As much as we anticipate vacations, what is it the draws us back home after a vacation to the comfort of our own beds? Is it the familiar? Is it the routine that we know so well? Is it because it’s a place we know where we can take off our masks and truly be ourselves? Maybe, maybe not, depending on your home life. Maybe it’s because everything is predictable or it’s where we have our roots and we are established or among family and friends.
I’ve been single my entire life and I’ve moved more times than I care to think about. I was born and raised in Iowa; moved to Texas (Dallas) for several months when I was 21; then back to Iowa very briefly before joining the military which took me to South Carolina for basic training, Virginia for AIT, and South Korea where I was stationed (as a 71N20 for those of you who know the meaning); back to Iowa briefly when I got out, then on to North Carolina where my fiancé was stationed in the military (we met in South Korea but that relationship ended back in the states); briefly back to Iowa again and then on to Virginia for a year at college on the G.I. Bill; back to Iowa after that year for several more years where I worked and also completed (while working) both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree at Iowa State University, then on to Colorado for several months looking for a job that never materialized (did temp work while I was looking); then back to Iowa for a few months before receiving a doctoral fellowship that led me to Florida where I have lived and worked (in several cities) since 1992 except for that infamous year I spent in Houston, Texas, which, of course, led me back to Florida again due to financial constraints caused by unemployment (both of which, unfortuately, are still very much a part of my life). WHEW!
To me, “home” is not necessarily a physical place—by that I mean the feeling of being “at home.” For me, home really is “where the heart is” as the expression goes. In every apartment (or barracks as was the case in the military) I’ve lived in I’ve made it my “home”–a sanctuary and place of refuge from the frenetic pace of today’s world. It’s a place where I can relax, unwind, do or not do whatever I want to do or not do without the added frustration of being judged according to the outside world. It’s a place where prying eyes and listening ears are put to rest, at least while I’m at home. That, to me, is truly “home,” and it can take place wherever one lives, providing that technology hasn’t invaded our lives too much.
Today is the day of Pentecost, which is celebrated 50 days after Easter Sunday (the resurrection of Jesus). The day of Pentecost is considered to be the birth of the Church (see Acts 2). On the Jewish calendar it is called Shavuot and is a time of thanksgiving and celebration to worship Adonai (a Hebrew title of reverence for God). One of the several things they celebrate during Shavuot is a time of remembering Ruth and Boaz, a kinsman-redeemer (Ruth 1-4). It is a story about “coming home.”
Here’s a brief background to the story of Ruth. Due to a famine in the land a man from Bethlehem and his wife, Naomi, and two sons went to live in Moab. The man died and Naomi was left with her two sons, who married Moabite women (Orpah and Ruth). After living in Moab about ten years both of the sons died leaving Naomi without a husband or sons. After hearing that the Lord had come to the aid of His people in Bethlehem by providing food for them, Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem and she instructed her two daughters-in-law to stay there in Moab where their families lived.
Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to Naomi saying to her, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will become my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16-18). At that, Naomi stopped urging Ruth to stay behind in Moab.
Upon arriving in Bethlehem “the whole town was stirred because of them” (vs. 19). Naomi had returned empty after the death of her husband and sons, and was bitter, asking that they call her “Mara,” which means bitter, stating that “the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (vv. 20-21). Ruth, her daughter-in-law from Moab, returned with her to Bethlehem just as the barley harvest was beginning.
Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side named Boaz who was a wealthy landowner. Ruth asked Naomi if she could go to the barley fields to pick up leftover grain by following behind anyone who she might find favor from in order to provide food for them, and Naomi gave her approval. As it happened, Ruth found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, and Ruth found favor in the eyes of Boaz as he had heard all that she had done for her mother-in-law, Naomi, and how she had left her homeland and her mother and father and came to live there among strangers because of her love for Naomi. He told Ruth to glean only in his field as she would be protected.
Boaz showed kindness to Ruth which, of course, extended to Naomi as Ruth was able to glean plenty of barley for both of them to eat. As Boaz was a close relative of Naomi, she stated to Ruth that he was “one of our kinsman-redeemers” (2:20). A “kinsman-redeemer” is “a male relative who, according to various laws found in the Pentateuch (the first five books in the Old Testament), had the privilege or responsibility to act for a relative who was in trouble, danger, or need of vindication” (source here).
You can read the rest of the story in Ruth 3-4, but suffice to it say that Boaz ended up marrying Ruth, and they had a son named Obed. The marriage of Boaz to Ruth and the birth of Obed brought Naomi out of her bitterness. In fact, the women of Bethlehem said to Naomi, “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth” (4:14-15). Their son, Obed, was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David, who became the greatest King of Israel and a direct descendant of Jesus Christ.
So, you may be asking what this story has to do with “coming home.” Good question. Naomi came back to her home in Bethlehem in bitterness with empty hands but with a loving daughter-in-law. She knew no other place to go even though it brought great bitterness for her to go back home. Ruth went back home with Naomi to a completely foreign land and most likely never saw her own mother or father or her homeland again, yet she embraced her mother-in-law and her new life wholeheartedly. Indeed, Naomi’s people had become her people and Naomi’s God her God (1:16), and God richly blessed them both through Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer, Boaz.
Ruth didn’t see “home” as a physical place, but as the place where her heart was–with Naomi, her mother-in-law. Ruth “came home” with Naomi and ended up finding and marrying a kinsman-redeemer, Boaz. And all three were greatly blessed.
In spiritual terms, “coming home” is really like finding redemption. And redemption is found in the greatest “kinsman-redeemer” of all, Jesus Christ. “Coming home” to Jesus is the best “coming home” there is.
Indeed, home is where the heart is,
and as St. Augustine said so very long ago,
“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord,
and our heart is restless
until it finds its rest
YouTube Video: “Love Came For Me” written and sung by Shannon Wexelberg:
Photo credit here