Homily: Ruth and Naomi on Changing HIStory

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By: Ptr. Kakay Pamaran

Ruth 1.6-22 (NRSV)

Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for they had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord has considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant you that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them and they wept aloud. They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought that there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said,

 Do not press me to leave you

Or turn your back from following you!

Where you will go, I will go;

Where you lodge, I will lodge;

Your people shall be my people

And your God my God.

Where you will die, I will die—

There will I be buried.

May the Lord do thus so to me,

And more as well,

If death parts me from you!”

 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her. So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?”

She said to them,

Call me no longer Naomi,

Call me Mara,

For the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.

I went away full,

But the Lord has brought me back empty;

Why call me Naomi

When the Lord has brought me back empty;

Why call me Naomi

When the Lord has dealt harshly with me,

And the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Ruth is one of only two books in the Tanak (or the Hebrew canon) named after a woman. The other book is Esther. This is relevant to us not because we are all women but because of what Ruth represents. She was a Moabite widow–marginalized in her context—and a biblical woman, also marginalized in the context of Imperial Christianity. This is relevant to us because she represents all the unsung deeds that the women and those who are not fully men in the bible have done to contribute to the wonderful tapestry of what we know now as the greatest story ever told. The early churches—and I mean that which the Emperor Constantine cemented in place—and the early church fathers, have tried to mum these stories the way they did the story of Shiprah and Puah the midwives who, despite the possibility of fatal punishment, defied the order of the Pharaoh of Egypt to kill Hebrew boys by tossing them in the Nile—they secretly let these new-born boys live. Because of this the Hebrew people who were slaves in Egypt multiplied and became very strong.

They tried to downplay the story of Miriam, the prophetess in Exodus 15.20-21 when Israel crossed the Reed Sea and that song that the Prophetess Miriam sang became Israel’s earliest historical memory as a people;

The story of Huldah, the prophetess who interpreted the Book of the Law for Josiah, known to be the best among the Kings of Judea;

The story of Rahab, the woman who took the Israelite spies sent by Joshua and hid them from the King of Jericho, ensuring these spies safe passage which eventually led to the falling of the fortress walls of Jericho;

The story for Deborah, prophetess and judge who led the pursuit of Sisera, General to Jabin King of Canaan who was consequently subdued giving Israel the Canaanite territory—thus fulfilling God’s covenant to Moses;

The story of Esther, who became Queen and wife to Ahashuerus, King of Persia—who saved her exiled people from annihilation.

The story of Mary of Magdala dear friend and apostle to Jesus of Nazareth;

The story of countless of women who served the churches in Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, Galatia, Philippi and Colossae at the time of Paul.

The story of the Ethiopian Eunuch who served in the court of Queen Candace of Ethiopia in charge of all the treasury, on his way home from worshiping in Jerusalem and seeking the meaning of the Isaian text he was reading, came to be baptized by Philip on the roadside. Later he would become for biblical scholars the first Christian to spread the gospel in Africa.

Like the story of Ruth and Naomi, these stories are not told to us as often as they should be. We are very familiar with the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt, Moses and the 10 commandments, Joshua and his marching around the walls of Jericho, David defeating Goliath, David and Bathsheba, Job and his victory over trials and tribulations in his life, Gideon and his 300 men, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and the den of lions, the list of movies and lead actors goes on and on. But we rarely get to hear of little stories that led to great biblical and historical victories where the main actors are either women, women widows, eunuchs, same-sex best friends/”lovers.” We rarely get to hear them.

Ruth profoundly and proudly represents us—those who live in the margins, those whose stories are rarely told, those of us who move and do the work of God on earth outside the spotlight of spoken history.

My friends, today, we shall retell this wonderful story of loyalty, friendship, family and love that changed history.

Let us pray.

Our loving Parent God,

We thank you for the stories that have been preserved for us to read and interpret. We thank you for the nameless women and men who carefully copied and transcribed these stories from scroll to scroll to ensure the survival of these manuscripts. We honour their memory today as well. I pray for your people today as they receive these pieces of wisdom. May these be relevant to their lives, God, as we continue to actively await the coming of your reign on earth. All these we pray in the name of Jesus of Nazareth who changed history forever. Amen.

Our Old Testament reading opens with the “farewell” scene–where the recently widowed Naomi, along with her recently widowed daughters-in-law was preparing to go to the land of Judah where Naomi is from. The previous chapter talks about the decision of Elimelech to move his wife and sons from Bethlehem to Moab. —segue— tapos dun na nga namatay yung mga boys and so we have this farewell scene by the widows they left. And cut to this story of the women by the roadside bidding each other farewell.

And then she tells her daughters in law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them and they wept aloud. And the two women—Orpah and Ruth—insisted that they go with her saying “No, we will return with you to your people.”

Then Naomi says for the second time, parang Pinoy lang to eh kelangang ulitulitin, “Turn back my daughters, why will you go with me?…” –segue to pilosopong Naomi—

Do I have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands?…Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.”—segue to talking about Levirate Laws in Deut. 25.5-10. 

When brothers reside together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go into her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband’s brother to her, and the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. But if the man has no desire to marry his brother’s widow, then his brother’s widow shall go up to the elders at the gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.” Then the elders of his town shall summon him and speak to him. If he persists, saying, “I have no desire to marry her,” then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, pull his sandal off his foot, spit in his face, and declare, “This is what is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.” Throughout Israel his family shall be known as “the house of him whose sandal was pulled off”

And then they wept aloud again—segue to teleserye mode. This is Naomi telling the girls, “mga junakis, waley kayong mapapala sa akin! Jumuwi na kayo at nang makahanap kayo ng bagong jowa!”

Naomi gave a very convincing argument as to why her daughters in law should just turn back and change their own futures.

I am not sure if Naomi simply employed reverse psychology to these two women, Naomi planned to go back to Bethlehem in Judah from Moab (show map) and I do not think a woman, a widow at that, would like to travel alone. But in fairness naman to Naomi, she does appear sincere in telling these two women to go back to their house and find new husbands for themselves.

Orpah, in the story, after much teleserye dramathon sa hapon, turns around and goes back to Moab. But her sister-in-law, Ruth, did not.

The text says she “clung” to Naomi.

Now here is what’s interesting, the Hebrew word used in this narrative which was translated as “clung” in English is “davka” the same Hebrew word used in Gen 2.24 which reads: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” This is the same clinging or “davka” used in this narrative in Ruth and the one in Genesis. 

clung” or “cling” (English) = “davka” (Hebrew)

Used in both instances in Gen 2.24: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife and they become one flesh.” [for Adam and Eve]

and Ruth 1.14b: “…Orpah kissed her mother-in-law but Ruth clung to her.”

As a stand-alone term, this really cannot mean anything. It is suggestive, yes, but it cannot bring us to any hypothetical proposition as to the nature of Ruth and Naomi’s relationship perhaps not even when Ruth said these words which, to this day is used in wedding and marriage ceremonies usually among our straight, heterosexual counterparts, but let us try. After she “clung” –davak to Naomi and after Naomi again voiced her protestations—Ruth said these words:

Do not press me to leave you

Or turn back from following you!

Where you will go, I will go;

Where you lodge, I will lodge;

Your people shall be my people

And your God my God.

Where you will die, I will die—

There will I be buried.

May the Lord do thus so to me,

And more as well,

If death parts me from you!”

So.

Ruth spoke of lodging—the household or a place to stay, people—Naomi’s tribe, God—Naomi’s God, and death and burial—in Naomi’s tribal land. All these things one can acquire only by birth-right or by marriage. Ruth is a Moabite, obviously she is not from the tribe of Judah, therefore it is, at the very least, odd for her to say that she wishes to share lodging, tribe, God and burial grounds with the people that is not her own by blood or birth. 

Where you will lodge, I will lodge” ? Residence, Household that is not in Moab.

Your people shall be my people AND

Your God my God.” ? Ethnic Identity AND Religious persuasion that is not Moabite and not the Moabite God.

Where you will die, I will die—there will I be buried. ? obviously anywhere but Moab.

 So when Ruth said these words to Naomi, she made a statement that is “a stirring declaration of loyalty” and profound Love—at this point in Israel’s history, there was still no formal procedure for religious conversion nor was it even thought of as a concept—meaning the ceremony of baptism into the faith, for example was totally non-existent! And at this time, the way they understood the gods were different as the way we understand them today—

Each people had their own god—or to be more contextually correct—each god had their own people: Baal was one of the Canaanite gods, for example. And Yahweh, was the God of the Hebraic Tribes—who had Exodused from Egypt. Therefore, one’s ethnic identity determined, for all time, one’s religious persuasion.

So when Ruth mentions “God” and “people” together in one breath, she has adopted a new people, a new ethnic identity along with a new faith. And as for death and burial—do you remember the story of the Exodus where people took the body of their deceased/mummified patriarch Joseph with them to the supposed promise land? Customarily, ideally, when one dies, her or his body should be brought back to her or his people to be buried there. Either this is not a Moabite culture or Ruth really doesn’t care, we do not know. All we know is that she had declared that she is to die beside Naomi and be buried with her as well.

All these declarations Ruth said are things one cannot just simply acquire without the proper birthright, which she does not have; a proper marriage, which she just lost upon the death of her husband; or a proper ceremonial conversion, which practically does not count because it was conceptually non-existent, as I said. 

Ruth’s Qualification:

Birth right – NONE

Marriage – WIDOWED/NONE

Conversion into the Hebraic Faith – N.A.

So which one is it then? Ruth spoke such stirring, culturally subversive but thoroughly moving words to Naomi that Naomi just, in verse 18, said no more to her—Naomi was silenced—imagine that, and starts walking. With her Ruth—who had just been either, “born again,” if I may borrow the term—into a new ethnicity, “married”—without actually marrying anybody from Naomi’s tribe, or “converted,” if I may insist on a, then non-existent concept, into a new ethnic faith that was not her own.” Only one of these three things could have happened for someone who is as Levitically pious and as dramatic and wordy as Naomi to just quietly agree to Ruth’s obviously subversive, legally and culturally absurd declaration of change of citizenship, religion, eventual death certificate details and the location of the cemetery where she is to be buried—which should be, according to her, beside Naomi, the woman she left her people for.

Ruth, in Hebrew, means “Friend.” Well, fair enough. But there is a second meaning to Ruth which is “companion.”

Now I do not wish to be accused of proof texting or drawing conclusions to fit the message that I wish to put across and this is why I will never out rightly tell you, who and what Ruth is to Naomi and vice versa. Just like I cannot tell you who David was to Jonathan and vice versa. I have presented to you the narration of the sequence of events and the possible implications of these events in the best exegetical and contextual way possible.

So make up your minds about Ruth and Naomi so we can move on to the next part of our story. As for me, I will agree with Rev. Dr. Mona West, when she said that Ruth is our Queer Ancestress.

So they enter Bethlehem, and Naomi again in true dramatic, very wordy fashion said that the women should not call her Naomi anymore but Mara because God dealt harshly with her.

Our reading actually ends here but I would like all of you to give me a couple more minutes of your time to show you another adventure of Ruth and Naomi’s life together:

  • They enter Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
  • It was customary for the farm workers to not harvest everything—di nila sinisimot yung harvest to leave some for the poor people to scavenge. A traditional act of generosity which is called gleaning. Ruth and Naomi did not have a source of income so they had to resort to gleaning the fields for food.
  • Ruth and Naomi survived like that. Ruth would glean barley and take it home to Naomi so they can eat and it went on like that and this was how they survived.
  • Ruth was made to glean in the estate of a man named Boaz—a close relative of Naomi—where Boaz (who was apparently unmarried, for reasons only God may be able to tell us) asks about her to the foreman of the field he owned.
  • The foreman then answered in 2.6 “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab.” The foreman also said that Ruth asked him if she could glean the field and the foreman allowed her. The foreman told Boaz that she had been on her feet from early morning without resting.
  • Then Boaz approached Ruth and said, “Listen my daughter—automatically levelling with Naomi with this act—do not glean in another field or leave this one…” and goes on to say that I have instructed my young men to not bother you. Ruth water and food which Ruth drank and ate of until she was satisfied and took some in her cloak with her home to Naomi. When she stood to glean again, Boaz instructed the men to allow her to glean anywhere she wanted including the area where the harvest was bundled.
  • When she got home to Naomi in the evening, she showed her the barley from her gleaning and gave her the food that she had kept when Boaz offered her something to eat.
  • And then it gets a bit tricky with the rest of the story and it would be a good discussion for another time—and I promise to do that as thoroughly as possible—but the story is that Naomi told Ruth to go to the threshing floor where Boaz is (usually the owners of the field stay in the threshing floor to guard the harvest) and communicate to Boaz that he is “go’el” –one with right to redeem.”
  • Now if you read through the parts of the story where Boaz had speaking parts, he appears to me like a genderless godfather of sorts. Very calm and collected. Always anticipating of what was going to happen next as if even before he came to be go’el to Ruth, he has assigned himself the duty of protector to these two women whose relationship fascinated him. He had deep admiration for Ruth for leaving her country to be with people who are strange to her. And so he kind of assigned himself the role of provider and protector of these women, without them knowing it. (why did Ruth have to glean…. Etc)
  • There was a complication with the right to redeem Ruth as kinsman because there was someone else who was a closer relative to Naomi. Boaz knew in his heart that if Ruth was to be married to someone other than him, Ruth would have to leave Naomi. I think this was what he tried to avoid. So he outsmarted the supposed kinsman redeemer in Chapter 4.2 and following where Boaz said to the kinsman redeemer: “the day you acquire the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquiring Ruth, the Moabite, the widow of the dead man to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance.” At this the kinsman redeemer said, “ay nge, o eh di sige, iyo na lang.”
  • The way the account was written did not suggest Boaz getting lakas tama, attracted to Ruth, by the way—and I challenge you to read for yourselves when you get home—my bible offers this commentary to explain as to why Boaz went out of his way to save Ruth and Naomi: “Or it may be a ploy by Boaz to protect the interests of Naomi and Ruth by ensuring that Ruth and her children will not be separated from this landholding.”
  • As to why our beloved Boaz decided to do that and help out these two widows who were living together, I do not know.

Take aways:

Ruth and Naomi’s story tells of a journey of losses and gains; tears and joy; crossroads and decisions; of sacrifice and rewards. Just like our own journeys as individuals and individuals co-dependent on another individual.

Ruth and Naomi’s story tells us that if the marginalized stick together, they will have the ability to change the course of history.

Ruth, Naomi and Boaz are symbols of our thriving LGBT community. Like Ruth and Naomi, we defy customs and traditions by insisting on staying together, no matter what. And, by God’s grace a Boaz is sent by God to help us navigate through issues like, childbearing and laws and customs. And in the end, we will have a family. A non-traditional family, yes, but a wonderful family nonetheless.

To the Naomis among us who think that they have lost hope, there is hope; to those who believe that they are no longer “pleasant” (Naomi), but “bitter” (Mara), God will restore you. God will find a way to honor you again. And you will be Naomi again.

To the Boazes among us who have the “estate,” the “barley” and the birthright to give, share for the protection others especially those in the margins, do so, and God will honor you. I bet my eggs, God will honor you.

To the Ruths among us who have left their families to be with the one they love, God will be with you. God will give you a beautiful family. And God will restore you and provide for you. Have faith in the God who can change your life.

Because at the end of this story my friends, there was a little boy born to Ruth and Boaz. In 4.17: The women of the neighbourhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” (slide) And this son Obed, is the father of Jesse. And Jesse is the father of King David—the King who will unite Israel into one Kingdom; The King who will order the writing of the Torah—the king whom God called, “a man after his own heart.”

The same King David (slide) who’s lineage will eventually bear, Jesus of Nazareth, fulfilling the words of Zechariah the prophet:

““Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

For he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.

He has raised up a mighty saviour for us

In the house of David,

As he spoke through the mouth of his

Holy prophets from of old,

That we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us

Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,

And has remembered his holy covenant,

The oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,

To grant us that we, being rescued

From the hands of our enemies,

might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days…”

Suffice to say, my friends, that the lineage of our Jesus of Nazareth is not only royal—at some point there was his two grandmothers, Naomi and Ruth and his grandfather, Boaz—a queer family that tried to make it work and succeeded.

There is a Hebrew term, “chesed” which means ‘loyalty and faithfulness arising from a commitment’—the writer of this story attributes this Hebrew term to all our characters. Today as we formally start our journey as a queer family of God in Metropolitan Community Church, may we embrace in us “Chesed.” That is may we have in us loyalty and faithfulness arising from a commitment to our God, to the people we seek to serve and to each other.

There is a Love so loyal and so pure as that of Naomi and Ruth’s; There is a Love so protective and compassionate as that of Boaz to the two women he honoured; There is a Love that is faithful to a commitment to family, community and God. This Love, my friends, can and will change history.

 Amen.