What does love require of us once we commit ourselves to another? What exactly happens in the wake of love’s promise? The second chapter of Ruth tells us the answer: love gets to work, love serves.
On the heels of Naomi’s depressing proclamation at the end of Chapter 1, Ruth sets about the arduous and mundane work of love. There was a provision in Leviticus 19:9 that allowed foreigners or the destitute to reap gleanings from the harvest of local croplands. This was a way for Israel to feed the least of those among them. The work of reaping was grueling. The men would do the most physically taxing elements such as crouching down and cutting bunches of wheat with heavy stone sickle. The women would follow them, gathering the healthy stalks from the ground. However, our text tells us that Ruth does all the work of reaping herself. As Paul Miller says, this is the “face of hesed. The ego killer.” Ruth shows us that hesed does not look to fairness, motivations, or even to the emotional state of others. Hesed serves.
And every act of love is an act of vulnerability because love always risks. C.S Lewis said, "To love at all is to be vulnerable.” This was certainly true for Ruth. As a foreigner and a woman, Ruth was the most vulnerable member of society. The time of the Judges was a time where “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” It was a time of lawless chaos marked by violence to women. Into this context, Ruth risks everything to serve Naomi. She did not know whose field she was reaping. She did not know the other workers. She had no guarantees of safety or protection. Anyone at any moment could have taken her, her gleanings, even her life. Without the protection of a man or patron, she worked on the edge of a knife. Ruth shows us that hesed risks.
Ruth stands as an example of how hesed calls us to cruciform love. Cruciform love is the true ego killer. It is the death of self for others. It is love that serves the most undeserving among us— even our enemies. Consider Phillippians 2:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
The cruciform love of God serves others, even unto death. Nothing can stop a love like this. It loves in spite of death. It loves through death. One of the gifts of Ruth’s story is that it reminds us we are called to love like God loves. In both the mundane and spectacular, we are invited to partner with God in his work of redeeming the world through love. It is a love that serves and risks all for the sake of others. And it is a love that, one day, will renew all things.
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Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz.
2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.”
Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” 3 So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.
4 Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”
“The Lord bless you!” they answered.
5 Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?”
6 The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.”