On The Committed Life
Long ago, a Jewish widow mourned the deaths of her husband and two sons.* Because of a famine, they had left Bethlehem of Judaea to settle in the land of Moab. The widow’s name was Naomi (pleasantness), but because of her afflictions she called herself Mara (bitterness). Her sons had taken Moabite wives. After her sons’ deaths, Naomi, wanting to return to Bethlehem, urged her widowed daughters-in-law to return to their mothers’ home. “May Yahweh deal kindly with you,” she blessed them. One daughter-in-law kissed Naomi and went back home. But Ruth, the other daughter-in-law said a wonderful thing, “Do not beg me to leave you, to return from after you. For to where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried”
Today, post Modernity is a selfish, non-committal culture that thrives on self-involvement, self-determination, and self-autonomy in meritocracy (a political philosophy that insists trophies, like economic powers, belong only to the high and successful achievers). Since the Renaissance, individualism has perpetrated a sonorous revolt against commitment to any forms of sodality. Its priority is to self, everything else is secondary. It besots personal choices, personal flourishes, and personal happiness at the exclusion of others. Those who study this stuff conclude that a non-committal life abnegates our basic human needs for meaning, significance and community. In turn, modern life suffers the maladies of individualism: loneliness, alienation, insecurity, and morbidity.
Ruth’s allegiance to Naomi is a high expression of the committed life. Her words affirm loyalty to her mother-in-law, to her well-being, and to their relationship. That is, her commitment promises to be there for her when they get there, where ever they are and as uncertain as their future may be. Ruth, a gentile, understands the Jewish concept of hesed – an unconditional and unfailing commitment to another. The Bible speaks of God’s hesed to his people, a spousal hesed to another, a parental hesed to family, and a king’s hesed to community and that community to him. Implicit, a committed life means that those in it are in it together. It preempts any notion of independence of self with an interdependence of community.
When Ruth pledges her commitment to Naomi, immediately certain assurances converge into a profound reality of what it means to be human. My imagination offers five aspects about the committed life:
“Where you go, I will go,” Ruth’s commitment to go with Naomi is an affirmation of human companionship. Its etymology means with-bread – to be a companion is to share all she is and has to nurture their life and journey together. She desires to enter Naomi’s experiences, enjoy the good and endures the bad, suffers with her longings, and celebrates life together. To go with someone is to embed your plans into her plans. It makes his destiny into your intention. It concludes that the other’s interests are as significant as yours. Two companions “with bread” share all the morsels of being together.
“Where you stay I will stay,” Ruth’s commitment to stay with Naomi is a promise of permanence. A human relationship is only as enduring as its predictability, dependability, and longevity. When companions stay together, magically their future becomes reliable even when it is unpredictable. That promise guarantees to stick to what we are stuck with. Like the traditional marriage vow, two companions profess before God and with family that in sunshine or shadow, for better for worst, in sickness or health, with wealth in poverty, they endeavor to build a relationship and share a common space together. In that shared space, they are together for good, forever as if there is no end.
“Your people my people,” Ruth’s commitment to Naomi’s people is a sure sign that she wants to belong. Being human that she is, she longs to belong. Deep in her aching heart, she wants to live with Naomi’s people, to enter her village, and to be her family. Her commitment fulfills her longing for meaning and significance in community. No matter what, she is always welcome and accepted by Naomi’s community. Every community has its own beliefs, convictions, values, customs, and vernaculars to define, understand, and express itself. To belong, you choose to embrace all of it with all of you. You replace “I am free to be Me!” with “I am because we are.” (an African proverb)
“Your God my God,” Ruth’s commitment to Naomi is also a confession of faith in her God. It is an intentional entry into her mother-in-law’s covenantal relationship with Yahweh. The bible imagines that the committed life is “of the household of God. . .” in whom “we are being built together into a dwelling place for God.” Naomi’s faith immediately and gradually informs Ruth’s faith, forms Ruth’s submission to God in the same direction, reforms Ruth’s understanding of mutual trust with God. God’s undeniable presence in Naomi’s life transforms Ruth’s awareness of God’s abiding presence in hers.
“Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried,” Ruth’s commitment to be buried with Naomi is her expressed hope in the future in the face of human mortality. A committed life does not end when human life ends. Because of God’s hesed to them and their hesed to each other, it is a shared confidence that in life and in death, they have a future with God. Ruth’s hope rides securely on the very commitment she gives to Naomi, to her community and to their God. So, it is written that Ruth married Boaz. And they had a son, Obed. And Obed and his wife birthed Jesse and Jesse’s greatest son was David.
Imagine, Ruth, a gentile, became the great-grandmother of the greatest Jewish king in history, and the ancestral mother of the King of kings, Jesus the Christ. All this came to pass because Ruth chose to live a committed life.
*based on the Book of Ruth in the Bible.