The Book illustrates the Lord's faithfulness to those who love him, like Naomi and Ruth. It also shows that God had mercy on the Gentiles, like Ruth, even during Old Testament times. It foreshadows the gift of salvation to all the Gentiles which Jesus brings. When people are faithful to the Lord, he is faithful in return.
Image by Sabine van Erp
By Ron Bruni
The Book of Ruth is one of three books in the Bible named after women, the other two being Esther and Judith, both of which are considered two of the seven deuterocanonical books which are in the Catholic Bible but not included in the Protestant Bible, which dealt with them as Apocrypha in that version of the Bible. Hence there are seventy-three books in the Catholic Bible and only sixty-six in the Protestant Bible.
There is some debate about when and why the Book Ruth was written. According to many scholars, it was initially a part of the Book of Judges but later separated and made into an independent book. Whereas the Book of Judges is filled with tales of violence between the Israelites, the surrounding nations, and even themselves, where each man does what is right in his own eyes, the Book of Ruth, in contrast to Judges, offers a witness of a woman who provides a faithful life of service to others in a quiet town. Another hint as to when the Book was written was during the early days of the Persian period because, at that time, the prophet Ezra condemned intermarriages and, and, according to his Book, forced the Israelites to abandon their non-Jewish wives. According to this theory, the Book was written in response to Ezra's reform and defense of these marriages to non-Jews, such as Ruth being a Moabite. The eventual acceptance of intermarriage between Jews and Moabites, resulting in amity between the two, is confirmed by the friendly relationship between king David and the king of Moab, described in First Kings, and thus rendered the old Jewish custom obsolete.
A summary of the story of Ruth shows that she is a Moabite woman whose father-in-law, Elimelech, had settled in the land of Moab with his wife, Naomi. Elimelech died there, and his two sons married with Mahlon taking Ruth as his wife, and his brother, Chillion taking Ophra, both women of Moab. Then, both sons also died. Naomi heard that the famine in Judah had passed and determined to return. Ruth accompanies her mother-in-law to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest in a state of poverty. Elimelech had an inheritance of land among his brethren, but unless a Go'el (which we discussed that term two weeks ago) could be found, Naomi would be compelled to sell it.
Elimelech had a prosperous relative in Bethlehem named Boaz who was engaged in the harvesting of his crops. Naomi sent Ruth to glean in his fields, and after he had spoken kindly to her and showed her some favors, she approached Boaz, acting on her mother-in-law's advice. Boaz was attracted to her but informed her that there was a relative nearer than he who had the first right to redeem her husband's estate and that it would be necessary for that relative to renounce his right before Boaz could proceed in the matter. Accordingly, Boaz called this relative and told him of the situation and the relative's right to redeem the estate by marrying Ruth. The relative declined when he found out he would also have to take care of the mother-in-law, Naomi, as well and took off his shoe, the ritual way of showing that he had renounced his rights in favor of Boaz. Boaz bought the estate from Naomi, married Ruth, and became, by her, the father of Obed, who in time became the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David, and in the direct line eventually of Jesus.
So, how and why did this short Book of Ruth find its place in the Christian canon of Scripture wedged into the Deuteronomic History (Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings). Why is such a straightforward narrative included in the canon of Scripture? Several issues help us understand some of its theological implications and why Ruth is in the canon of the Holy Scripture:
1. The family of David: Ruth is an ancestor of King David and Jesus. One of the main reasons the story is included is to give some background on David's family. This piece highlights the positive character of one of David's most problematic family members. Ruth is a "problem" in the purity of David's line. She is a Gentile. The Book shows all who would seek to disqualify the Davidic line that Ruth is not a family member to disdain but to revere.
2. The role of an immigrant: Ruth is a Gentile. She comes into Israel as a Moabitess, and how she interacts with the people and culture that is new to her can offer us an opportunity to reflect on how to be a faithful community towards immigrants and outsiders.
3. The role of women: this is only one of three women who lend their names to a book of the Bible. This Book offers a significant voice of the value and worth of women as individuals.
4. The example of CHESED. The Hebrew word CHESED is a very Christ–like concept introduced long before Christ himself professed it. It is sometimes translated as "steadfast love," "lovingkindness," "unrelenting love," or "covenant faithfulness." The Book of Ruth is an example of a lived Chesed. This principle put forth is the chief theological value the Book imparts. The Word itself occurs three times in the Book 1:8, 2:20; 3:10). It shows the Chesed of God, Ruth, and the community of love between the women in the story.
5. A view of God for the "everyday" context: Ruth is the story of a simple woman. Ruth is a simple woman in a simple context. She lives her life faithfully in a humble context. This Book gives a biblical face to the theology of everyday faithfulness.
6. It offers an arch type of conversion: the Book of Ruth presents us with a story of a convert. Ruth embraces the God of Naomi when she embraces Naomi. It points out powerfully how community and conversion arere linked and the role of others in our relationship with God.
The Book illustrates the Lord's faithfulness to those who love him, like Naomi and Ruth. It also shows that God had mercy on the Gentiles, like Ruth, even during Old Testament times. It foreshadows the gift of salvation to all the Gentiles which Jesus brings. When people are faithful to the Lord, he is faithful in return. In Bethlehem, as no doubt in many otherwise insignificant corners of Israel, there was a community marked by righteousness. Life was quiet and peaceful, and the grace of God was manifestly evident in the life of the people.
Today's gospel reading is about two subjects, greatness, and humility. Jesus had many conversations about these topics with his disciples, such as earlier in Matthew when he tells his disciples, "Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." We also find a conversation in Mark chapter 9 and Luke chapter 22, during which Jesus rebukes his apostles when he discovers them arguing among each other as to who among them is the greater.
So, the fact that this subject is dealt with in all the synoptic Gospels in multiple places highlights the importance of the matter in Jesus's teachings.
Man's ambition and drive for greatness are innate. It was imparted to us by God when he made us in his image. Indeed, his divine mandate calls for man to have great "dominion" over the earth as we steward his creation. Everyone wants their life to matter, a form of desiring greatness. This ambition for greatness is when untwisted, a godly desire to become what God created us to be. But with the fall, this was perverted, and it distorted man's ambition away from God's original purpose of what the term meant.
The path to worldly greatness leads to self-centeredness and egotism. In contrast, within God's kingdom, greatness is established through humility, service, and love for everyone, especially for those who are overlooked and cannot offer anything in return.
In today's readings, Jesus is highly critical of the Pharisees and the scribes. First, Jesus tells his listeners that they should observe the teachings of the Pharisees because they sit on the seat of Moses. He has no problem with their teaching because their teachings are correct; however, Jesus does not want his disciples to follow the examples of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were great law teachers, but there was one problem; however, many of them needed to practice what they preached. The Pharisees bound up the people with many laws and wanted their disciples and students to practice all the laws, but they only sometimes followed the laws themselves.
The same could be said about them sitting in places of honor and being called "Rabbi." They took the best seats in the house, even in the synagogues. They also relished the regard and respect given to them due to their religious position. Jesus saw all the outward signs of being religious that the Pharisees exhibited, yet he questioned their motivation. Jesus instructs his disciples that their role is to serve the people, not to be served. They are to follow the Jewish laws and customs as the Pharisees taught but they were not to follow the Pharisees' examples. Jesus hopes His disciples will be humble in the Word's best sense.
But what are the lessons that we can draw from this gospel reading? First and foremost, acknowledge that service is a great gift to give to others. Most of the time, our service consists of small daily tasks or actions. However, the true gift in this process is noticing another's needs and reaching out to serve lovingly.