The Book of Ruth is a nice parable-like story about redemption – redemption of human relationships, redemption of our relationship with God and redemption of life through unexpected avenues. As the story opens, we are introduced to tragedy and sadness as Naomi’s husband and her two sons die. She is living is a foreign land and decides to return to her homeland where her extended family might care for her. She releases her daughters-in-law (Orpah and Ruth) to go back to their families. Orpah returns to her family. Ruth, however, chooses to stay with Naomi. Together they seek a new life in a new land.
As a parable, Naomi represents the people of God – Israel – and Ruth is the instrument of God through which Naomi is redeemed. This ultimate redemption, coming in 4:14 through a child in the womb of her daughter-in-law, restores Naomi’s full life and reverses the emptiness that defined her existence to that point. Kathleen A. Robertson Farmer in her Introduction to Ruth in the New Interpreter’s Bible, writes: “The parable-like form of the narrative encourages us to see not just that we ought to be like Ruth but that we are like Naomi. And when we see ourselves reflected in the story as we really are (rather than as we think we ought to be), the good news comes to us as a revelation rather than an application.”
Robertson Farmer continues: “Thus a redemptive reading of Ruth will assume that the story is primarily concerned with the faithfulness of God rather than with the faithfulness of the people of God. In Ruth, redemption is based on grace, not merit. …God chooses to use those who seem unqualified according to human standards of judgment to accomplish God’s purposes in the world. The admirability of the “other” in the story should serve primarily to convict us of our own repeated failures to recognize the despised ‘other’ as an agent of God’s redemptive activity in the world.”
A number of years ago, I attended a lecture at Lipscomb University by Fred Craddock. The theme of this lecture/sermon was “Othering” – the act of hanging out with people who look, think, act, and live differently than we do. In this narrative presentation, Dr. Craddock lifted examples of Jesus “othering” and some examples of what that look like today. As I reflect on Ruth and Craddock’s lecture, I can’t help but dwell on how deeply we miss what God’s redemptive activity is doing, if we only hang out with people who live in the same part of town we live, attend the same church we attend, have generally the same life experiences we have, have a similar outlook on the world we have, and who seem to think we are God’s gift to one another.
• If we are seeking validation from our friends and church-mates, how are we experiencing the redemptive power of God’s transforming love (not for us) for a world so empty and broken that any morsel of grace is an extraordinary event? Can that be done within the friendly confines of the church walls?
• While we are so concerned about our own comfort and safety, how might others who are simply seeking safety be redeemed by what we do?
• In allowing our own emptiness and need for redemption to drive us into places where the instruments of God’s redemptive activity are concerned with their own faithfulness, are we embracing and reveling in God’s faithfulness?
• Why is “it” always about us and not about God?
• If “it” were about God, what would be different in your daily routine of life?
God is faithful, all the time. God has proven to be faithful over and over and over, again. As people of God, we have been redeemed, restored, renewed, and the courses of our emptiness and brokenness have been reversed. As agents of God’s redemptive love, we are called out of our safety zones and into a life of “othering” – a life of hanging out with people who have radically different experiences than we have – to be instruments of God’s reconciling love for everyone, to reverse their emptiness and brokenness to live in the fullness of God here, now, today.