Forming Faith Blog

Vulnerable yet Empowered (Ruth 1)

As widows in a patriarchal society, Ruth and Naomi are vulnerable. But they don’t wait for a man to save them. They become their own heroes and save themselves and each other.

a mother and daughter close together
Photo by cottonbro studio on
From There to Here

While this reading marks the 20th Sunday after Pentecost (for those who measure the church year that way), it is the sixth reading of the Narrative Lectionary year. So far, we have moved from the creation of the first humans to the First Family of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac to Jacob the amateur wrestler to God’s name in the burning bush, and finally to the gift of the Torah.

Last week’s reading from Deuteronomy 5 and 6 is not actually situated as the Israelites are at Mount Sinai, but as they are about to enter the Promised Land. Moses reminds the people of their history so that they can learn from it. It doesn’t really work well. But after this, the people do move into the Promised Land (with the complicated issue of the land’s original inhabitants that I’m not going to get into right now) and are eventually overseen by tribal leaders known as judges. It is in this setting that Ruth’s story takes place.


By the end of the first five verses of the Book of Ruth, Naomi and her two daughters-in-law are in vulnerable states. Vulnerability can be defined as:

A state when someone might currently have the resources they need to survive, but it would not take much for them to fall into poverty.

What makes them vulnerable? First, they are women in a culture that does not generally allow women to earn their own income in socially acceptable ways (e.g., not sex work). Second, they are widows without adult (or any) sons, and so therefore are not under the provision and protection of men. Third, Naomi (at first) and then Ruth (the rest of the book) are foreigners without land for income. The only hope for provisions that widows have is charity. They would be completely dependent on people who don’t have a relational obligation to them.

Not a Sob Story

Despite Ruth and Naomi’s disadvantages, this isn’t a story about pity, charity, and the provisions of big, strong men. These women do not wait around for someone to save them. They act to save themselves. While their salvation does include a big, strong (or at least rich) man, Boaz does not act the hero, he reacts positively to the women’s actions.

An Empowered Hero

What is a hero? It’s actually a relatively complex question, but the Greater Good Magazine includes an article that describes heroism as an activity that is:

(a) performed in service to others or in defense of an ideal, (b) is voluntary beyond what is required by duty, (c) performed with recognition of possible risks and costs and acceptance of the possibility of self-sacrifice, and (d) performed without the expectation of external gain.

Ruth is a hero. She rejects the relative safety of her birth family and country to follow her mother-in-law (c). Her commitment to Naomi’s well-being (a) goes far beyond familial duty (b). And the story does not mention the promise or expectation of any possible benefit to Ruth for her actions. And this is all her choice. She doesn’t wait for someone to save her.

Clever Mentor

Naomi herself is not a passive character in this story. While she might not fit the mold of a hero quite as easily as Ruth does, her place in the story might be considered that of the clever mentor. Ruth might have the heroic loyalty down, but she doesn’t really know the system, at least in Israel. After seeing the special treatment that Ruth was getting from her relative Boaz, Naomi advises her daughter-in-law on how to seek “security” (Ruth 3:1) by encouraging Boaz to marry her. And her plan works! Because of Naomi’s clever plans, Ruth (and presumably Naomi) receives economic security AND becomes the ancestor of David, son of Jesse, who would become Israel’s most famous king.

Faith Formation Connection

To my heart’s delight, the Book of Ruth is a self-contained, focused short story. While the whole book would be too long for a single reading, it would not be difficult to tell or act out a simplified version of Ruth’s story. Do this in class, in worship, or even at home! All ages benefit from a well-told story, and it’s important to emphasize the stories of women in the Bible when we come across them.

God’s love and loyalty be with you,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the activity “What Happened Next?” from our Living the Word: Youth resource.

Order Faith Formation Resources

It’s not too late to order 2023-2024 resources! Are you still looking? Order easy-to-use, theologically sound, and effective resources now for the Narrative Lectionary, as well as for the Revised Common Lectionary, and even classic Sunday school Classroom curriculum for PK-2nd and 3rd-6th (check our blog post for a special discount)!

Looking for a resource for intergenerational events, whole-church series, or even something new for Sunday school? Check out our Learning Together series! These five-lesson units are available on six different topics, one of which is FREE! The other five are quite affordable with variable pricing starting at $25 for a program with 1-10 participants. Perfect for children’s and intergenerational ministries. The unit Bible 101 is perfect for starting the year in the Narrative Lectionary!

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