The Book of Ruth is an important one and one close to my heart. My grandmother was a minister’s daughter and the named her Ruth, after this notable female in the Bible. It’s significant for a number of reasons - it’s one of only two books in the Bible named after a woman, and it revolves around female figures - Ruth and Naomi. It is a story of redemption and loyalty and love. It’s hero is a woman, and a even more surprising a foreigner, a non-Israelite, Moabite woman. And perhaps most significant is the lineage - Jesse, David and Jesus are all her descendants.
Picturing Ruth in the fields, we instantly chose this story for our “farm-themed” Bible camp. In teaching the story - we focused on the loyalty and devotion that Ruth had for her friend and mother-in-law, Naomi.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this story. I can’t help but think of the state of minds of the three women. Naomi is clearly devastated and broken by the catastrophic loss of her husband and then her two sons. And in the midst of this deep grief, she had to leave her home and return to her birthplace, for in these days a woman without a husband could not be amongst foreigners. The three woman must have been in chaos - going through the motions - pushing forward with what needed to be done, but clearly out of their minds. Any of us who have experienced this kind of loss know what that out-of body, tumultuous pain and confusion - temporary insanity, really is like. At some point on their journey Naomi urges her daughter-in-laws to return home - we see first hand here how hopeless, devastated and bitter she is. Orpah dutifully but sadly follows her mother in law’s instructions. But Ruth clings to her - as you can see in this illustration she clings to her - no where else in the Bible to we get a description of a physical sign of affection quite like this. And she says those famous words - your home is my home….
What strikes me in the story is certainly Ruth’s loyalty and devotion, but something else - there is a hebrew word for it “hesed” - it means loving kindness. It’s a sacrificial kind of love - it’s a love that is selfless and compassionate.
When John and I were in pre-marital classes with our minister. Tom - he said something that always stuck with me - he said in a healthy marriage - in any type of healthy relationship - there is a great deal of sacrifice from both parties. Where people get in to trouble is when they start keeping score of those sacrifices. For on this day in this season in this year - you may be carrying all of the weight - but on another day in another season in another year that weight may shift to your spouse. When you keep score you take away all of that sacrificial love - all of that loving kindness - or again that hebrew word hesed and you leave your partner or friend feeling like a burden, and you too feel burdened. Feeling like a burden or feeling burdened eats away at a relationship and leaves us with a cold hard heart - like the pebbles you were given today.
How different the story would be if Ruth had constantly and consistently reminded Naomi of all she had done for her. If she announced the “score” repeatedly. But she didn’t. It couldn’t have been easy going to Bethelehem a foreign land, with her mother-in-law who was admittedly broken and bitter. There had to have been moments where Ruth questioned what she was doing. But she intentially made a decision to dig deep and lead with an open loving heart. Anne Lamott has this powerful quote in her book Bird by Bird. “We are given a shot of dancing with, or at least clapping sloth with the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
And that is what Ruth does. Her loving kindness begins to soften and change and heal Naomi’s broken heart. That is how powerful love is. It can flip the switch. Jesus knew this - this is why he commanded the great commandment of loving one another. Because it is powerful enough to change hearts and spirits of even those in the lowest depths of misery.
I recently read of a movement among ministers in response to the latest stance on immigration. The movement is called “Blessing not a Burden”. Regardless of your views on immigration, I think we can all agree that is a beautiful sentiment and one that is so apparent in this relationship between Ruth and Naomi. Ruth never treated Naomi like a burden - she celebrated her as a blessing.
What are your burdens - who is like a pebble in your shoe - annoying you, burdening you - hardening your heart and holding you back from extending hesed - loving kindness. Are you burdened by your finances, caretaking of a parent or spouse, endless laundry and trips to the grocery store from endless house guests, tourists unable to navigate the rotary. Is it a schedule so busy that you can’t catch your breath or a job that drains your spirit. Is it demands made by your family? Is it loss and heartbreak? Is it poor health and illness? What are your burdens?
At this point, folks were invited to take a pebble and cast it into the water or bury it in the sand, casting away their burdens to open their hearts to loving kindness, "hessed"