Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Holy bitterness or bitter holiness

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

The little Book of Ruth has been part of Morning Prayer this week. Naomi, whose name in Hebrew means "pleasant," tells her neighbors to call her Mara - "bitter" - after a series of tragedies.

How could she perceive things any other way? She could not possibly see the glory of the plan set in motion by her bitter days.

Naomi/Mara drags into Bethlehem with nothing left except the hope of support from some old clan ties - and the companionship of her widowed daughter-in-law, Ruth.

What kind of epic spoiler could God have revealed to Naomi, to let her know who Ruth would be? Ruth, not of proper Jewish birth but pagan, will become the ancestor of Israel's great King David.

David, bearing genetic information of Jew and Gentile alike, receives God's promise of an everlasting heir upon his throne. Over centuries of waiting, this becomes the people's hope of the Messiah, God's anointed deliverer and ruler - a promise kept and a hope fulfilled in another birth in Bethlehem. Jesus, with the "genes" of all humanity and God, is born among David's descendants to deliver the whole human race. Ruth, who arrived in Bethlehem only because of Naomi's bitter days, is his earthly ancestor, too.

Naomi's painful days as Mara are essential to what Christian's call salvation. Her lament does not have the heroic beauty of the Virgin Mary's "Yes" to the angel, but Naomi's bitter trudge into Bethlehem is just as much part of God's plan to save fallen humanity.

Who knows what holiness and glory is growing, albeit concealed, in the bitter seasons of our lives?

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