Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Greatest Commandment

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Naomi said, “See now!  Your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her god.  Go back after your sister-in-law!”  But Ruth said, “Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you!  For wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”  Thus it was that Naomi returned with the Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, who accompanied her back from the plateau of Moab.  They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.  (Ruth 1:15-16, 22)

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “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 the first commandment.  The second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-39)

The fatherless and the widow he sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts. 
The Lord shall reign forever;
your God, O Zion, through all generations.  Alleluia.
(Psalm 146:9bc-10)

The Pharisees are back at one of their favorite pastimes in today’s Gospel reading, attempting to trap Jesus into saying something they can use against him.  This time they want him to name the greatest commandment.  Jesus instead tells them that the entire law and the prophets can be summed up very simply:  Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself.  Do those two things and all God’s commandments will be covered.

God doesn’t ask for our love in a vacuum.  First, there is always God’s great love for us.  God hopes we will love him back.    In the first reading, we get a feel for how the God of all the universe is also the God who cares greatly about the nitty-gritty of our everyday lives.

There was a famine in the land which caused Naomi and her husband along with their two sons to leave their home in Bethlehem and go to live in Moab.  Naomi’s husband died at some point, leaving her a widow.  Both sons, who had married Moabite women, also died ten years later.  How alone she must have felt!  She had lost all her immediate family.  She had no grandchildren, just two brokenhearted daughters-in-law.  Naomi found herself in a land that wasn’t hers with no one to take care of her.  She heard one day that back home God had brought the famine to an end.  Naomi decided that she would undertake the journey home. 

Naomi knew it would be best for her sons’ widows to stay where they had family, but Ruth truly loved her mother-in-law.   She said she would go with Naomi, she would become one of Naomi’s people, she would even love and worship the God of Israel!  In this story of human love, we see reflected the type of love God has for all of us   Just as the God Ruth chose to embrace never leaves us, neither would she ever leave this woman whom she had grown to love.  She fulfilled God’s desire that we love one another.

If you have a chance to read the rest of the story, you’ll see that one of the overall messages is that God never meets an outsider.  God’s goodness knows no boundaries, national or otherwise.  Ruth came from people for the most part despised by the Israelites, yet God ultimately arranged for her to become the great-grandmother of King David and, therefore, part of Jesus’ family tree as outlined in Matthew’s Gospel.

This week, reflect on some time in your life when you have felt God’s presence in the nitty gritty of your days, and give thanks.  Then pick one person you know who is lonely or is carrying a heavy burden, and extend the love of God by doing something kind for him or her.

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