Love Leads the Way (Book of Ruth)
Nearly 2000 years ago, the Roman authorities did all they could to keep local populations compliant. The Pax Romana, the Roman Peace included several strategies: excellent transportation networks to quickly move soldiers; buy the support of the indigenous leadership such as the Herods in Judea by allowing them to function in a junior capacity; permit indigenous religions such as Judaism as long as they kept to the Roman line; heavy demands that kept locals weak and tired; and the brutal use of force when necessary to intimidate local populations, such as slaughtering Galileans in a market place when some Zealots attacked a group of Roman soldiers. The leadership of the Temple worked hard at keeping the Jewish people under their thumb with a dazzling variety of laws, temple guards, and their own court system. When an itinerant preacher came along helping people see beyond their current reality to what could be, the temple leaders and the Roman leaders thought more violence in the form of the public execution of this itinerant preacher would serve to protect the status quo for both of them. And they were wrong.
The love promoted by Jesus formed a community that outlasted the temple and the Roman Empire. Love and human dignity are consistently underestimated by oppressive leadership. While violence, coercion, and bribes of wealth, security or status may keep most of the people in line for a while, they eventually fail. People get tired of coercion and threats and come to appreciate the saying that a brave man dies once, but a coward dies a thousand deaths. The alienation of relationships and loss of respect for self lead many people to quit accepting bribes.
Today we commemorate the sacrifice made by thousands of people in the service of their country over the past 98 years, a sacrifice that continues to be made in places like Afghanistan. For most civilians, November 11, at 11:00 am in 1918 was a cause to celebrate. For the soldiers on the scene, it was time to breathe a sigh of relief that they were still alive: exhausted in every way, but still alive.
There are many causes of war and these causes are fed by fear, greed, guilt, anger, and ignorance with a healthy dose of arrogance. The way to biblical peace, peace where all have enough, where all have security of person, where all live in a supportive net of relationships is built on love, agape love, the love of giving of oneself for another. This love is the loving kindness described by the word hessed, the word used by Naomi to describe Ruth`s kindness to her. This is the love that makes all things possible, and it is embedded in creation. In the study of Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos, this idea will be explored over the next few months.
In the story of Ruth, we learn how Ruth`s love for Naomi brought her to Bethlehem. As Naomi became aware of her relative`s attraction to Ruth, she guided Ruth in the evolution of the romance between Boaz and Ruth. In that story is a reminder of God`s love for all people in the practice of gleaning. As a tool to ensure all have the opportunity to have enough to live, the society of the day followed the rule of gleaning. Landowners could only keep what their harvesters succeeded in reaping on their first pass through a field. The grain that was spilled and the grain growing on the edge of the field was left for the landless to harvest.
Out of the love that Boaz and Ruth had for each other, a son named Obed is born, the grandfather of David. In David`s story his love for God is reflected in his songs and poetry, many of which became part of the Psalms.
A magical time in the first Great War was a Christmas Eve when soldiers on both sides refused to shoot at each other. They joined in singing hymns, playing games and sharing alcoholic beverages. The love in our Christmas story overcame for a few hours the anger, hate, and struggle for power that drove thousands of young men to die, to no good end other than national pride and ambition.
For over 50 years, the willingness of Canadian soldiers to put their lives on the line for the cause of peace for other people has marked our Canadian identity. It was out his love for the people of Afghanistan that a Canadian captain made himself vulnerable in order to develop mutually respective relationships.
It was out of love for all people that Martin Luther King took the risks he did, and his courage in challenging the powers of American society contributed to his death.
Norman Bethune`s love for the Chinese people led him to put his life on the line for the sake of those opposed to the brutal dictatorship of Chiang Kai Shek.
Love is the force behind the United Way, Habitat for Humanity, and thousands of other efforts to make this a better world. The story of South Africa, and the story of the Christian church are examples of love overcoming hatred, fear, and greed.
May God`s love for us be with us as our love for others leads the way to a world better for all.