We scheduled this series on The Elements of Healthy Relationships so that both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day would be a part of it. Each person’s experience of those two days is different depending on whether we had or have a good relationship with them or not and whether our parents are still living or have died. I thought it would be good today to look at a Bible story that focusses on two women who are each in the course of their lives daughters, wives, and mothers. Naomi is the mother-in-law of Ruth. My mother always called Jill her daughter-in-love which has a much nicer sound. Naomi certainly would have called Ruth her daughter-in-love.
May 10, 2015
Ruth 1:6-18, Compassion
Pastor Doug Scalise, Brewster Baptist Church
The story of Naomi is found in the Book of Ruth which begins at a time in Israel’s history when there is no king, it was “in the days the judges ruled,” and there was no food, “there was a famine in the land” (Ruth 1:1). Much like the poor and desperate people trying to get to Italy from north Africa or to the US from Mexico or to Turkey from Syria or in many other places in the world- Naomi and her husband Elimelech and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion – make the risky decision to flee their home in the hope of finding a better life.
According to a new report by the United States Commission on Religious Freedom, over 13 million people in the world have been displaced by religious conflict alone. Naomi and her family leave Bethlehem which is five miles south of Jerusalem and travel perhaps some 20 to 30 miles or more east of the Dead Sea and south of the river Arnon to the land of Moab. The Israelites believed that the Moabites were related to them through the nephew of Abraham whose name was Lot (Genesis 19:37), but because the Moabites didn’t give the Israelites food and water on their journey out of Egypt, it says in Deuteronomy 23 that no “Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord” and there were hard feelings for generations yet this is where Naomi’s family chose to go. The situation for Naomi’s family grows much more serious when her husband dies leaving her and their two sons even more vulnerable. The young men each married local girls, but sadly after they’d lived in Moab about ten years both of Naomi’s sons died leaving their wives as widows and their mother with no husband and no sons. It’s hard to imagine what it must feel like to be living in an unfamiliar country and to lose so many members of one’s family and to feel alone and unsupported with nowhere to turn for help.
You might be surprised how many people we have at BBC who were born and raised in other country but who married someone from the United States and who, like Naomi, don’t have a lot or any of their family and relatives close by. One of the benefits of being a part of the church is that it can provide the kind of love and support we all need even when we don’t have our family around us as Naomi no longer did. That’s one of the values of our Mom to Mom group which meets on Thursday mornings – it’s a place where moms can find compassion, acceptance, kindness, and empathy.
So Naomi had lost her husband and then both of her sons and she had to figure out her next move. Listen to Ruth 1:6-18 (NIV 2011),
6 When Naomi heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. 9 May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons—13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me!” 14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. 15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.”
Today I want to highlight four ingredients that “sweeten” all our relationships, C.A.K.E.
Compassion is “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.”
When we have compassion for another person we feel their pain, we’re moved to helped, and we want to be of assistance. Jesus is often portrayed as having compassion for people. Mark 6:34 says, “As he went ashore he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” In Luke 5:12-14 a man covered with leprosy, a terrible disease, begged Jesus, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” Jesus moved with compassion stretches out his hand, touches and heals him.
Compassion connects us to other people in their time of need.
We had a memorial service here at BBC this past Thursday for Mary Jane Garneau’s son Shawn and she and her family expressed their gratitude for our Caring Heart to Heart Team, our staff members like Chris, Sharon, and Chet and our AV volunteers whose compassion and care helped them at such a difficult time.
In the Bible story, Ruth had obviously bonded closely with her mother-in-law Naomi and recognized that she had suffered the tremendous loss of both her sons and her husband and she had so much compassion for Naomi that she wasn’t going to let her go back to her home alone.
Compassion, the capacity to care for others, especially when they’re hurting is vital to healthy relationships.
When we’re hurting emotionally or physically is often when we need love the most. One of the things my mother always said to me was, “Be your best self.” Our ability to show compassion often reflects our best self and that compassion is not limited to our care even for other people. Compassion is what motivates folks who try to help rescue stranded sea turtles and dolphins or who take an injured animal to Wild Care. When we have compassion in our heart, we want to alleviate suffering. That’s what Ruth wants to do for Naomi.
A second ingredient that sweetens relationships is Acceptance.
Think about the relationship between Naomi and Ruth. Sometimes parents may not welcome the news that their son or daughter is going to marry someone from a different culture and religion. After her daughter-in-law Orpah tearfully departed, Naomi tells Ruth to follow in her steps and to return home (Ruth 1:15) “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” Ruth says, “No way, I’m staying by your side.”
In families and in friendships and even with people we work with or go to school with – healthy relationships require acceptance, often of people who think, feel, believe, and act differently than we do. We also need to accept that no one is perfect, including ourselves, we all have areas in which we need to grow and flaws that may never be overcome.
Acceptance is vital to healthy relationships because we learn we’re loved and cared for and we love and care for other people for who they are as they are. The opposite of genuine acceptance is a form of conditional love or acceptance which takes the form of sayings or attitudes like, “If you love me you’ll do this… or I’ll love you so long as you do this…” or “If you do this, I’ll be your best friend” or “If you don’t do this then you can’t be my friend.” These are all expressions of conditional love, conditional friendship, or manipulation.
Acceptance sweetens relationships because we know we’re loved for who we are.
A third ingredient that sweetens our relationships is Kindness. Kindness is truly one of the greatest things in the world. Clearly both Ruth and Orpah had sweetened the lives of their husbands and Naomi so that Naomi can say with so much emotion and longing (Ruth 1:8), “May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me.” Kindness is mentioned in many Bible verses as one of the characteristics of God. I could cite numerous examples but I’ll just share two: Nehemiah 9:17, “You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.” Titus 3:4-5, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Kindness is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.”
There is a tremendous need for kindness in all relationships and in the world. Politics has become full of angry, hateful speech – it’s awful. The media in all its forms is dripping with hate, disdain, pontification, accusation, self-righteousness and rage…and that’s just about the New England Patriots!
One of my favorite movies is the 1939 classic starring Jimmy Stewart, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In his famous filibuster on the floor of the senate he says, “It seemed like a pretty good idea, getting boys from all over the country, boys of all nationalities and ways of living. Getting them together. Let them find out what makes different people tick the way they do. Because I wouldn’t give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn’t have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a – a little lookin’ out for the other fella, too… That’s pretty important, all that. It’s just the blood and bone and sinew of this democracy that some great men handed down to the human race, that’s all.”
That may sound quaint today, but kindness has never gone out of style and it brings a smile to people’s faces and helps to bond relationships as fast and strong as just about anything. Even in her overwhelming grief, Naomi can’t forget the kindness Orpah and Ruth have shared with her and her sons.
Kindness lives long in our memories and that’s why it sweetness our relationships.
Compassion, Acceptance, Kindness, and, finally, Empathy.
Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
The word empathy is often used in defining compassion. Empathy is important to our relationships because if we can’t understand the feelings of another person we’ll never develop some of the things we’ve talked about already like Respect, Trust, and Love.
We don’t have to agree with someone or even understand everything about someone to empathize with how their feeling. Many of us need to learn how to listen better to the feelings someone is expressing when we’re in their presence both verbally and nonverbally. The phrase, “He’s clueless, she’s clueless” often means we’re not empathizing with someone’s feelings.
Ruth demonstrates great commitment when she says to Naomi, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” Ruth understands the depth of Naomi’s loss, she has become a widow herself and it is her sense of empathy that moves her to leave her homeland to accompany Naomi safely back to Judah.
I don’t have time to tell you the rest of the story, you’ll have to read it for yourself in the Book of Ruth, but you can do so in less than 20 minutes. The movement of the story of Ruth begins downward with no king, no food, eventually even no sons, and emptiness. Then the story moves upward as Ruth finds food gleaning in the fields and a husband, Boaz, and they have a son, Obed, and eventually there is even a king as Ruth, a Moabite, is the great grandmother of King David. If we want to look for people in the Bible to be role models of healthy relationships, two of the best are an Israelite mother-in-law and her Moabite daughter-in-law – would that the rest of us could live up to their example of Compassion, Acceptance, Kindness and Empathy.
Maybe from now on when you have a piece of CAKE, you’ll remember Ruth and Naomi and their examples of those four qualities that sweeten all our relationships.
Blessing from Zechariah, 7:9-10a, “And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.”
Questions for Discussion or Reflection
- When you hear the word, “Compassion,” what comes to mind? If you had to portray compassion with a color what would you choose? If you wanted to reflect compassion in music what would it sound like?
- Have you ever gone through a tough time, maybe not as bad as Naomi (displaced by famine, suffered the loss of her husband and both sons) and been blessed by someone who showed you compassion? What did they do that made a difference for you?
- How does Ruth show compassion for her mother-in-law Naomi (for additional insights read the rest of the Book of Ruth)?
- Ruth and Naomi are from different “tribes” or peoples with their own customs and faiths yet they are able accept one another. Why is being able to accept someone who is different than ourselves important to having healthy relationships?
- Kindness is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” Reflect on someone who for you embodies “kindness” which is also a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22). What does kindness add to our relationships and our lives?
- Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” How do you see Ruth and Naomi empathizing with each other? Why is empathy so important for healthy relationships? How can you grow in the qualities demonstrated by Naomi and Ruth?
One final scripture on the compassion and kindness of the Lord: Isaiah 63:7 (NIV),
“I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us— yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses.”