So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, ‘Is this Naomi?’ She said to them,
‘Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty; why call me Naomi when the Lord has dealt harshly with me, and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?’
So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Returning is not easy. The Prodigal Son had a speech ready-prepared and well-rehearsed. Naomi’s seems less practised, more the overflow of pent-up feelings. And she’s not happy! More, she blames God. ‘He has dealt bitterly with me!’ Remembering her husband and two sons – the emblems of successful womanhood in that culture and time – she complains that she went away full but the Lord has brought her back empty. And she points to God as the author of her calamity and criticises him roundly: He has dealt harshly with her. And there’s an undertone of injustice here. The so-familiar: “what have I done to deserve this?”
We do this. We get so overwhelmed with the bad things that inevitably come in our lives that our perspectives get stuck, and all we can see is the darkness. ‘There’s none so blind as cannot see’ as Robert Burns says and no doubt, there was no point in an older and wiser friend of Naomi’s pointing out that in fact she had not come back empty.
I wonder how Ruth felt, being passed over like that, as if she were invisible?
And Naomi has returned at the very best time for one who left because of famine: the time of the barley harvest. But she can’t see any hopefulness in the future, so bitter is she with her life and God.
Thankfully the story doesn’t end there – but most of us have Naomis in our lives who do nothing but complain, seemingly stuck in their bitterness. And sometimes that bitter Naomi lurks in our own hearts.
Open our eyes to the abundance of your blessings that surround us, and give us hearts of praise and thanksgiving, even when life is hard and tempts us to bitterness. Help us to lift one another up out of bitterness, and share your love ever more widely. Amen
Dorothy Courtis, lay preacher and elder, Wortwell URC