I love this line in the story of Ruth and Naomi; volumes hide in these few words: “your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons ….” Ruth has married Boaz, and borne him a son, gaining as much assurance of a future as a woman could at that time. And she brought Naomi into that future with her, the woman who had been her mother-in-law, and was now her friend. The women of the community saw and acknowledged Ruth’s love for Naomi, and that Ruth meant more to Naomi than seven sons.
Some read into the story that there was a same-gender love between the two women, and that could well have been the case. But they could also have “just” been family to each other, a family made of love, rather than biology. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people know about this, the created families that are so much more than “just” replacements for biological families that are too phobic to accept their own children.
“Family” even becomes vocabulary for identity; one gay person will say to another speaking of a third, “Yeah, she’s family.” Or, “yes, she’s a member of the church,” another euphemism claiming the language for and right to belong together, in the face of an institution’s rejection.
I’m not sure what “more than seven sons” meant to the women of Ruth and Naomi’s community. Maybe it meant that Ruth not only did her duty by Naomi — which would have been slim, given that the husbands that linked them had died — but that she went far above and beyond duty, to true and apparent love. Ruth had in her very nature, and in her affection for Naomi, the kind of love God calls for in today’s psalm, a love that does justice. Let’s make it plain:
Happy are those whose help is the God of Love,
whose hope is in Love,
Love keeps faith for ever;
Love executes justice for the oppressed;
Love gives food to the hungry.
Love sets the prisoners free;
Love opens the eyes of the blind.
Love lifts up those who are bowed down;
Love esteems the righteous.
Love watches over the strangers;
Love upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked Love brings to ruin.
This is how Ruth loved Naomi. Ruth insisted on staying with Naomi, when Naomi had given up everything, even her name, saying she should be called Mara, for the bitter emptiness of her life. Ruth took creative initiative to provide for Naomi and herself, and remained faithful through the twists and turns of their fate. When Boaz shared his community’s food with her, she brought some of the food home for Naomi. Her willingness to become part of Naomi’s community and extended family enabled Naomi to be freed of the hardships that came with being widow in that society.
Love is — and love does — so much more than we want to see and know. In every one of the categories of the psalm, above, where a lack is described, a hardship has been created and/or made worse by exclusion and neglect. How do people come to be oppressed? hungry? imprisoned? blind? bowed down? People who have these experiences have been wronged. Why do we then compound the wrong by treating them as if they are wrong, and avoiding or excluding or judging them?
People who were not land-holding men in that society were status-less; it was an act of charity, therefore, to care for strangers, orphans and widows. Sometimes, the strangers, orphans and widows had to care for themselves, as Ruth and Naomi did, making a way out of no way.
We have status-less people in our society today — people of color, GLBT people, people without documentation — seeking basic human and civil rights. And while we work for recognition of our full humanity, we do for each other what Love does: we make (there be more) family, love, and justice in the world.
Advent is known as a time for waiting; but we who believe in justice must do more than wait … Love works.