From childhood most of us have known this passage, “Listen, Israel; the Lord our God is the one, only Lord and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this, “You must love your neighbour as yourself’”. [Mark 12:29-31 New Jerusalem Bible]
As with many of the texts that we have been taught, we have focused on some words and ignored others. The part in this passage where the scribe says that these commands are more important than all offerings and sacrifices has not been part of the learning of many Christians. Sacrificial offering often in the form of obedience, has been drummed into many as what God requires from us. We have seen this attitude reflected in the way people have taught their children up until recent generations. A woman in her late seventies spoke recently of how her father’s idea had been that there was only one thing for a child to learn and that was unquestioning obedience.
Love had not come into her childhood and she was still struggling with relationships with other people. She was taught that love said God expected her to offer herself and sacrifice herself completely for others. It was only recently that she had realised that Jesus had been saying that love for God, others and yourself was the most important thing and such sacrifice as she had lived left her resentful and often wasn’t showing love for self.
So we get to the story of Ruth, one of the best known from the Hebrew Scripture. Ruth has been held up to women and girls of countless generations as a saint, modelling the sacrificial behaviour required of women in Christian context. We were taught to see her as a paragon of virtue in her servility.
Could Christ be telling us, “You do not know the Scriptures?” Could it be that Ruth was a feisty lass who knew her rights and was sticking with her mother-in-law in order to ensure that her children inherited what was due to them under the Jewish system? Or it might have been that Ruth clung to Naomi because she understood Ruth’s grief better than others because of their shared loss?
What are we to make of the bitterness of Naomi’s grief? It is of utmost importance for us to learn if we want to be reasonable pastoral carers that statements people make when distressed may not be facts and questions they ask may not reflect reality. When Jesus asked from the cross, “My God, why have you abandoned me?” he was not saying that God had abandoned him but that that was what it felt like. Naomi was expressing a similar thing when she named feeling bitter because “the hand of the Lord” had turned against her. [Ruth 1:13]
Most of us do not have the loss in our entire life times that Naomi has suffered. In all his loss, Job did not lose his wife. We knew someone whose wife and four children were killed coming home from school, in the Ash Wednesday fires. Can one ever recover from such devastation? And yet one must if one is to go on living. It takes many years to recover from dramatic loss.
(for full sermon see sermons page)