“Am I my brother’s keeper?” is a question that is often generated because of the larger context in which we live. Today Americans finish going to the polls and certainly an issue is how our chosen leaders’ policies will impact the quality of life for ourselves and those around us. Choices will impact issues like health care, immigration, and economic agenda. Ruth 1 opens during a time of political volatility, the time of the judges. There was yet no king and we are told, “everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes.” Added to the political leadership dilemma, it was a time of famine in Bethlehem. An ordinary man impacted by these events decided to take his wife and two sons to the neighboring country of Moab. I hear families talking today of moving to Canada or perhaps New Zealand. Our context challenges our coping strategies for caring for those who are dependent on us or upon whom we depend. Perhaps the question of caring is a question of how to remain safe in the circumstances surrounding myself and those I care about.
Our man chooses flight as his coping strategy, crossing the Dead Sea to Moab, with wife and sons. When I worked with refugees, their status was determined to some degree by the number of borders crossed, i.e. a person was labeled “refugee” if they fled across one country border but an “immigrant” if they crossed more. “Help” is probably the bottom line and a plea for mercy even today as we debate immigration. Moab, historically the son of Lot, the nephew of Abraham, made the territory of Moab not only near but also culturally a bit familiar. Moab, now in modern day Jordon, and Israel were not the best of cousins but it was a solution that worked and which sets the stage for the book of Ruth.
We can only imagine how difficult life was for this fleeing family trying to care for each other. We see pictures of refugee camps, read the stories or perhaps hear tales from our elders. Our man dies attempting to care for his family, leaving his wife and two sons to grow up in a foreign culture. The sons grow and marry but we are told of no children. The sons too die. The wife now is confronted with the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and “How?”
Flight is a legitimate response to social, contextual “famine.” Famine comes in many forms: political isolation, physical isolation, social isolation, or emotional isolation. We will follow all these in the book of Ruth. But today the question calling to us is to reflect on how we flee during times of stress. For some it may be television stories carrying us to distant times and places. It may be flight into drugs or eating, using substances that numb the pain of the famine we are facing. Malls and entertainment centers with the social activity and glitter call to us to immerse ourselves in their places. Famine of some form comes to all of us because we live in a broken world as broken people, needing help and depending on our neighbor. Perhaps as we travel through the book of Ruth, keeping a small journal about the challenges facing us these days and how we might be tempted to flee, might be insightful. I find hope in Psalm 34: 18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” As we are challenged with care-giving, let us not forget we are facing problems common to many, we are not alone, and there is a God who wants to walk with us. Blessings.