She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” – Ruth 1:20-21
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Naomi is usually said to mean pleasant or one who is pleasing, one in whom we delight. Mara means bitter. Is there anything more unpleasant than a bitter person? When bitterness takes root it flowers into poisonous fruit which has the potential to “defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).
We can understand Naomi’s position. Her husband had taken her and her two sons into the land of Moab, abandoning their rightful inheritance near the town of Bethlehem because of famine. Bethlehem means, ironically enough, “the house of bread”, but there was no bread so they left. Naomi’s two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, after the death of her husband, Elimelech, married women of Moab. Chilion’s wife was named Orpah, and we do not hear much about her. She’s seems to have been a good enough person, sensible, pragmatic, and realistic. She offered to follow her mother-in-law back to Judah but was dissuaded by Naomi’s quite reasonable arguments.
Ruth, on the other hand, has a book of the Bible named for her. One of her descendants was King David, and when we read the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew, there, too, is the name of Ruth. She is there because she refused to abandon her mother-in-law. There was no Social Security, no homes for the aged, no pensions in those days. An old woman without husband or children might have wished herself to soon depart this hard world. Naomi could have expected difficulty in surviving apart from the kindness of a few relatives. She would be a beggar, and a hopeless one. Her hope for the future had been tied to children. Hers were gone. She would have no grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Her line had failed.
But Ruth, whose name means friendly or loyal friend, goes out into the fields to glean, and her selflessness awakens the gracious nature of Naomi’s prosperous kinsman Boaz who sees to it that Ruth is able to provide for her mother-in-law abundantly. Ruth’s attitude and love also inspire Naomi. In seeking to find a way to repay and provide for her daughter-in-law, Naomi stops thinking about herself.
I don’t know about anyone else, but when I get bitter it is because I have become self-absorbed. I have been treated unfairly, suffered injustice, loss, and defeat. I always think of Tom Chaney’s line in True Grit after Mattie shoots him, “Everything happens to me. Now I'm shot by a child.” I feel like that sometimes. I have all the bad luck.
It’s not true. In fact, if there were such a thing as luck, I would have to say I have had extraordinarily good luck. Naomi, too, had the good fortunate to have one of her sons marry a woman of superlative character and virtue. Yet while Naomi focused on her own woes, wallowing in self-pity, the full force of this fact was lost on her. As we were saying yesterday, Naomi comes to herself when she forgets herself and focuses on Ruth’s future.
This is the kingdom way. If we put our energy and thought and effort into making other people happy, we will be happy. Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor (Proverbs 22:9). When we forgive, we find that we have been forgiven. When we love, we may be surprised to find that we are loved. When we liberate, we are set free. When we make peace, we have peace. And so it goes.
If I find myself in bondage, in bitterness, joyless, miserable and hopeless, there’s a good chance that I have been too intent on getting my own way and pleasing myself. The only way that can be fixed is if I am willing to turn away from my fleshly desires and work on making good things happen for those around me.
There is, of course, one caveat. You really can’t make anybody else happy. There are people such that no matter how much you do or how hard you try to please them, they are never going to be pleased. It’s never going to be good enough; it’s never going to be right or meet their standards or be what they want. I’ve done it to the letter and had them tell me, “You know that’s not what I meant.” There’s a tendency to give a two word response, but how they handle it is not my problem. I just need to keep doing the right thing regardless of the response of others.