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I often feel a stranger when I come to God. He and I: we are so different. I live far away from his kingdom, afraid that approaching him even a step closer will make me lose everything. I’m afraid that surrendering is too difficult a sacrifice to bear, and I’m cautious when it comes to the cross. I prefer watching it from a distance.
This Lent invites me to come a little closer and remain curious about the promise behind the cross. And I didn’t want to journey on my own, so took a friend from the Bible with me.
It is believed that when you read the Book of Ruth, the story happens among the readers. It is alive and always present. Truly, the Book is so timeless.
Ruth’s name is difficult to translate. It hardly means anything, but we used to interpret it as a friend. And Ruth truly becomes an incredible friend to Naomi. The women get connected through shared pain.
Naomi (‘sweetness’, ‘my delight’) loses her husband Elimelech (‘my God is my King’). She lives in Moab. Naomi and her husband fled here years ago from Bethlehem, as their country suffered from terrible hunger. After her husband’s death, Naomi is taken care of by her two sons: Chilion (‘wasting’) and Mahlon (‘sickness’), but they also die. And there she is: heartbroken, lost, a childless widow among strangers. The woman suffers so deeply that she takes upon herself a new identity along with a new name: Mara (‘bitterness’).
Her only hope is that her God, the God of Israel, truly visited his Land again “and had seen to his people’s needs” (Book of Ruth 1:6). Hoping in that promise, she leaves Moab behind and sets out for a journey.
In the beginning, both of her daughters-in-law are accompanying her on the way. For them, however, the journey is hopeless. Moabites would never be accepted among the tribes of Israel. The story of their conflicts begins with Moab's conception – that’s how severely both nations are divided. Women are aware of their hopeless position, and so Orpah (‘the one who bends her neck’) turns back to Moab.
Ruth remains faithful. “Wherever you go,” she promises to Naomi, “I will go. Wherever you stay, I will stay.” (Ruth 1:16).
Ruth is inviting us to see God’s love for strangers. Whenever I feel unworthy or too different to get a bit closer, Ruth is there, always present, always faithful, always ready to believe in every hope and every promise.
She leaves behind a cruel god, who demanded sacrifices from humans’ life and encounters the God of Israel, the one who puts sense into her journey.
Be welcomed, All you, People of Strange Hearts. Be received in the awkwardness of searching for promises. We’re understood when we doubt. Ruth stays with us wherever we go.