Ruth: faithful friendship

The Book of Ruth

As a young Christian I was transfixed by the story of Jackie Pullinger. In 1966, when she was in her early twenties, she was called by God to leave her home and family in London and she set off on a boat with a one way ticket to Hong Kong without any idea of what she would do when she got there. She then lived and worked in the infamous Kowloon walled city amongst drug users and triad gangs and developed a ministry which continues to this day. She was one of the first female role models I can remember, and what attracted me was her bravery and willingness to go where she believed God was calling her, even though that came with huge risks to her own life. In her book, ‘Chasing the Dragon’ she writes:

‘God wants us to have soft hearts and hard feet. The trouble with so many of us is that we have hard hearts and soft feet.’

I think we can be sure that Ruth had both a soft heart and hard feet. She was a non-Jewish women from Moab whose Jewish husband had died leaving her with a bitterly grieving mother-in-law, Naomi and a sister-in-law, Orpah, whose husband had also died. When her mother-in-law chose to return to her homeland, Ruth made the brave decision to move away from all she knew to go with her. She was determined and in deciding to bind herself to Naomi she also made a commitment to Naomi’s community, and to God. Her prayer of conversion is beautiful:

‘Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die – there will I be buried.

Ruth 1.16-17

What a powerful declaration of loving commitment from one person to another.

Ruth and Naomi’s journey from Moab to Bethlehem

Ruth chose to accompany Naomi and was willing to step out into the unknown, into a life that was unpredictable and precarious, to go to a foreign land where she would be vulnerable and unprotected. Her motivations for doing this are unclear. Did she stay with Naomi because of her deep love and affection for this older and in many ways bitter woman? Or did Ruth have a sense of God’s call on her life that meant that she knew deep down in her soul that she should leave Moab.

Whatever her reason, Ruth’s brave decision led her to Bethlehem where, whilst in the fields gathering food, she meets Boaz, a distant relative of Naomi’s. Boaz protects her from harm and Naomi encourages their blossoming romance and even gives her a few tips as to how to secure his affection: ‘Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor’ (Ruth 3.3). Ruth and Boaz eventually marry, her future is secured, and they have a child, Obed, who will one day be the Grandfather of King David.

Ruth becomes one of the small number of  women, alongside Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba to be named in the genealogy of Jesus.

Reflection

Not many people are called by God to leave everything they’ve ever known in the way Jackie Pullinger or Ruth were, but we may be able to identify a time when we have been asked to take a step of faith. When I first felt God was calling me to be a priest, knew that this would mean we would have to leave our comfortable home in an Oxfordshire village, a decision that was harder to make because we had three young boys at the time. It’s tempting at times to wonder what might have been if we had taken other paths in life, but Jesus’ call to his disciples is always to follow, to look forward, to put the hand to the plough and not look back. (Luke 9.62).

Loving God,
We thank you for the joy and comfort of friendships:
For those who have been there for us through the ups and downs of life;
For those who have walked beside us even when we’ve not been great company;
For those who have given us advice and guidance;
and for those friends who are no longer with us and who we long to meet again.
Amen

Author: clarehayns

College Chaplain and Welfare Coordinator of Christ Church, Oxford | Mum of three boys | wife of a juggler and magician | Council of Reference of ZANE - http://www.zane-zimbabweanationalemergency.com | enjoys board games, dog walking, films, eating out.

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