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Angels and strangers: gleaning wisdom from the Book of Ruth.

The Book of Ruth is the shortest book in the entire Old Testament, yet its very brevity is its beauty. We can glean much wisdom from its content. It teaches us about the importance of our relationships with both God and family, about love and friendship. It relates a story which begins in the land of Judah, where we are told there was a severe famine and so Elimelech, his wife Naomi and two sons went to live in the neighbouring land of Moab. There they settled and their sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Sadly Elimelech died, yet there they remained for ten further years before their sons Mahlon and Chillon also died; and so at last upon hearing that the famine had relented, Naomi resolved to return to her homeland, telling her two daughters- in- law to go back to their mothers' houses. Orpah is persuaded to return to the land of Moab and so she kisses her mother-in-law before departing. Ruth however, clings to Naomi refusing to turn away from her saying:
 "Do not press me to leave you
 And turn from your company for:
 Wherever you go, I will go wherever you live I will live.
 Your people shall be my people and your God my God.
 Wherever you die, I will die
 And there I will be buried.
 May the Lord do this thing for me
 And more also,
 If even death should come between us"

[Ruth 1:16-17]


Leaning on the wisdom of the prophets, we discover through Scripture, a number of powerful catechetical themes which include companionship, loyalty and faithfulness. Ruth's decision, unlike that of her sister Orpah, who chooses to turn back to the god of the Moabites, is to follow the one true God, Yahweh, the God of Israel. Naomi journeys home to Bethlehem, stricken with grief at the memory of the loss of her husband and two sons. Her future seems bleak. Yet Ruth, though a stranger in an unfamiliar land, remains faithful to the vows she has made. She sets about her task of following the reapers and gleaning the barley fields. In so doing, she encounters a future husband, who reminds her of her own family story, of how she left her mother's house and the land where she was born, to come among a people about whom she knew nothing. Boaz reassures her, telling her that God will honour her for her loyalty and for all that she has done for her mother-in-law:
 "May the Lord reward you
 for what you have done!
 May rich recompense
 be made to you by
 the God of Israel to whom
 you have come to find shelter
 beneath his wings"

[Ruth 2:12-13]

Boaz speaks as one familiar with the Commandments. He would have been aware of the directive to God's people in the Book of Deuteronomy [10:19]

Remember: 'Love the stranger for you lived once as strangers in the land of Egypt,'

Boaz chose Ruth the Moabitess, a foreigner, to be his wife and through this marriage God also honoured Naomi. Ruth bore a son and so, as was the custom, Naomi took the child to her own bosom and became his nurse and also the child's legal mother; and Ruth, although the widow of Mahlon, is nonetheless ranked in this matter as Elimelech's widow. This is what was called in the ancient law an act of kindness or filial piety. It was also the custom in those days for the women of the neighbourhood to name children, and so they named the child Obed, who eventually became the father of Jesse who was the father of King David.

In modern times, the Church continues to teach its members about the dignity of the human person formed in the likeness of God, accentuating the irrationality of discrimination against the stranger in our midst:

'Created in the image of the one God, the equality of men and women rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from that dignity: every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental rights on the grounds of sex, race, colour, social conditions, language or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God's design' [Catechism of the Catholic Church 1934-35].

Recalling this beautiful story of Ruth and Naomi all those years ago, we commemorate two loyal and amazingly resourceful women, whose love and admiration for each other is perhaps best professed in Scripture itself by the people of Bethlehem:

'Blessed be the Lord ... for your daughter-in-law who loves you [and] is worth more to you than seven sons.'

[Ruth 4: 15-16]

In conclusion: some words of wisdom and guidance concerning the connection between strangers and angels from the writer of the final chapter of the Church's Letter to the Hebrews:

'Continue to love each other like brothers and sisters; and always remember to welcome strangers, for by doing this some people have entertained angels without knowing it' [Heb.13:1].

Born in Montreal in 1950, Rolf Heming grew up in Ireland and England. He now writes from Stratford-upon-Avon, UK.
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Author:Heming, Rolf
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 1, 2012
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