24 Pentecost, November 4
The story of Ruth’s deep love is well known, though the object of her affection, her mother-in-law, Naomi, is often forgotten. Instead, Ruth’s pledge of love becomes a romantic vow: “Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17). Ruth offers Naomi “all that I am, and all that I have” (BCP, p. 427). Ruth clung to her, and so even her gesture suggests something of marital love. “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
Marital love and the love of family are an important part of what it means to love one’s neighbor. Higher yet than human love is love for God, a love that God ignites, a love that creates a union of persons in the very life and mystery of God. These two loves, a profound espousal to God and humanity, constitute a whole life.
Asked about the more important commandment, Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31). The subordination of the law, decrees, precepts, statutes, and commandments to the twofold law of love presumes that a catalogue of duties to God and humanity are the very substance of love. Love involves teaching and observing, listening and recitation, talking of the obedience of faith at home and away, fixing and binding and writing upon the heart (Deut. 6:1-9). Love is from the heart and love is in the details of duty and the weight of vows.
How do we live from the heart? How do we play the part of a disciple in our time and in our place? It is easy, of course, to dismiss the hortatory sections of St. Paul’s epistles as a dated and conditioned ethic no longer fitting our sensibilities about right and wrong. It is easy to scoff at certain Old Testament injunctions as peculiar and perplexing, if not downright cruel. It is easy to say what we will not do, even if a Bible verse commands it. Still, we must live and move and have our being among sisters and brothers; we must face in our time the inscrutable and real presence of God. Scripture and tradition are not right merely because they are venerated; nor are current presumptions right simply because they are accepted. Any attempt to love God and love humanity will necessary involve attentiveness to the sacred resources of the past and a deep sensitivity to the moral demands of the present.
Psalm 146, appointed for today, is worth considering. It is but one example of an old way of living a new life. Imagine life in which God is the source of help and hope, the God who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them. Vestiges of God’s creative work are everywhere, and these works incite wonder, love, and praise. God is a helper who executes justice for the oppressed, feeds the hungry, sets prisoners free, opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, watches over the stranger, and upholds the orphan and widow. Love is God’s labor in the world.
Look It Up
Read Deuteronomy 6:4.
Think About It
Obedience of faith is a form of listening.