In the Lectionary

October 31, Ordinary 31B (Ruth 1:1-18)

The story of two grieving and economically insecure women is the hinge of the entire covenant history.

I don’t get many such requests anymore, but when couples used to ask for Ruth’s famous vow in their wedding, I always suggested that the bride herself read it, while facing the groom’s mother. Emphasis on “where you die, I will die, and where you are buried, there I will be buried.” No takers so far.

Literalism flabbergasts poetry, and Ruth’s avowal is a powerful piece of poetry. Whenever we read it or hear it, if we know the attending story at all it directs our mind’s eye to follow Ruth and Naomi on their perilous journey back to Bethlehem, into the gleaning fields—and, for Ruth, straight to the foot of Boaz’s sleeping bag. 

Both prophetic and pastoral, there is so much to admire about this text and the reality-embracing women in the middle of it. Neither Naomi nor Ruth is confined or defined by her ethnicity. If Naomi has doubts about the beneficence of God, the eventual YHWH-faith of formerly pagan Ruth is rooted in her love for Naomi. And Naomi has a deep, self-denying love for her daughters-in-law. For their life and future’s sake, she is willing to go it alone to Bethlehem, though she most likely would not have survived the trip.