The Foreigner

The village ahead shimmers in the heat, little grey houses glaring white and quivering as in a dream.

Well, it feels like a dream. I stood here ten years ago with my husband and my boys, taking one last look to say goodbye.

The girl comes close and gently takes my arm. “Mother?”

“I’m all right, Child. We’re almost there.”

A few minutes later, a noisy crowd of children falls silent and stares as we trudge into town. On the busy street, a woman glances up, nods, and then opens her mouth in surprise. “Why! Naomi?” she cries. “Is it really you? After all these years?”

Other women hear and draw near to listen. “Yes,” I say wearily. “It’s me.”

The woman considers our bags, our dirty clothing, and looks around in confusion. “But… but where’s your husband?”

“Dead,” I say simply.

“No,” she groans, and the other women shake their heads. “Your sons, then?”

“Dead.”

Her hand moves to her face, blinking her surprise. “Oh, Naomi…”

“Don’t call me that,” I say, scowling. My name means ‘sweetness’ and it galls me now to hear it. It is a name for another time, for the dream that is now dead. “I left here full, but I have come back empty. Call me brokenness or bitterness or – yes, call me that. Call me Mara.”

The girl, who has carried our bags most of the way, might have taken offense but, instead, she rests her hand on my back, makes a sympathetic sound, and leans her head against my shoulder. “We have had a difficult journey,” she tells the crowd apologetically. “Perhaps we can talk tomorrow.”

We walk on and I say, “I’m sorry, Child. I don’t mean empty.”

“I understand, Mother. It’s all right.”

A tear runs down my cheek. This girl. She has lost nearly as much as I. A dead husband. Her family now far away. I would have drowned in my grief, but there was always her hand to hold me up, her beautiful eyes attentive to my sorrow.

She is a child of Moab, Israel’s old enemy, but it was to Moab we fled during the great famine, and there we stayed until my ruin. I am not her mother, not since my son died, and I have nothing left to offer, but she will not let me go.

———-

The Girl

I hear Naomi weeping outside. We found her old home a dusty, gutted ruin, full of memories that wound her. I find a cracked urn in the corner, carry it back into town and fill it at the well, trade my scarf for a loaf of bread.

“Come, Mother. Let’s eat,” I say when I return. “We have arrived at harvest time, and this is very good! In the morning, I will walk the barley field behind the workers and gather what has fallen to the ground.”

Naomi tells me this is dangerous, but hunger is also dangerous, and so I go. But that afternoon, I learn she is right. I look up from my work to see the master of the field speaking to the foreman, who turns to me and points. The master stares, then walks toward me.

“What have I done?” I think. At home, I had my father’s protection and wealth, but here I am empty and dirty and weak, a foreigner to them and perhaps even an enemy.

The man is close now. I glance up to see his fine clothes, his long stride, his expression of authority. Trembling, I bow my head and brace myself.

———-

The Farmer

It is a beautiful day and yet… Well, never mind that. Just the normal ache…

I have worked long and hard for these things – the fruitful fields and healthy herds, the respect of my neighbors. I am thankful. I truly am. Yet lately, when I pass families on the street, or when I sit alone late in the evening, I often mourn what I have missed, and wonder why I waited so long to face this emptiness.

Well, it is an excellent crop, and the men are moving quickly. I chat with my foreman, who points out a particular gleaner, impressed by her humility and hard work. And suddenly it hits me. The town was buzzing this morning with news of Naomi’s tragedies and her return. This must be the remarkable daughter-in-law who left everything to bring Naomi home safely. Something about this story brings a lump to my throat. My ache deepens as I walk over to welcome her.

———-

A hundred years later, a child is born – the last of eight sons. He spends his youth on lonely hillsides, watching over the family’s sheep, picks stones from the stream to hurl with his sling. In time, that sling will be used to save a nation and the boy will become its greatest king.

A thousand years later, another child is born – the first for his young mother. He spends his youth in his father’s woodshop, though she knows he is the king of heaven. In time, his sacrifice will save the world.

No one knew these heroes would come, least of all through a widow, a foreigner, and a farmer, each hurting and empty in their own way. But soon it was said to Naomi, “Your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given birth.”

And so, the empty became full and Ruth, the daughter of Moab, became a mother of Israel, ancestor to her kings and Savior.

———-

This story is a dramatization of events recorded in Ruth, a brief and beautiful book that hardly needs dramatization. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ruth%201-4…)

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

-Ruth 1:16-17

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