A Model for Pastoral Care
A Model for Pastoral Care
The first chapter of Ruth is bleak, perhaps even disheartening. Yet, beneath the surface there is a current of care and compassion. A thread worth pulling on as we discover two women and how they choose to care for one another.
Scripture: Ruth 1
If you viewed the book of Ruth as a play, this line “They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest” would signify the end of Act 1. And what an Act it is.
Megan Fullerton Stroll writes, “Naomi’s story is one marred by fear, displacement, struggle, and grief. To read the book of Ruth as Naomi’s story means we have to linger in her grief, to accept her anger and frustration, and to tarry with her and Ruth—silent, resigned, burdened—on the road to Bethlehem.” (Megan Fullerton Strollo)
The trajectory of the book of Ruth is one from emptiness to fullness. Certainly, at the beginning of the book and our reading today the outlook of things is bleak.
The story begins with three widows, one of them old Naomi and the other two her young daughters-in-law ruth and Orpah. The book will deal with the relationship between Naomi and Ruth, the journey that they will travel on together.
Orpah makes the smart choice. There is opportunity for her to find another husband and a full life. When Ruth chooses to travel with Naomi, she turns her back on that and knowingly chooses a life that will be difficult. Now the story doesn’t end that way, but certainly that is what the first chapter sets up.
Naomi carries her grief and frustration throughout. This first chapter of Ruth is one that is marred by grief. As we encounter her Naomi is a tragic figure, having lost everything. Her husband, her sons. For her there is no option but to return home. Her grief and bitterness are palpable.
As we reach the end of the chapter Naomi realizes that Ruth will not hear it, she is coming with her. Ruth says to Naomi, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”
Those are powerful words. Consider that we just dealt with the Book of Job. When tragedy strikes Job his friends show up and yes they seek to comfort him. However, they also try to understand what has happened and why. In short, they point their fingers at Job and say you must have done something wrong.
Then we have Ruth. Ruth has the opportunity for fullness and continued life. In a patriarchal society that did not deal well with widows, Ruth still has an opportunity to remarry and join a new family unit. Staying with Naomi is acknowledging that life will be hard and societal protections will be few. Yet her words to Naomi.
Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you. Oh, how in my darkest hours I hope to hear a voice such as that.
Where you go, I will go. Oh, to have a friend such as that, who won’t turn their back because the road got tough.
Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people. To have a community such as that surrounding you in love.
These words of Ruth to Naomi:
Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried.
This is the model of pastoral care which we might all strive towards. To be so committed to one another that we won’t turn our back, we will travel with one another, break bread with one another, honour God together and in the last days when we are dying, to sit with one another and acknowledge our common life together.
In our gospel lesson from Mark, we hear this message rephrased. Jesus says, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
More than anything else, God calls and if we want to use strong language, God commands that we love and care for one another. This is rooted at the heart of scripture, cover to cover. The mutuality of our relationships, the need to care at the deepest level for one another and creation.
The story of Ruth, the story of Naomi in this opening chapter is one of heartbreak and despair. Yet, beneath the surface we see elements of love and care. As we care for one another in this place, at this time, let’s model the words of Ruth to Naomi.
And just when we think things are bleak, we remember that they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. Promises of new life even during times of despair. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
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