What's in a name?
The Book of Ruth in the Old Testament tells the story of Ruth, and her mother-in-law Naomi. Naomi was married to a man named Elimelech. Due to a famine her husband and her two sons die. Near destitute, Naomi returns to Bethlehem with one daughter-in-law, Ruth, whom she could not dissuade from accompanying her.
Upon returning to Bethlehem, Naomi ravaged by her life’s burdens is so distraught that the people wonder, “Is she Naomi?”
“Yes,” she says. “But do not call me Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” While the name “Naomi” means “good, pleasant, lovely, winsome,” “Mara” means “embittered, resentful.”
Barry G. Webb a scholar in Old Testament at Moore Theological College in Australia points out that “there is not only an objective element in Naomi’s life for being bitter through bereavement, dislocation, and poverty, but also a subjective element—the bitterness she feels” because she has come to believe that God was treating her harshly.
It is interesting to note, however, that not only Ruth refused to address her mother-in-law as “Mara”, but the throughout the story, no one addresses her as “Mara.”
What do Jesus and Ruth have in common? And how the story of Ruth and Naomi connects with the celebration of the Holy Name of Jesus?
In the story of Naomi and Ruth we learn that eventually Ruth marries Boaz, the local farmer, and they have a son by the name of Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse and thus the grandfather of King David. Therefore, Ruth was a direct ancestor to Jesus. But, what else did they have in common?
In teaching about the power of words, St James points out that “The tongue is like a spark,” (3:6). Indeed, we know that words not only can hurt but even destroy others – and even our own souls!
Words have power for good, and power for destruction. But it is not only what we say about others what may hurt. The words that we speak to ourselves – what we believe about ourselves – sometimes may come around to destroy our self-esteem, our values, even our own life.
Today we celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus, which means “Savior,” for He would be the savior of the world.
From day one, Jesus knew what his mission was to be – “To bring good tidings to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to let captives know that they have been freed.” Jesus the Savior was sent to tell those who live under the shadows of grief, bitterness, and heartaches that “the day of their deliverance had arrived.”
Jesus came to speak tender words of love and care, to tell humankind that our sins have been pardoned through God’s mercy and grace. He came to help us recall that we are sons and daughters of Almighty God, His beloved brothers and sisters, heirs together with Him to all the riches of God’s love, grace, and mercy.
Jesus came to tell us that we are loved, and cherished. In fact, Jesus not only came to save us from the power of evil, but to save us from the power of the lies that we may have come to believe about ourselves.
Indeed, Jesus incarnated in his daily living the words of the sage, “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers all transgressions,” (Proverbs 10:12).
This is what Jesus did. And so did Ruth.
Pope Francis, preaching on the Gospel of Luke, said that “Among us is the great accuser, the one who will always accuse us in front of God to destroy us: Satan. He is the great accuser.” In fact, St John in his Gospel describes the Evil One as “The Father of Lies,” (8:44).
Ruth, even believing that Naomi experienced a terrible turn of events, still refused to acknowledge Naomi other than “Naomi: good, pleasant, lovely, winsome.” Ruth, in her own way, refused to acknowledge “Mara.” And in so doing, she brought healing and gladness of spirit to a wounded soul.
Jesus refused to break the weakest link or to quench the smallest flame of faith. Indeed, Jesus lived true to his Holy Name: to be the Savior of us all.
Jesus refused to condemn and insisted on forgiving. He refused to assign blame and insisted on healing. He refused to close the book on anyone but called unto him all those who would hear his tender voice.
I do believe that we have to call sin “sin.” I do believe that there are times when like Jesus, we may need to turn the tables of those who exploit religion, politics, technology, or the economy for their own selfish gains.
There are times when may need to speak truth to power, even when our head may end up being served on a platter.
But, in general, let us leave accusing to the Accuser. That’s his job. Ours is to take the high road that Jesus walked on and use the power of words to bless, to heal, to bring life, peace, and joy.
I know that at times it may not be easy. We live in a society bombarded with negativity and in people – and sadly, even churches – remorselessly finger-pointing others, ready to fault them for all the ills of society.
Mind you – It is not that since ancestral times humankind has not been divided, with families and tribes against each other because they are not like them, and nations and empires destroying others just because they can.
Even now, dirt-digging and “oppo” research is a highly paid industry. Righteousness and justice are missing in action while truth, comity, and the benefit of the doubt are as scarce as square eggs. So, it is not easy.
Yet, as the Lord himself encouraged us, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. But take heart, because I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33).
As we look forward to this New Year of our Lord 2023, let us commit ourselves to live lives true to our name of Christians. Let the ministry of this little church be one of encouragement, blessing, healing, affirming, and lifting up others.
Following in the steps of Jesus, of his servant Ruth, his mother Mary, his servant David and so many others through the generations, together let us be a people of blessing, speaking words of truth, love, mercy, grace, and hope. Let us build up others so that together, one day we may be united in glorifying God “in the beauty of his sanctuary.”