Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” – Ruth 1:16
It happens often enough, I’m sitting with a bride planning a wedding and we’re talking about which scripture she’d like read during the service. “Ruth 1:16” she says. “Well” I respond “contextually Ruth 1:16 is about a daughter-in-law pledging her unfailing faithfulness to her mother-in-law…not her husband.” I usually then offer that if she’d like to use this text then when could have her groom sit down for a bit and her mother-in-law stand next to her for this part. That usually ends the discussion right there.
I don’t know what it is about the concept of love that makes us always think romance. Just about every “love” movie you see is about the concept of romantic love. This is foolish, love is a far greater concept than just the idea of romance. Now don’t get me wrong…romantic love is important and I’m not trying to minimize it…it’s just not the only form of love there is. The greeks had concepts for many different types of love. In particular they had agape or love of God; philia or love of one another…we get the name Philadelphia from this, the city of brotherly love; and there’s eros or romantic love. We focus an inordinate amount of our attention on romantic love. “I’ve gotta find love,” “I want to fall in love,” “I need you to love me” (Ok, now I’m getting into songs).
Now sure enough there are plenty of Biblical examples of romantic love…Ruth and Boaz for example. But the Bible is chock full of examples of brotherly love or, love of one another. David and Jonathan; Paul and Timothy; and of course Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. We need to lift up, to nurture, and to demonstrate this idea of loving one another.
It seems that our world is intent on tearing itself apart at times. It doesn’t take long to see example after example of people taking their sticks and beating each other up with them. I’m reading this book called Jesus: A Theography right now by Len Sweet and Frank Viola. They were just talking about how Christians can be guilty of beating one another up and others. They used the cross as an illustration. The cross has two bars, a vertical one and a horizontal one. The vertical bar can represent our relationship with God…lots of folks focus all their attention on being in right relationship with God. In turn they can have a tendency to take that vertical bar and beat up those who don’t agree with them. Vice versa, the horizontal bar represents our relationship with others. Some focus a lot of their attention on being in right relationship with one another and can, in turn, take that bar and beat up those who don’t agree with them. The point, the authors make is that we are called to keep both bars, the vertical and the horizontal; the whole cross. We can’t have one without the other. When you keep both then you find yourself carrying the whole cross…and when you do that then you have an awfully hard time beating people over the head. Jesus did call us to take up our cross and follow him.
We are called by God to love one another, and 1st John’s words ring true…we love because he first loved us. We are able to love one another because of God’s love for us. The love of one another that flows out of God’s love for us might be called faithfulness. It’s a love that says “through thick and thin I will be with you.” It’s a love that says “I will forgive you when you’re wrong and pick you up when you’re down.” It’s a love that says “I will always think kindly over you and wish only the best for you.” It’s a love that is demonstrated throughout the story of Ruth and Naomi; they were faithful to one another in the worst of times. In our world today, as Christians, our call is to learn from Ruth and Naomi and to be to one another faithful.