The story of Ruth is a story of redemption, beginning with emptiness and ending with fulfillment. The Naomi (Pleasant) turned Mara (Bitter), becomes Naomi once again as she receives a kinsman redeemer in Obed.
Let us take a moment to look at the word redemption. Some synonyms include recovery, rescue, honoring, fulfillment, saving, and absolution. When I look at this list, I see all of these words associated with Naomi. However, the one that stands out to me the most is fulfillment.
In chapter one, Naomi desires to change her name to Mara saying, “I went away full, but the Lord has returned me empty.” (v21) This emptiness is something that we all have felt at time. For one reason or another, we feel that we have lost a significant part of ourselves. This can create void in our lives that is often filled with destructive habits. In some cases, however, individuals choose to fill that void with positive, life-giving habits, such as service opportunities or hobbies that bring out the goodness in themselves or others.
This emptiness changes for Naomi as her widowed daughter-in-law meets Boaz and begins a new family. Naomi was willing to give up and give into her emptiness but through Ruth God had other plans. Ruth did not abandon her when she was given the chance (1:11-18). Instead, she works to provide for Naomi and in that dedication was noticed by Boaz as a woman who was upright and honorable. Their child is placed in the hands of Naomi and she is fulfilled once again.
Now, anyone will tell you that the loss of one person is not redeemed by the gain of another. Or in the instance of Naomi, the loss of a husband and two sons does not instantly become redeemed by the birth of Obed. However, there is a change in a person’s life when that loss is given hope. There is a light that begins to pierce the darkness. This is where God uses a grain of opportunity to offer something life giving to fill the void.
The prologue to John (John 1) gives us an image of Jesus as the light that pierces the darkness that can not be extinguished. This is a beautiful vision of God’s work in our lives individually and also universally. The idea that the Word of God (Christ) brings light to our darkness is where redemption happens. Not because of what we are doing for ourselves but because of what God is doing for us.
Looking again at the story of Naomi, who was destitute. Her redemption happened not through her own doing but through the actions of Ruth, who did not abandon her but instead provided her sustenance and eventually a child who would give hope to the hopeless. In the same way God redeems us not through our doing but all through grace (unmerited favor) providing for us over and over again in the light of the world.
Let us now look into our own lives at the times and places where we have felt alone, abandoned, lost, afraid, hopeless, angry, or depressed. These are where we can identify with Naomi’s experience of emptiness. How did God provide for you in that void and that place of pain? What was the light that pierced the darkness? Where did hope arise? When fulfillment begin to take shape?
Naming these experiences are not only helpful for our own recovery but also for others who need to hear our testimonies of fulfillment and redemption. It is important that we share our stories and give others hope when they feel there is none. Just as we are given the story of Naomi and Ruth, we need stories to give life to others. Maybe it is not only our stories but also our experiences that give hope. We, as a community of faith, are a collection of wisdom to offer one another. A library of lives lived where we can offer light into other’s darkness. This is the power of community and the grace that God offers in the midst of emptiness.
Bethlehem was that place for Naomi. It was a community that received her in the midst of emptiness and suffering. It was the place where she was loved and cared for and received that graceful provision from God. Interesting enough, the city of Bethlehem (meaning “House of Bread”) is where the Son of God would be born. Hope out of emptiness. Light overcoming darkness. Redemption and fulfillment.