July 22, 2011

Saturday after the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 147, Ruth 1:15, Lk. 9:2-45
Evening - Ps. 148, 150, Acts 17:16

Commentary

Naomi's homecoming is not a happy one. She says to those who greet her that she "went out full." She means she left Israel with a husband and children, and, most likely enough money to buy property and start life over again in Moab. In Moab she found two loving daughters in law. She had family, love, and hope. Now that is all gone. She has returned hungry, widowed, grieving the loss of her sons, and so poor she has to beg and glean the fields for food. She laments, "I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty" (1:21) Thus she tells the people not to call her Naomi, meaning, "happy" or "pleasant", but Mara, meaning "bitter" or "angry" (1:20). Why is she angry? Because the Lord has dealt very bitterly with her (1:20). Or has He? It was Elimelch and Naomi who left the Covenant people to dwell among the heathen. It was they who left the benefits of the sacrifices, the Covenant, and the worship of God. It was they who married their sons to Moabite women. It was they who turned away from God, not God who turned away from them. God simply allowed them to have what they wanted. He often does the same with us today. "Christians" want to live like pagans, so God gives us what we want. Only, like Elimelech and Naomi, we find Moab isn't so great after all. We go out full, but come back empty. What else should we expect? How can we expect to be at peace with God when our hearts are set on the world?
What Naomi does not see is that the hand of God is heavy upon her for grace. It is heavy upon her because it is calling her back God. It is calling her back to the Covenant. God is saying to her, "I will be your God and you will be my beloved daughter. I will bless you and protect you, and I will give you better things than you can even imagine (see Eph. 3:20). Come back to Me. Let Me love you. Let Me bless you." It is as though God is saying to her;

"Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded, be afflicted and mourn and weep, let your laughter [your desire for selfish pleasures] be turned to mourning [repentance] and your joy [pleasure in sin] to heaviness [grief in the soul over sin]. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up."
James 4:8-10

Both Ruth and James call for the same kind of faith, a faith that turns from sin to God; a faith that removes us from the throne of our lives and enthrones God as King and God. This kind of faith is not a single event; it is a pattern of life. It is a habit of the mind and soul. It is a call to continuously draw nigh to God, cleanse your hands, purify your heart, and live in the spirit of James 4:8-10. Make it your habitual way of life. This is the call of God to Naomi, and to us.

Ruth 1:16-17 is one of the most beautiful and moving passages in all of Scripture, and it ought to be treasured by every child of God. In it we see the conversion of Ruth. She has been an idolater. She has been an alien and a stranger to God. Her life and values were shaped by the culture of paganism, and they were the habit of her life. But here she lays that life down and takes up a new life as a child of God. She joins the Covenant people, she moves to the Promised Land. She enthrones God as her God, and she intends to make this the habit of her life.

Thus our reading for today has brought us face to face with the major themes of the Book of Ruth. We have seen the Providence of God in His care for His people and working out His plan and purpose for this world. We have seen the Grace of God calling Naomi back to His people and Himself. We have seen Repentance, for God's call to Naomi is to return to Him and turn away from her sin. And we have seen Conversion, as Ruth has come to God and become a child of grace. All of these themes will be developed further in the coming chapters of Ruth.