A decade can go by in a blink, and ten years can feel like a lifetime. For Naomi and her former neighbors, ten years must seem like the latter. When the women last saw Naomi, she was a wife with young sons. Now she is widowed, childless, and returning with her Moabite daughter-in-law. Moabites were particularly despised enemies of the Israelites. Their women were accused of seducing Israelite men into Baal worship, representing sins against God as well as the community.
Age, loss, and life in a foreign land have changed Elimelech’s widow. “Could this be Naomi?” the women ask. She responds, “Naomi means pleasant. Don’t call me that. Call me Mara, my name is Bitter.” She explains, The Almighty has dealt bitterly with me and has brought calamity upon me (vv. 20-21).
Naomi continues, “YHWH has brought me back empty… YHWH has dealt harshly with me” (v. 21). In a world where wealth and sons are signs of God’s favor, why has Naomi suffered such losses? The book of Ruth provides no answer to that question.
As Katherine Doob Sakenfeld notes, in Ruth, “God does not have a speaking role.” People talk about and pray to God, but God is silent. The silence of God is what’s so difficult for us to understand. Why did Naomi suffer so? Why the Crucifixion? Why the Holocaust? Nevertheless, God is not completely hidden. We read that “YHWH had considered his people and given them food” (1:6). And in the end, YHWH made the barren Moabite Ruth “conceive, and she bore a son” (4:13). God’s action may not satisfy our fevered questions, but when seen through eyes of faith, God’s action assures us that God sees and hears our anguish.
Where were you ten years ago? Are you where you expected to be by now? Where will you be in the next ten? Will friends and family recognize you?
Risen Lord, Lamb of God, you know the bitterness of God’s silence. Be with us in our darkest nights. Hold us close until dawn comes at last. Amen.