By Rev. Julie Raffety
Daily Lectionary reading: Psalm 146:5-10; Ruth 4:13-17; 2 Peter 3:11-18
Selected passage for reflection: Ruth 4:13-17
Read Ruth 4:13-17 New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom and became his nurse. 17 The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.
As a woman, this passage can be a bit problematic if we confuse God’s blessing with the misconstrued Biblical narrative of a woman redeemed or valued only through childbirth. In contrast, both Naomi and Ruth are blessed here by God, because of their faithfulness. In this case, the additional blessing is a child, famously part of the lineage of King David which is extended all the way out to Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father and as such, to Jesus our Savior.
But faithfulness is loving God, following Jesus, and extending Spirit-filled grace to others within our circumstances, not because of them. A female pastor friend of mine recently met for lunch with a Lead Pastor about an open Associate Pastor position. The Lead Pastor explained that the position would entail some travel for mission trips and was concerned whether that would work for this female once she and her partner started having kids. I’m sure he meant well, but none of us can truly predict the circumstances of life. We can do our best to plan and vision and know ourselves and those close to us, but so many times we make the best decision we can with God’s help and everything still gets “blown” up a few years later. All of this to say, faithfulness does not equivocate with predicting the future or remaining stagnant over time. Faithfulness is saying yes to God within our circumstances. I think it is accurate to say that it would have been a faithful decision for Naomi and Ruth to journey together to Bethlehem even if Ruth had never met Boaz there. It is so hard for us in a culture of achievement and success, but faithfulness is not dependent on results, but rather on commitment to God (and to loving others) throughout.
Rather than redemption through childbirth, I believe the faithfulness of the story of Ruth is the love extending beyond bloodlines between Naomi and Ruth to leave a known place and journey in search of God and God’s provision into the unknown. And perhaps this is the faithfulness we so resonate with and are inspired by in the birth story of Christ. We love that God made a way for Christ in unusual and imperfect circumstances. We love that an inhospitable stable could welcome the King of the World. We love that God showed up in odd circumstances and at a seemingly inopportune time.
It is much harder to receive God’s blessing upon our faithfulness in unusual, imperfect, odd, and inopportune circumstances in our own lives. It seems crazed to sing “Joy to the World!” when our dream job changes into being laid off. It seems wrong to whisper “thanks be to God” when we fail at something for the final time. And it often seems inauthentic to truly “rejoice always,” (1Th 5:16), especially in times when most of the people we care about are sad. But the most authentic piece about the story of Naomi and Ruth is not that God finally blessed them, but that God continually blessed them. God blessed them with each other, giving them the courage to remain faithful to God in life’s many circumstances.
Emmanuel means “God with us.” God gave Naomi and Ruth one another as they struggled to remain faithful within all circumstances. It is easy to identify some of the blessings that came later on in the story - food and shelter, the marriage of Ruth and Boaz, and of course, the birth of a child to continue the line of David. But perhaps the greatest blessing was the commitment of Naomi and Ruth to struggle to follow God together, no matter what. Naomi and Ruth were faithful to God and to one another and therein lies God’s true blessing.
I invite you to ponder the following questions:
How am I remaining faithful to God and to others around me right now?
How is God blessing me in my current circumstances? What blessings surround me even in imperfect circumstances?
Am I confusing faithfulness with achievement? What does faithfulness look like given an unknown future?
Thank you for your faithfulness to me in all circumstances. Thank you for blessing me continually. May you make clear to me how I am called to remain faithful to you today and in this moment. Help me to do so without expectations and future demands. Give me the faith to be joyful and thankful for your continued faithfulness whatever my life’s circumstances may be. Amen.
About the Author
Rev. Julie Raffety is the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, NJ and an Associate Mathematics Teacher at Sage Alliance High School, working with kids with social and emotional diagnoses. Julie writes a monthly blog for the Presbyterian Outlook, and personal blog (revraff.wordpress.com) and enjoys running, hiking, cheering for the Green Bay Packers, and eating popcorn. She is the proud aunt to three nieces and one nephew. Reading and praying through Advent devotionals is one of her most favorite pieces of the Advent/Christmas season.