Ruth 3-4 and John 15
“All you need is love.” That song, written by John Lennon and sung by the Beatles in June 1967 (during the so-called “summer of love”) was broadcast live and seen by over 400 million viewers in 25 countries at the time. It was a kind of sappy, feel good, hippie anthem/anti-war protest song (this was during the height of the war in Viet Nam).
The late 60’s was a time of radical change in America. Young men were coming back from Viet Nam in body bags and people were burning their draft cards. Desegregation was making strides through Dr. King’s call to non-violent protest and some progress was being made, until Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968 and peaceful protest turned to violent mobs. As the 60’s gave way to the 70’s and 80’s many of the hippies grew up and became yuppies trading their free love, pot and “make love, not war” peace signs for cocaine and dollar signs on Wall Street.
Now we’re in 2021 and the BLM movement tells us that racism is still alive and well. All that love that John Lennon said was all we needed seems to be in short supply these days.
Ruth is an interesting kind of love story that we need to study today. It shows that true love makes sacrifices and takes risks for the benefit of others. After Ruth’s husband dies and her father-in-law dies Ruth is encouraged to go back to her people and find another husband, but she loves her mother-in-law enough to sacrifice doing what is most convenient for her. She goes to a foreign land where she lives a very marginal existence of grabbing the scraps of life. She is a foreign woman without a husband living far from her family. It was a perilous existence full of danger and risk, yet she does it out of love for Naomi.
There are lots of interesting details to the story that no doubt get lost in 3000 years of cultural distance. Kinsmen redeemer is a foreign concept in our society. In ancient Israel there were two things that mattered most- having an heir and having land that belongs to the family and stays in the family for generations. When a man died without leaving behind a male child to continue the family name and inherit the land and care for the women in their old age it was up to the next available unmarried male relative to marry the widow and their child would actually be the heir of the son who died. Many men didn’t like this set up and refused to participate in it. It was a sacrificial act for a man to take on that responsibility for his dead relatives family and legacy.
Boaz was a man of great character. In many ways he could have taken advantage of Ruth’s helplessness and dependency and used her to his advantage. He did not, instead, he looked out for her and her mother-in-law by making sure they received more than enough food. He didn’t take advantage of her sexually, instead, he did what was right and at personal cost he took over the role of the kinsmen redeemer and made Ruth his wife and took care of Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi. He acted in a very loving way toward Ruth and Naomi. Ruth acted in a very loving way toward Naomi. Naomi was protected and cared for. Ruth was protected and cared for. She and Boaz were blessed with a son. That son, Obed was the grandfather to David who later became the King of Israel, and they were ancestors of Jesus.
“All you need is Love.” There’s a lot of love in the story of Ruth. Love really is important, it’s foundational to everything. But love must be rightly understood. It’s more than what we typically think of as love – warm feelings, romantic notions and sappy songs are not what love is about. Love is about commitment and sacrifice, it’s about doing what is hard in order to benefit the person you love. Love is a willingness to take the less easy route. Love is doing the right thing even when it would be easier and less complicated to do the wrong thing.
Jesus takes up this theme of love in John 15. He was about to go to the cross and suffer and die. He is giving a message to his friends and disciples to sustain them through the difficult hours and days ahead. The foundational message he gives them is love: “12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. “
Jesus teaches about love and exhorts them to love and then he shows them what love looks like by sacrificing himself as an offering for the sins of the world, his friends the disciples, and for us as well. This love that Jesus demonstrates is a reflection of God’s love for us that is shown in giving his son, Jesus that we might have eternal life (see John 3:16).
“All you need is love?” Yes, if we mean the kind of love modeled by Ruth and Boaz which ultimately led to Jesus. “All you need is love?” Yes, if we mean the kind of love modeled by Jesus who gave his life for our sins and by God who gave His only begotten son for our salvation. Love is not just peace signs and romantic songs- it’s commitment and sacrifice and placing the needs of others ahead of our wants and desires. Who and how can you and I love today?