Set at the same period of time as the book of Judges is a short, quaint and lovely story about Ruth. This female-dominated tale brings balance to the rough and rowdy world of the mostly male actors featured in the book of the judges. Ruth’s story is important for a whole host of reasons. Ruth, as an ancestor to the later king, David, gives us a glimpse into the good stock and family from which the noble king would arise. But Ruth’s narrative is important as well for helping us to understand the valuable and important, and one might even say-salvific role, that women played in a society that tended to focus more attention upon male actions and accomplishments. In many ways it could be said that while men were making the news and the history books were being written about them, it was the women who kept the home and the world in good order and from falling to pieces.
Naomi and her family lived near Bethlehem. They were farmers, as most people were in those days. But one year there was little rain, and as a result, not enough food. Naomi, her husband and her two sons were in a bind and didn’t know what to do. That’s when Naomi’s husband came up with the idea of moving to another place. He picked, for their new home, a nearby land known as Moab. Now the Moabites were long, distant relatives to the people of Israel. But that was a long time back and the people of Moab were all but strangers to the people of Israel now.
After they’d moved and gotten a little to eat, Naomi’s two sons decided that they wanted to get married. And as all of the girls around were Moabitesses, that’s what they had to choose from. One son married Orpah and the other a girl named, Ruth.
Now more hard times fell on Naomi. Her husband died and so did her two sons. Naomi was really in a fix. All out of ideas and desperate, Naomi decided it was best to move back home, where she could at least beg from people she knew. Naomi was pretty blue. She even changed her name to Mara, which means–bitterly sad.
Naomi started packing her suitcase when her two daughters-in-law, who were widows now too, came in and asked her what she was up to.
“I’m heading home,” Mara replied. “And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll remain here amongst your neighbors and friends and try to start a new life for yourselves.”
Orpah replied, “I suppose that makes sense.”
But Ruth said, “Don’t ask me to stay. I cannot and will not abandon you. Where you go I will go. Your people will be my people and your God and your religion will be mine too.”
Mara, her mother-in-law couldn’t shake Ruth. She couldn’t talk any sense into her. So Ruth packed her bags too.
When Ruth and Mara returned back to Bethlehem, Mara was so tired and exhausted and thin that folks hardly recognized her.
“Isn’t that Naomi,” they asked.
She said, “No. I’m Mara.”
“What will we do now,” Mara asked Ruth? “We don’t have food or the farm anymore. We’ll probably starve.”
“No,” Ruth industriously said. “I’ll go out to the fields and if I can find and pick up a little grain that has been left behind we will live on that.”
“Give it a shot,” Mara said. “I know you don’t like to take my advice but there’s a farmer nearby by the name of Boaz. He’s some relation to us. Go search through his fields. He’s a nice man.”
So that’s what Ruth did.
When Boaz saw Ruth working like a dog he asked who she was. And he was told. Boaz instructed his workers to be kind to her and help her out.
The next day when Ruth went out to Boaz’s field again Mara told her, as she was leaving the house, “Maybe you should show your appreciation to Boaz for his generosity.” And Ruth did exactly that. Boaz was so impressed with Ruth that he said, “If I can swing it, I’d like to make you my wife, Ruth. And I’ll take real good care of you and of Mara too.”
And that’s what he did.
So, you see, while everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes, there were still some people who did what was right in the eyes of all. Kindness and generosity hadn’t entirely disappeared from the land. And, as is often the case, good sense and decency was demonstrated best by women, who had the wisdom to know that the only way for people to get along is for people to help to take care of one another.
Ruth and Boaz, by the way, would one day have a very famous descendent whom we will learn about before too long; a man who would come to be kind, named-David.
The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Give us this day our daily bread) is a request for the basic necessities of life. The giving of these gifts most often does not happen magically (like bread from heaven) but through the help and hands of our fellow human beings. All of these gifts eventually come from God. But people inspired by God’s love and extending that love to their neighbors, is the engine through which this present is presented to us. Give us this day our daily bread is not only a request, but also a call to action; that we might participate in making the world a better and kinder place for all.