It speaks about the transition from “bitterness” to “blessedness” in Bethlehem. It looks beyond the times of barrenness towards a new “Kingdom” generation.
Let’s look at Naomi. Fleeing from famine and in a place of great loss, she can be a potent symbol of our present crisis. She might also be an allegory of the tired Western Church. Tragedy strikes and she finds herself under death, bereaved of sons and husband. How many sons have we lost through cruel, intolerant religious wars and how many more were cut down in the prime of life on the killing fields of Flanders during the 1st World War?
Countless others drift into spiritual death without a shot being fired, seduced by the perverted paradigms of living with neither a divine dream nor a sacrificial heart. In a nutshell Naomi has lost all hope of fecundity. She is hopelessly, tragically barren!
Was this her sad destiny?
Her original name means “tenderness”, “charming”, “pleasant”. Love, grace and joy – holy attributes of Christ’s Body the Church, called to fill a world with light and life, but tragically wounded, and old before her time. It seems that Naomi has changed her name!
“Don’t call me Naomi” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me. ” Ruth 1: 20-21
Mara means bitter. It is sobering to think of Naomi journeying back to that sacred place to be bitter in Bethlehem.
Is there hope for her? Is there hope for my own weary heart? Can the Western Church know a new beginning? The answer for Naomi, and for us, came in two things.
Naomi had a friend in Boaz and, as the old song puts it, we have a friend in Jesus.
“That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.” Ruth 2: 20
Jesus our redeemer: the one who can heal history and hearts. May we know a fresh hunger and passion for His presence.
There was also a more strategic answer for Naomi which was the second requirement for healing.
Ruth, from the foreign race of the Moabites, was the answer for Naomi. Ruth represents at least two things for us.
We must be investing in, and praying for the next generation. I’m convinced that, even in the face of Satan’s destructive onslaught on the youth of nations, God so wants to bring a powerful missionary revival amongst a new generation of Joshuas. Just as the Jews may have been shocked by Ruth’s culture and background our religious and missionary structures will need to adapt to the adolescent energy and fun of young people. We need to find our Elishas.
The strategic centre for missions has changed over the last few years from the West to what is collectively known as the “Global South”. Nations such as South Korea, Brazil, Nigeria, Ethiopia, China and Indonesia will be leading the way over the next few years.
As Naomi received Ruth we will find our future in creating discipleship environments for such as these. We will be learners as much as teachers, receivers as much as givers. Again, structures and personal comfort zones will need to change to stand alongside the colourful, potent, raw energy of God expressing himself in many cultures and skins.
One of the redeemers in the story had an eye on the material blessing of the land but he had no motivation for a relation with Ruth. He feared that this “foreign influence” might endanger his own property. This is often the fear of many of us today. Boaz however was more than willing to take on the covenant relation which came with the land. The first gave only his shoe whilst Boaz was willing to give his heart!
In the light of this, my own prayer is very much to find Ruth. Practically this may express itself in looking for more opportunities to mobilize and mentor emerging mission movements.
And there in Bethlehem, where Mary was to hold Jesus to her breast, old Naomi finds new life, nurses a son of promise in David’s line – “she took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him”, rediscovers her name and is “blessed in Bethlehem.” May you too be blessed in Bethlehem, may you be “better” rather than “bitter” and may the opportunity Ruth offers be accepted as a true gift to a waiting Church.
“Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter- in-law,(Ruth) who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons , has given him birth.” Ruth 4 : 14-15