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Two Mandates

Pentecost 23
All Saints Sunday observed

First reading: Ruth 1:1-18; Ps. 146 Alternate: Deut. 6:1-9; Ps. 119:1-8 • Heb. 9:11-14 • Mark 12:28-34

Today the preacher would do well to speak of love and love’s obedience. If you love me, you will keep my commandments. This preacher, on All Saints Sunday, will not withhold from memory a dead daughter and a dead father and that countless throng with whom their bones rest. The preacher will announce a love that extends to the living and the dead.

The preacher preaches Ruth. Here we have famine, displacement, two marriages, three deaths, a migration, a homily from Naomi, and an oath of love from Ruth. It ends in scriptural silence. “When Noami saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her” (Ruth 1:18). Ruth abandons her land, her people, her gods, and cleaves to her mother-in-law. She wants to live where Naomi lives; she wants to rest in death beneath the same soil.

In loving another person, love is generative. Love-making is life-making, for loving is a way toward love itself, life itself, the hidden ground of love. Thus human loving unites one to God: “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength” (Deut. 6:5). If you love God, you will attend to commandments, precepts, and judgments (6:1). You will teach love and love’s obedience to your children and their children. Sitting, walking, reclining, rising, every word, every breath, every gesture will tell the wonders of the Lord. So we are called. But we fail so to live. We are uncertain much of the time, uncertain about what we know, doubtful that our fidelity is credible. God is our secret, a private treasure.

Still God persists, calling us to “walk in the way of the Lord” (Ps. 119:1). We may begin by turning the direction of our hearts toward God (Ps. 119:7), but that necessarily includes keeping his commandments (119:4). An inner faith is still a public walk. “I will praise the Lord with my life” (Ps. 146:1). And I will remember that “the Lord releases fetters, illumes the blind, raises the depressed, loves the just” (Ps. 146:8). God is at work loving the world back to life.

Can we do this with God, give our life and love, and display our service? We cannot. We have no strength within ourselves to help ourselves. Jesus pours out his blood, a pure offering that makes us blameless and whole, turns us from dead and dry works to the service of God (Hebrews). By his wounds we are healed, by his weakness we are strong in the might of the Lord. Thus we love anew, for it is God’s love within us that empowers us.

The two great commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31). Only God can call forth such love. We can, however, do our cooperative part, lending our will and affections to the carrying out of concrete actions expressive of this love. Bow the head, bend the knee, confess with your mouth, pull money from your belt and throw it for mercy’s sake. Serve your neighbors in ways intrinsic to your vocation, a difficult demand when roles are loose and confused and largely undefined. But it’s not impossible if we are honest. My life story: I am a priest of the church, I am married, I am the father of two daughters. I know exactly what is asked of me: nothing less than love’s obedience.

Look It Up
Read Ruth 1:1-18. We need more examples of non-romantic love.

Think About It
You are not shapeless, but a living form. Love’s obedience is fidelity to the form and character of the life God has given you.


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