This week is simply all about love: how we are called to love God and our neighbors; how God-through-Jesus loved us; and a radical example of love and fidelity across religion, ethnicity and national borders.
In Mark’s version of Jesus testifying about the greatest commandments, the outcome is relatively harmonious. A scribe asks Jesus which of the commandments is the greatest. Jesus answers that it is a slightly more intense version of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (in addition to loving God with heart, soul and strength, Jesus adds loving with mind as well). He then throws in the second greatest commandment for free, Leviticus 19:18. Jesus says there is no other commandment greater than these (Mark 12:31).
So, if we are to really be disciples of Jesus, we must take his words seriously that there is nothing more important than loving God with our whole selves and then loving our neighbor as ourselves. No other allegiance can be higher in our lives than to God and to our neighbors. We can’t let lines on a map, confessional identities or skin color inhibit Jesus’ word in our lives!
Loving our God, obeying Jesus and loving our neighbor means acting like Ruth in displaying radical solidarity across racial, religious and national borders.
Ruth is a perfect example of this. When her Israelite husband died, she had no more connection to her mother-in-law Naomi. Like Orpah, she could have returned to her place, her own people and her own gods (Ruth 1:15). But Ruth chooses allegiance to her husband’s mother and to her mother-in-law’s place, people and God (Ruth 1:16). What we have in this story is the original Proverbs 31 woman (in Ruth 3:11, Boaz tells Ruth that everyone recognizes that she is an eishat chayil, the term for a virtuous woman used in Proverbs 31:10). Ruth leaves her homeland, people and ancestral religion to join Naomi in a land that was promised not to the Moabites but to their enemies, the Israelites. She came to do manual labor in the fields in order to take care of her family, such as it was. And, thank God, she was let into the country and welcomed, because from this no-account foreigner came King David and eventually Jesus the Messiah.
This week’s text couldn’t be any clearer. Loving our God, obeying Jesus and loving our neighbor means acting like Ruth in displaying radical solidarity across racial, religious and national borders. God demands that we act like pious Boaz and welcome the stranger, provide for them out of the bounty that we have received and fulfill our obligations to them (see Ruth 3:9 in which Ruth challenges Boaz personally to enact the protection that he had earlier asked God to provide for her in 2:12). It’s not enough to pray that God would bless people, we must do the blessing:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:14-17 NIV).
It’s of utmost importance, though, to remember that we don’t have to be the source of love and blessing. Jesus, through the power of his own blood, obtained eternal redemption for us from the powers of sin and death to which we were captive (Hebrews 9:12). God at Sinai and Jesus in the flesh command us to love God and love our neighbor. And it is Jesus himself, through the Spirit’s power, who is present with us, enabling us—and directing us—to love God and our neighbor. God supplies the love to us that we are to return to God and give to our neighbor.
If we feel lacking in faithfulness to God and the courage and endurance to love our neighbors (because neighbor love is difficult and draining, y’all), it’s because we are lacking love. It’s only through the inspiration of the Spirit that we can love well and consistently. If we lack the ability to do what Jesus told us to do, we need only pray for strength and guidance. God will surely bless our desire to be obedient in love.
We can start loving God and neighbor by simply opening the door for those who come to us in need of help today.