Memorial of Saint Bernard

Friday, August 20, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 146, chosen today to complement our first reading which is a rare lectionary passage from the Book of Ruth. In it, we meet Naomi who is, at one point, widowed and alone. 

The fatherless and the widow the Lord sustains,
    but the way of the wicked is thwarted.

Psalm 146:9
Ruth Carries Her Gleanings – James Tissot

The Book of Ruth is familiar to many of us because some of its charming story and verses seem a lovely fit for weddings and anniversaries. But in some ways, that isolated use tends to trivialize the powerful messages embedded in this short volume.


If we have a limited view of the Book of Ruth, Psalm 146 can help us widen it. The psalm points to elements central to a hopeful and just community, to a community in right relationship with God. This too is a core message of Ruth.


It is a community strengthened by compassion, loyalty, inclusivity, trust, hope and grateful praise. Each character, at some point in the story’s unfolding, exhibits some aspect of God’s merciful nature and steadfast attachment to us. They put flesh on the psalm’s Antiphons:

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! 
For their hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth, 
the seas, and all that is in them;
who keeps promises for ever;
who gives justice to those who are oppressed,
food to those who hunger
and sets the prisoners free.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind!
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down
and loves the righteous.
The Lord cares for the stranger
and sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked. 
The Lord shall reign for ever,
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.
Hallelujah!

Ruth was the great-grandmother of David and blood ancestor of Jesus. Her story, and the tender mercy it declares, foretells the character of the Beloved Community Christ will establish.


The heart of that community – our community – is aptly described in today’s Gospel. When the Pharisees ask Jesus what is most important, he replies:

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.

Ruth already knew what was most important.
May we learn it deeply from her story.


Poem: Ruth and Naomi by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911), an African American abolitionist and poet. Born free in Baltimore, Maryland, she had a long and prolific career, publishing her first book of poetry at twenty and her first novel, the widely praised Iola Leroy, at age 67. 

"Turn my daughters, full of woe,
Is my heart so sad and lone? 
Leave me children — I would go 
To my loved and distant home. 

From my bosom death has torn 
Husband, children, all my stay, 
Left me not a single one, 
For my life's declining day 

Want and woe surround my way, 
Grief and famine where I tread; 
In my native land they say
"God is giving Jacob bread.”

Naomi ceased, her daughters wept, 
Their yearning hearts were filled; 
Falling upon her withered neck, 
Their grief in tears distill'd. 

Like rain upon a blighted tree, 
The tears of Orpah fell 
Kissing the pale and quivering lip, 
She breathed her sad farewell. 

But Ruth stood up, on her brow 
There lay a heavenly calm; 
And from her lips came, soft and low 
Words like a holy charm. 

"I will not leave thee, on thy brow 
Are lines of sorrow, age and care; 
Thy form is bent, thy step is slow, 
Thy bosom stricken, lone and sear. 

Oh! when thy heart and home were glad, 
I freely shared thy joyous lot; 
And now that heart is lone and sad, 
Cease to entreat — I'll leave thee not. 

Oh! if a lofty palace proud 
Thy future home shall be; 
Where sycophants around thee crowd, 
I'll share that home with thee. 

And if on earth the humblest spot, 
Thy future home shall prove; 
I'll bring into thy lonely lot 
The wealth of woman's love. 

Go where thou wilt, my steps are there, 
Our path in life is one; 
Thou hast no lot I will not share, 
'Till life itself be done. 

My country and my home for thee, 
I freely, willingly resign, 
Thy people shall my people be, 
Thy God he shall be mine. 

Then, mother dear, entreat me not 
To turn from following thee; 
My heart is nerved to share thy lot, 
Whatever that may be.”

Music: Ruth’s Song – Marty and Misha Goetz

(Verse 1)
All my life, I have wondered
Wondered where I might belong
Feeling lost, like a stranger
Wandering far all on my own
(Verse 2)
Without a home. Without a people
Without a hope, without a prayer
Without a way, that I could follow
Then I turned, and you were there
(Chorus)
Where you go, I will go
Where you stay, I will stay forever
Where you lead, I will follow
So I can know the one you know
(Verse 3)
Under his wings, you found a shelter
You have no fear, you have no shame
And when you call, he seems to answer
He even seems to know your name
(Chorus)
(Bridge)
Then somehow should I find his favor
I won’t look back on all I’ve known
Your people then will be my people
And Your God my God alone
(Chorus)
Where you go, I will go
And you know I will never leave you
Not even death, will ever part us
Now that I know the one you know
I will go now, where you go

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