An advent reflection by Luke Williams, Interim Director: World Relief Seattle
Ruth, one of only three women mentioned in the Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, is an unlikely person to be remembered by history. A foreigner and a widow, her place in society was extremely marginal. In a way, the story of Ruth illustrates the extraordinary result of ordinary, faithful acts of obedience. Though somewhat unfamiliar to modern ears, many of the pivotal acts in her story are fairly ordinary, at least in the ancient Jewish context. Respect for elders, agricultural gleaning, and even the practice of a kinsman redeemer marrying the widow of a relative were commonplace activities in a community observant of the law.
A similar theme came to the surface in the recent memorial service for Cal Uomoto. Again and again, from the front or in side conversations, the testimonies went something like this:
“I met Cal [insert large number] years ago. He would always [insert ordinary act of obedience to God’s Word].
That changed my life.”
Transformation also takes place in extraordinary, miraculous moments. I see two such moments in the book of Ruth. In the first, Naomi, a woman who has lost literally everything, urges her daughters-in-law to abandon her. She has to make a perilous journey and faces an uncertain future—why should they risk joining her?
Though Naomi is a foreigner, old and alone—practically invisible in that time and place—Ruth sees her. Somehow, Ruth has the audacity to throw her lot in with Naomi and to identify with her: “Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (1:16) This is indeed a miraculous moment.
The second miraculous moment comes later in the story when the two women’s roles have switched. Ruth is now a foreigner in Israel. When Naomi enters Bethlehem, there is much talk about her return, but no one acknowledges Ruth. There is no talk of arrangements for the young widow in the family. It’s almost as if she is invisible.
But Ruth refuses to remain unseen. She goes to work supporting Naomi and herself. She deftly navigates the customs of a strange and foreign culture, trying to secure a new future with Boaz. Ruth had already risked everything in following Naomi. Now, she risks her reputation and her livelihood by trusting that Boaz will truly see her, and respond in kindness. Ruth was a woman of courage and hope.
Who has God placed in our path that most people may not even see? One of our volunteer interns shared these wise words about her growing sense of solidarity with refugees, “I look at them and think, ‘you could be me.’” No refugee is born thinking that life will bring sudden tragedy and force them to travel halfway around the world. They have dreams, plans and worries just like you and I. They could be me.
Lord, in this season of Advent, as we anticipate your coming, we humbly admit that we cannot see the future, though we often make elaborate plans. Help us to have courage, like Ruth, to see and be seen, so that we can walk this journey of faith authentically, in community together—especially with widows, orphans and foreigners who are dear to you, a part of your family. Amen.