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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Naomi or Mara?

Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara (Ruth 1:20).

Tragedy. For some, it seems to always lurk in their shadow. Naomi's story is one of tragedy. It is also one of God in those shadows. I wrote this essay about her several years ago, but story is worth retelling.


Naomi – her name means “pleasant” – and her husband left Israel during a famine that swept across the nation. They settled in Moab, their two sons married Moabite women, and the family worked hard to provide for their needs. But over the course of the next several years, Naomi’s husband died. Then her two sons died, and Naomi was left alone and devastated by her triple tragedy.

When she and Ruth – the wife of one of her deceased sons – arrived back in Israel, the people of her hometown greeted her with unmuted excitement. But Naomi, her grief still raw, quieted them and said, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara [which means, ‘bitterness’] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:19-21).

It’s not hard to empathize with Naomi’s despair. Life picked her up, threw her to the ground, and then kicked her in the gut as she lay in the dirt. And she did what so many of us are so often quick to do.

She blamed God for her tragedies.

Who doesn’t understand Naomi? Deep and gut-wrenching loss. Death. Debilitating injury. Chronic and life-altering illness. Financial disaster. It is a rare, rare person who gets through life unscathed by heartbreak. And it is little wonder that so many people – even those of us in the Church, children of God as we are, who’ve heard about faith and trust for years in homilies, who’ve read the books and sang the hymns extolling God’s love – it is little wonder that even those of us in the Church can find ourselves embittered about life.

And even about God.

Naomi didn't know it – in fact, she never discovered it – but through her tragedy, her daughter-in-law married a man named Boaz. Their son, Obed, had a son named Jesse. Jesse had seven sons, one of whom was named David.

David’s distant offspring was named, Jesus.

Naomi didn’t know – as many of us today don’t know, especially when we are in the throes of our bitterness – that God really does know what we go through. And He really is able to orchestrate events and people and circumstances in and through our lives to ultimately give birth to a wondrous beginning.

And – and this is important – God really is able to cause all things to work together for good, to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (see Romans 8:28).

Life can be full of pleasantness, or full of bitterness. But circumstances themselves do not have the power to decide which of the two will rule us. Only our trust in the trustworthy God – or our lack of it – will determine what we call ourselves. Naomi . . .

Or Mara.


Barb Schoeneberger said...

If we could foresee the future goodness that God brings out of our faithfulness in suffering, we would have no need to look trustingly at Him on our journey. We would be looking at the future instead. All the evils that befall us, whether caused by us or by circumstances beyond our control, should be cause for us to cling more closely to Him. That is not to say that we don't feel the bitterness of pain. It is in pain that we join Christ in his agony. If we immerse ourselves in that and accept it, we have an astonishing joy. I'm sure Naomi is in great joy now, and she did have the comfort of Ruth by her side. God always gives us comforters. We just have to open our eyes and arms to receive them. Thanks for this post.

Javier said...

I improve my english Reading your blog.

Rich Maffeo said...

Barb, that's why it is called, Faith. It is believing God is good all the time and in all situations, despite sometimes how things seem to us from our very limited perspective. Thanks as always for the comment, Barb.

Rich Maffeo said...

Javier, I'm glad for that!


Christian LeBlanc said...

The Naomi-Ruth-Boaz story is terrific. I love telling it in catechism class, but next year I'll add the bit about Obed being Jesse's daddy and weave it in when we get to Samuel. As we like to say "I never noticed that was in the Bible!"

Christian LeBlanc said...

Re Mara, in Italian the word for bitter is amaro/amara via Latin amarum/amara. Can't see a linguistic way for them to be connected, but it seems as though they should be.

Rich Maffeo said...

Christian, it's interesting the Hebrew word Mara is also close to the Italian (and Latin) words for bitterness. If that were always the case, I guess it shouldn't be hard to learn all three languages. ;-)