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.
He is happy who is helped by Jacob's God,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who alone made heaven and earth,
the seas and all they contain. (R./)
It is he who keeps faith for ever,
who is just to those who are oppressed.
It is he who gives bread to the hungry,
the Lord, who sets prisoners free. (R./)
It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind,
who raises up those who are bowed down,
the Lord, who protects the stranger
and upholds the widow and orphan. (R./)
It is the Lord who loves the just
but thwarts the path of the wicked.
The Lord will reign for ever,
Zion's God, from age to age. (R./)
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus 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."
In Ruth's story, we see how a foreign woman was welcomed into the family of Israel. Her love-story blends nicely with Our Lord's teaching, identifying the core of God's will as the supreme law of love. The Book of Ruth has served many purposes. Its earliest form may come from David's time, as a text to support his legitimacy as king, despite his partly foreign ancestry. In postexilic times Ruth served as an example of harmony between Jews and foreigners. In time, her story was linked with the feast of Pentecost and wheat harvest. The book tells a lovely story, interweaving personal loss with a rebirth of hope, and highlights the mutual love of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Ruth is drawn by affection for Naomi to join her faith, "Wherever you go I will go .. your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God too."
Jesus starts with the love of God and links it to love of neighbour; in Ruth we see the reverse. Starting from loyalty to Naomi she learns to love the God of Israel. Elsewhere, the Bible links natural neighbourly love with divine love. We are able to love, because God first loved us. Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem as widows, virtual paupers. Often in salvation history God revives people on the verge of death: from slavery in Egypt, from near conquest by the Philistines, from Babylonian exile. We trust in God's power to create hope where all hope seemed lost.
Let's look at Jesus' reply to the lawyer's question. First the lawyer intends to trip him up, but in simple, moving words Jesus declares the greatest 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 ideals already existed in the Torah of Moses, but Jesus puts them at the very centre of his vision for life.
The question put by the scribe in today's gospel was confrontational, for it was asked to test Jesus. The question, "Which is the greatest commandment in the law?" was meant to trip him up. The scribe hoped Jesus would give an answer that would show him up in a bad light. But the answer went beyone what was asked. Jesus not only stated the greatest commandment but the second greatest as well. The first is a quotation from the Book of Deuteronomy, that God is to be loved with all one's being, heart, mind and soul. No creature, not matter how noble, is to be loved in this way. The second commandment, to love our neighbour as ourselves, is a quotation from the book of Leviticus.
God must come first, but there is no true love of God without love of neighbour. We cannot claim to be honouring God if we dishonour another human being in any way, no matter how different he or she might be from us. Jesus brings together these two commandments from different parts of the Bible, as nobody else had done. He shows us very clearly that the way to God always passes through other people. Elsewhere in Matthew's gospel Jesus identifies with our neighbour, especially the vulnerable and broken neighbour. To that extent the way to God always passes through Jesus himself.