Scripture Passage: Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17
Loving with Unwavering Loyalty
Good morning! This week we are honoring our veterans and caregivers! As a CNA, Certified Nurse Assistant and the one, who was the primary caregiver for my mom and dad, I know a bit about caregiving and am grateful that there’s a designated day to honor caregivers! It is a challenging but rewarding role. I’m also grateful for a day set aside to honor those men and women, who have bravely sacrificed their lives to protect our country and freedom. My dad was a veteran of World War II and my Uncle Warren, who is 90 years old, is a Korean War veteran, who just received a Quilt of Valor. So, with all that in mind, I have a story about a veteran of the Afghanistan War and his caregiver cat for you, today, which includes both of our themes for this week! Jason was a squad leader in the army in Afghanistan, and things were going OK until one day, when one of the men under his command, whom he became close to, was killed in a land mine. It was a devastating experience for him, as we can imagine, and his whole perspective about being in the military and war changed and made an 180 degree turn. Jason had entered the military with noble intentions, thinking it was a good way to use his brave spirit to help our nation in heroic roles. However, that idealistic view of the military and war was shaken and completely turned upside down, with this tragic death of his soldier and friend. So, he started a downward spiral in a major depression. Seeing doctors, talking with counselors and taking medicines all didn’t do much to help, and he kept feeling worse and worse. He finally came to a point, when he felt hopeless, and he was ‘at the end of his rope’.
We also see two widowed women in today’s story, who were put ‘at the end of their rope’, economically, in a patriarchal society, where women had to depend on men or their husbands for their livelihood. The difference in the situation of Ruth and Naomi, from Jason’s situation though, is that emotionally and spiritually, they still had much hope! Later, we’ll see that this hope was the saving thing in their harsh, economic plight. So, things were moving along smoothly in the lives of Ruth and Naomi, until Ruth’s husband died, prematurely. Just like for Jason, life was good and smooth until all of a sudden, something tragic happened, and then their world was turned upside down and they were shaken up. But, different from Jason, Ruth and Naomi, hung onto their hope, which they had because of their faith in God. They reached a critical time, financially, but they did not let that take away their hope, emotionally and spiritually, in God, in whom they had a committed faith.
Not only did Ruth and Naomi have a committed faith in their God, but this led them to also have an unwavering loyalty in loving and caring for each other! My mother always taught us to love others with unwavering loyalty, and to love people until the very end. Well, we see a shining example of this by both Ruth and Naomi in this story! First, Naomi looks after Ruth, by coming up with a plan, for her to still have a good future, though her husband is gone. Naomi didn’t just sink into a deep depression and act resigned and think that she and Ruth would be doomed and headed toward destitution. This was not her perspective at all! Naomi was faithful, wise, pragmatic and positive! Faced with hardship and a tough situation, she was going to fight and trust in the Lord, to protect and provide for her and Ruth, now 2 vulnerable widows, in a society, where widows didn’t generally have much resources, unless they re-married. So, Naomi advises Ruth to seek to become the wife of one of their relatives, Boaz. It is sad for a modern day woman like myself to see that using the body and sexuality and the institution of marriage were basically the only resources women in that time had. However, Ruth was pragmatic, and she used these limited resources in the best possible way to help herself and her mother-in-law get re-established in the community and have a future. So, the story has a happy outcome, and Boaz has a liking for Ruth and ends up marrying her, like Naomi and Ruth had hoped. It’s so inspiring, I think, that Ruth returns to Naomi all the loyal love and care that Naomi gave her, by cooperating with her plan to marry Boaz, and in the end, Ruth takes excellent of care of Naomi, by giving her a step-grandson! So, this is an amazingly uplifting story about the mutual love and caregiving of a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law-law! I might also add, that in our real world, mother-in-laws and daughter-in-law-laws often don’t even get along; so, to see a case of them sharing a mutual, unwavering love and care for each other is heart-warming and inspiring! It is so neat how the passage comments that Ruth means more to Naomi than even 7 sons, because of her loyal love and giving her a grandson, who would then give her back her livelihood and place of respect in the community! That is huge, in light of the patriarchal society, where sons meant almost everything to parents and daughters were not regarded as very important! This is a part of Ruth’s story, which stirs up the usual texts in the scriptures. Ruth, is a woman, but yet at the same time, has real significance, especially to Naomi. As if her loyal love was not enough to inspire us, Ruth also models integrity! She is a promise maker and promise keeper. She promises Naomi to obey her plans to marry Boaz, and she follows these plans to a tee! Integrity is something, which we as human beings have struggled with down through the ages and continue to, as we speak. However, Ruth and Naomi model what this is supposed to look like. They live with integrity with each other, not out of fear or guilt, but inspired by their loyal love for each other. They model what my mother taught me to do, in loving others until the very end, and having integrity in our relationships!
So, in our story about Jason, we also find a caregiver in his life, who loves him until the very end and ends up saving his life. This caregiver actually turns out to be a 4-legged one and not a human one. Just as he was sinking into a pit of depression, he discovered a feral cat, Esmeralda at the army camp, who was attracted to his peanut butter sandwich. So, Esmeralda quickly became attached to him, and the 2 of them became inseparable. I’m not sure if Jason adopted Esmeralda, or Esmeralda adopted Jason, but they certainly had a loyal love for each other! So, when Jason felt like he was at the end of his rope and just wanted to die, Esmeralda just wouldn’t leave him alone. I think she must have sensed his anguish and deep sadness. She leaped right on top of his lap and stayed there, licking his face, though she had not licked him before! She kept brushing her face against his face. She perched herself on his lap and refused to get off. I always think it’s so amazing, the depth of compassion, which animals are capable of having for people or other animals, who are in crisis. So, after a while, when the cat wouldn’t leave, Jason began to ponder about his situation and wonder if he hadn’t been wrong about the fact that there was no hope for his life. The cat’s unwavering love and care for him made him re-think his perspective. From a theological perspective, I see this cat’s unrelenting love for Jason, as an expression of God’s unrelenting love for him, breaking into all his despair and depression. So, gradually, Jason, rediscovered his hope and desire to live, as a result of Esmeralda’s loyal love! He began to see other vocational paths for himself, besides serving in the army and a purpose for his life, again. So, he left the army and went home to Oregon and arranged for Esmeralda to be transported from Afghanistan to live with him in his home state! To this very day, the 2 of them are still inseparable and loving each other and those in their circle with unwavering love and care! The mutual love and care between Jason and are very similar to the mutual love and care between Ruth and Naomi. Jason began by offering to give food and affection to Esmeralda, and Esmeralda in turn offered her undivided attention and committed compassion, to literally ‘love him back to life and a good purpose’! I’m not sure about you, but I think that the food and affection were a light sacrifice in comparison with saving someone’s spirit and soul and bringing them back from death to the land of the living!
So May each of us keep pondering over the inspiring story of Ruth and Naomi and Jason and Esmeralda, as we remember and honor our veterans and caregivers this week. May we see God’s unwavering love and care for us, as it shines through the ones, who give us unwavering love and care, on a day-to-day basis! Amen.