There is a reading from the book of Ruth that is popular at weddings. Ruth said: “Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live I will live. Your people shall be my people and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. We will be together forever and your love will be a gift of our love.”
Young brides and grooms see these sentences as a statement of the depth of love they feel for one another and their desire to be together forever. But romantic as these words sound, Ruth spoke those words not to her husband to be but to her mother-in-law, Naomi.
During a famine in Israel, Naomi and her husband and two sons moved to Moab where both sons married Moabite women. Tragically the husband and two sons died and Naomi was left a widow with two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth.
In those days there were no social services so widows were destitute. Naomi to spare her daughters-in-law told them to return to their Moabite parents. After some pleading Orpah did but Ruth refused to leave her mother-in-law destitute and promised “Wherever you go, I will go...” That was her beauty, her generous, self-sacrificing love. Ruth and her mother-in-law soon returned to Bethlehem, Naomi’s home place. There they were among Bethlehem’s poorest. So Ruth, along with the other poor women, went each day to the fields to garner what was left after the harvesters had gone through the field. It was there that the owner of the field, Boaz met her and was impressed not only by her beauty but by her generous, loyal character and she became the great-grandmother of King David and ancestor of Jesus.
There is a powerful and important message in this reading for every bride and groom. Many people feel that the strength of their love is measured by the intensity of the feeling they have for one another. But love is seamless. You cannot love just one person to the exclusion of others. Love that doesn’t include others but is characterised by passionate exclusivity eventually turns sour and claustrophobic. For the young couple the best guarantee of their married love is their capacity to love others. It is the same for all of us. The real beauty and guarantee of our love is the same as Ruth’s, our ability to love those in need and especially the foreigner and the stranger.
Love is seamless and to exclude some undermines the quality of all our love. You cannot love just your friends and family, or fellow Australians or fellow Christians. Real love must reach out to all, especially disliked and victimised minorities. Today, when many fear and therefore cannot love and welcome refugees and still have problems with aboriginal reconciliation, it is worth meditating on the story of Ruth and Naomi. It is an ancient story with contemporary relevance, the story of poverty and forced migration and of generous, beautiful and true love. “Your people shall be my people.”
Fr Noel Connolly SSC
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