But what does this look like, this loving God and loving others?
For that we turn to a peculiar and challenging story. In Israel, in the 1200 BCs, there was a loose awareness of being a nation. The boundaries were fluid. There was no king. Instead, there were judges, people who would provide wisdom to resolve conflicts. They were leaders who God would call to step up if other countries were being too destructive.
At some point in this period, food ran out in Israel. There was a drought, there were shortages. And as people do now, some families from Israel traveled to other countries for the sake of the safety of their families. Elimelek and Naomi were one of those families. They had two sons, probably between 6 and 12 years old. They needed food. They probably had loose family ties in Israel.
They went to Moab. The Moabites had been enemies of Israel generations before. But now, tensions were less, opportunities to eat were better. And so Elimelek and Naomi settled there.
Things were better for food, but not for the family. Elimelek dies, leaving Naomi a widow. Her sons get married to Moabite women, becoming part of the community, becoming part of a caring system. Until the sons died, too. Leaving three widows to take care of themselves.
It was hard. Naomi had no blood relatives in the country. The daughters-in-law had no children. And then Naomi heard that things were better at home. So she decided to go back. The girls considered following, but Naomi stops them. She doesn’t want them to do what she did, to go to a place where they didn’t belong, to go to a place where there were no roots. She wanted them to stay home.
But Ruth. Ruth decides to make a change. Ruth decides to love Naomi and her God with all her heart and all her soul and all her mind and all her strength. She leaves Moab. She leaves her family irrevocably. She devotes herself to Naomi and her God.
As we see as we read the rest of Ruth, her life isn’t an easy life. She has to continue to take steps of living and of moving into the culture. But she will end up with a legacy that takes us back to the beginning of the story.
Ruth’s great-grandson is David, the king of Israel, the predecessor of Jesus. Jesus is a king, a high priest, an intercessor, a healer, a fulfillment of the prophecies.
But at this moment in the story, none of that is known to Ruth. She simply knows that she will love God completely. And that she will love her mother-in-law completely, too.
That’s what it looks like to live the great commandment. It’s what many of us do regularly. We may be doing better than we think. But now that we know what to do, what’s best next, we can ignore what distracts and can move more to what matters.