Love of God and Love of Neighbour
Against the rather narrow nationalism of Judges and Ezra-Nehemiah the small book of Ruth gives a romantic, idyllic example in Ruth that even non-Jews can become integrated into the Jewish people. Ruth figures even in the genealogy of Jesus.
At the Last Supper Jesus said: “At this people will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another” (Jn 13:35.) He is speaking not just of any love, but the love by which he loved his disciples, that is, a love that goes to the end, that sets no conditions, that sacrifices everything if necessary for the sake of others. This is the love “with one’s whole heart and mind and soul” and as strong as, or stronger than, self-love, of which today’s gospel speaks. This is a tremendous task that will never end. Is it this kind of love that moves us today?
1 Reading: Ruth 1:1, 3-6, 14b-16, 22
Once in the time of the judges there was a famine in the land; so a man from Bethlehem of Judah departed with his wife and two sons to reside on the plateau of Moab. Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons, who married Moabite women, one named Orpah, the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion died also, and the woman was left with neither her two sons nor her husband. She then made ready to go back from the plateau of Moab because word reached her there that the LORD had visited his people and given them food. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye, but Ruth stayed with her. Naomi said, “See now! Your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her god. Go back after your sister-in-law!” But Ruth said, “Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you! For wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Thus it was that Naomi returned with the Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, who accompanied her back from the plateau of Moab. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 146:5-6ab, 6c-7, 8-9a, 9bc-10
R. (1b) Praise the Lord, my soul!
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD, his God,
Who made heaven and earth,
the sea and all that is in them. R.
The LORD keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free. R.
The LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who were bowed down;
The LORD loves the just.
The LORD protects strangers. R.
The fatherless and the widow he sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts.
The LORD shall reign forever;
your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia. R.
Alleluia Psalm 25:4b, 5a
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Teach me your paths, my God,
guide me in your truth.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Matthew 22:34-40
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law, tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
The Book of Ruth, only four chapters in length, is one of the Bible’s most charming. It has a calm and engaging domesticity, telling the story of one of David’s ancestors. Ruth, a Moabite girl of non-Jewish origin, marries the son of Naomi. After ten years of marriage, Ruth’s husband dies, as did her brother-in-law and, at an earlier time, her father-in-law, Naomi’s husband. Urged by Naomi to join her sister-in-law in returning to her own country, Ruth, realizing that Naomi is now quite alone, refuses to leave and so remains with the widowed in-law. “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.” It is a beautiful expression of generous love. In deed she lived, true to the meaning of her name Ruth: friend
As Christ gives us the Great Commandment as the summation of the Christian spirit, Ruth stands out as an example even though she lived almost a millennium before Christ. The neighbour whom she loved was her own mother-in-law. In comedy fare today, relatives are often belittled, especially in-laws (mother-in-law vs daughter-in-law). They are the butt of jokes. The story of Ruth is simply an account of what the love of neighbour means. Ruth was not about to return home and leave her widowed mother-in-law alone. It is a touching story of self-giving and makes of Ruth a worthy forerunner of David. If charity begins at home, our relatives should not be overlooked.
Open yourselves to the Spirit of the Lord, and let him breathe new life into our old, dry bones! May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!