The book of Ruth contains a beautiful story of friendship, family, and a commitment of two widows to be with and for each other through the ups and downs of life. Many times stories in scripture focus on large, transformational characters and events. The story of Ruth, however, is about average characters, who outside of friends and family, would be completely unknown to the pages of history. Perhaps it’s because they are such normal characters that we can relate to Ruth and Naomi so well.
The book opens with a reminder that the story is set during the time of the Judges. One doesn’t have to be a great Biblical scholar to know that the period of the Judges was a tumultuous time. It contains a continual pattern of Israel falling under foreign rule because of their sins, repenting of their sins while crying out for deliverance, and living faithfully for a few years until the cycle repeats itself. Not only is the story of Ruth during the time of the Judges, but according to the genealogy in Ruth 4, it’s in the closing years of the time of the Judges; a time that is so bad it is characterized by disgusting and abusive stories contained in the last 4 chapters of the book of Judges. Things are so bad that the author repeats the phrase, “at this time Israel had no king” three separate times in the last four chapters; the last time adding the phrase, “everyone did as they saw fit”. It was a time of great chaos and sin for Israel.
While chaos is reining on a national stage, the story of Ruth focuses on two very insignificant characters. Naomi is an Israelite whose husband and sons have both died while they were living in Moab escaping the famine in Israel. Ruth, is Naomi’s daughter-in-law who is also a widow and a foreigner. When they return to Israel they have no land, no way to support themselves, and as a foreigner, Ruth has absolutely no rights. (There were times when Moabites were excluded from the assembly of the Lord and from marrying Israelites.) Yet it is Ruth’s love and faithfulness to her mother-in-law that draws the attention of others in the community. While her actions don’t affect any world-wide events, Ruth is determined to love and serve her mother-in-law, an aged widow who is completely alone. It is Ruth who speaks up and says, “let me go glean grain in one of the nearby fields so that we have food to eat at night.” It is Ruth who works long hours in the field under the heat of the sun to try to provide for the family. And it is Ruth and her dedication and love shown to Naomi that catches the attention of Boaz, as Boaz praises her for the love she has shown her mother-in-law.
Ruth isn’t doing anything that many would consider life changing or even overly important. Ruth isn’t starting a new ministry to reach out to orphans. Ruth isn’t raising thousands of dollars to end slavery. Ruth isn’t petitioning the government to change laws to protect victims of abuse. Ruth isn’t going to write a book and start a speaking tour, or become CEO of a large corporation. All that she’s doing is loving the person in front of her. She’s trying to be faithful in the place that God has placed her. She won’t be in the history books and she won’t be famous, at least not in her lifetime, but she is trying to be faithful right where she is, and it’s noticed. Eventually, Naomi helps her find a husband and start a family; a family that will include her great-grandson David, and eventually the Messiah. God uses this insignificant, foreign widow to move the story of redemption forward.
The story begins with the chaos of the greater world. The story ends with the encouragement that our lives matter. If anyone’s life should be considered insignificant it would be the life of Ruth who is both a foreigner and a widow, yet Ruth shows us that God is pleased with faithfulness and love.
The story of Ruth is a testimony of what we are called to in life. We aren’t called to change the world; we are called to love the person in front of us. We aren’t called to make some great contribution to society; we are called to love the person in front of us. We aren’t called to solve the world’s problems; we are called to love the person in front of us. There are times when the chaos of the world around us makes us think how can we make a difference in the midst of this mess? How can we solve racial injustice? How can we end the violence in our streets? How can we curb sex trafficking?
When the story of scripture was stuck in chaos, the story narrowed the focus to a foreign-born widow and said; You can’t end the chaos of the world, and it’s not even your place to even try, but you can love the person in front of you. You can be a good neighbor. You can share a meal with the homeless. You can be an encouragement to those who are alone. You can an offer a hand of comfort to those who are grieving. You can live out your faithfulness to God by loving the person in front of you.
What would change if we simply all committed to loving the person in front of us, loving the person who is before us in whatever moment we are in?