Elimelech, fidelity, Hebrew Scriptures, Matthew, Naomi, Orpah, relationship, Ruth, The Sophia Center for Spirituality
Today is one of those times when inspiration is very easy to come by, just from about five minutes with the Scripture texts from the daily lectionary. See if you find the story from the Hebrew Scriptures consonant with the Christian gospel. To me it’s a “no brainer” with a most important shared theme.
First we have the story of a time of famine when Elimelech and his wife Naomi moved with their two sons from Bethlehem of Judah to the plateau of Moab. Fast forward ten years and learn that Elimelech and his two sons have died. Naomi is left with two Moabite daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, (sound familiar?) when she learns that the famine is over in her native land and she decides to go home. Custom would allow her daughters-in-law to stay in their homeland and possibly marry again. When Naomi makes ready to return to Judah the Scriptures say that Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye, but Ruth stayed with her. When Naomi protests, urging Ruth to stay with her own people in her own land, we have the famous response of Ruth who says: Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you! For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people and your God, my God. And so it was recorded in the Book of Ruth.
Today’s gospel is similarly familiar. When Jesus is asked (MT 22:34-40) which commandment in the Law is the greatest he responds with what we know (and Jesus had learned in his youth) as “the Great Commandment.” You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.
So it seems that today is a good day to reflect on the seamlessness of the two statements of Jesus, comprising our most essential work in life. How well am I loving God as I love my neighbor and do I see love of neighbor as constitutive of my love for God? Ruth is an icon of fidelity to family – even an inherited family – and it seems that her love of her mother-in-law encompasses all the relationships that Naomi has held in her heart during her sojourn in Moab, including her willingness to embrace Naomi’s deepest spiritual beliefs. Am I willing to let go of my needs and wants and maybe even some cherished practices in service to relationship? Will I allow myself to be changed by love – even to a deeper relationship with God?