They broke into weeping and said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” Ruth 1:9-10 JPS
Return – Literally this verse reads, “No, it is with you that we return to your people.” Eskenazi points out that the focus of the women’s concern is Naomi, not their personal plight nor their potential rescue. They are committed to the relationship, not the results.
This is a good place for us to pause and ask ourselves if we have the same personal relationship burden. Why do we pursue interaction with others? What is the motivation behind our reaching out? These two Moabite women are the paradigm of true hesed. They are committed to the person. If we have other motives, perhaps “winning souls” or “bringing them to the truth,” we might need to re-examine our focus. Even the loftiest spiritual motives fall flat if they are not the result of complete commitment to the other person. The relationship always comes first.
It’s easy for us to think that we have the other person’s best interests at heart. With so much spiritual language in the evangelical air, we often think that the primary purpose of relating to others is to make sure they know Jesus and will find their way to heaven. But I wonder if that actually demonstrates the character of God’s hesed. Orpah and Ruth have nothing to gain by committing themselves to Naomi. In fact, their commitment carries considerable risk. They will be outsiders in Bethlehem. They will be rejected and possibly abused. After all, they are the “cursed” Moabites. The chances of them ever finding a husband, and the accompanying security necessary for survival, are slim. To go with Naomi is to accept a life of destitution and distress. But it doesn’t matter. Why? Because they love Naomi. They are not thinking of themselves. They are not even thinking about normal precautions, about weighing the options, about projecting outcomes. They are concerned only for this other woman. What happens to them has no consequence.
Is that the kind of commitment you and I make toward loved ones? Are we ready to be exposed, abused, rejected or distressed in order to demonstrate unfailing love toward another person? I suggest that if we begin calculating the pros and cons, we no longer exhibit hesed, and if we do this with another human being, I doubt we can demonstrate hesed toward a being we cannot see. The test of hesed shel emet (true hesed) is its demonstration here and now, among those like us. If we fail with our fellow travelers, we can be assured we fail with the Holy One of Israel.
“It is with you that we return,” say Ruth and Orpah. What do we say?
Topical Index: return, hesed, Ruth 1:10