19 Aug, Friday of Week 20
Ruth 1: Ruth, a Moabite woman, remains with her mother-in-law. The women, both widows, return to Bethlehem.
Matt 22:34ff. Jesus affirms the first and second great commandments, each focussed on love, for God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourself.
Love Conquers All
In the story of Ruth, we see how foreigners are absorbed within the family of Israel; and according to Jesus, every commandment rests on the supreme law of love. The Book of Ruth has served many purposes. In its earliest form it goes far back to David’s time and supports David as God’s choice for king, despite the foreign blood in his veins. During the postexilic days this same book served the purpose of a minority group who opposed the wishes of the dominant priestly party at Jerusalem to rigorously separate the Jews from foreigners. Around this time the book was linked with the feast of Pentecost and the traditional wheat harvest. As Pentecost also commemorated the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, the Book of Ruth mysteriously pointed to another Pentecost, the first after the death of Jesus, when Jews from many nations were absorbed into the Church (Acts 2). This book’s long history fades into the background as we start to read the lovely story, which combines agony and loss, peace and hope, but most of all the loving, mutual concern of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. The younger woman, Ruth, is drawn by affection for Naomi to opt for faith in Yahweh, “Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
Whereas in Jesus begins with the love of God and proceeds from there to love of neighbour, Ruth seems to reverse the process: starting from love of Naomi she arrives at the love of God. Elsewhere, too, the Bible affirms that this natural, healthy neighbourly love has its source and strength in divine love: We love, because God first loved us. Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem as poor widows, with little to show for their life so far. Frequently in history God has revived a people on the verge of death: from slavery in Egypt, from near conquest by the Philistines, from Babylonian exile. The theme of a promised child to be born of sterile parents also enunciates God’s power to discover hope where all hope seemed lost, to find life where everyone seemed dead.
At times God must cut down hopes which were true and helpful for a limited time, in order to lead those same hopes to fulfillment beyond our dreams. We should never try to limit God even by our hopes and prophecies. All such limitations are removed by Jesus’ reply to a lawyer. First the lawyer intended to trip him up, but Jesus transcended the context of envy, intrigue and argumentation. In simple, moving words he declared the greatest and first commandment of the law, “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart… soul… mind.” And the second is like it, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” These two commandments already existed in the Torah of Moses: Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18. Jesus brings them to new and heroic proportions.
First Reading: Rt 1:1, 3-6, 14-16, 22
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Gospel: Matthew 22:34-40
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”