practical outworking of faith: it is when we trust God that we show our faith in God (sic) Him) is real.[i]” And we know God is always in our corner, has got our back, and is our own private cheering section.
Tomorrow my son and daughter-in-law return from their honeymoon. A new chapter will begin. I trust that God will guide us to a clear understanding of this new relationship. The future is ahead of you too. May God increase your faith and trust that ‘all things will work together for the good.’ (Romans 8:28)
Rev. Suzanne E. Wagner
Wilton Congregational Church