Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me – even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons – would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realised that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem.
Can you imagine what life must have felt like for Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah, standing at the graveside of their husbands? What now? For a woman in their society, all economic security and social well-being were bound up with marriage. They were facing ruin as well as personal loss. Their lives were devastated. Married out of their own culture, the practical option for the younger women is to return to their families of origin where traditional obligations may offer protection. A widow might be less attractive than a virgin, but she can hope to marry again, and so find shelter from the unforgiving climate of economic isolation. Orpah sees the sense of this option. Dazed and stupefied with grief (and no doubt numb with fear) though they all are, she turns away from the place of death and begins to make her way back home. But another question has arisen in Ruth’s mind. She turns to Naomi, wondering, “And what about you?”
People in the shocked state of recent bereavement often display a characteristic introspection that can look like selfishness. Ruth’s inability to forget the concerns of others marks her out as an extraordinary woman. She is part of the line of ancestry that leads to Jesus. Why are we not surprised?
O Father of Israel, protector of the people of God, our refuge and our eternal home, may we, like Ruth, grasp the essential truth that we belong together, that if we stick together we are strong, that whatever befalls my brother, my sister, is in the end my future too. In Jesus’ holy name; Amen.