“Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
We seem to be very much in the company of grieving widows and sorrowing mothers! Naomi has lost her husband Elimelech and her two sons who were also the husbands of her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, after whom The Book of Ruth is named. In a way, such situations, though sad, are hardly unique. You only need to think about your own families and your own communities to recall similar sadnesses, sorrows and loss. And yet, as Paul suggests in our second lesson from his Letter to the Philippians such commonplaces of sadness and sorrow, the thing that have happened, can “really serve to advance the Gospel.” Somehow such circumstances can be the occasion in which Christ can be honoured and glorified. In another words, the Scriptures give us ways to face the hard and sad things of human life.
Probably written sometime after the Babylonian exile, The Book of Ruth with its timeless and reflective mood is notionally set in the time of the Judges. In the Christian Bible it is found immediately after The Book of Judges. In a way it is a kind of critical commentary on The Book of Judges, offering a completely contrasting account of Jewish identity and mission. The Book of Judges like many of the early books of the Hebrew Scriptures are written from a kind of exclusionary viewpoint with the emphasis upon Israel as the Chosen People separate and apart from the nations round about. Over and against that stands another perspective which emphasizes the role and mission of Israel as “a light to lighten the Gentiles,” as Isaiah puts it and as the Nunc Dimittis from Luke’s Gospel repeats in our evening liturgy, the idea that what has been proclaimed to Israel is for all people, something universal in principle. These tensions define Jewish history and thought which oscillate between the one and the other.