“Hesed Among Other Loves”
Ruth 3 (Part 2)
October 4, 2020
Faith Presbyterian Church – Morning Service
This morning we turn back to the Book of Ruth, looking at chapter three for a second time.
To give a re-cap: In Ruth chapter one, Elimelech and Naomi left the Promised Land with their two sons to travel to Moab during a famine, each displaying a lack of faith in different ways.
Elimelech and his sons died, leaving behind Naomi and the widows of her sons: Orpah and Ruth. When food was again more plentiful in Bethlehem, Naomi decided to return home. Orpah stayed behind in Moab, but Ruth insisted on going to Bethlehem with Naomi, pledging herself both to Naomi and to the Lord – to Yahweh, the God of Israel.
In chapter two, Ruth and Naomi are living together, and Ruth goes out to glean – to harvest from the edges and remains of the fields of landowners, as the Law of Moses permitted. By God’s providence Ruth came to the field of Boaz, who treated her with extraordinary and personal grace, providing for her far beyond what would have been expected.
Boaz, we also learn, is a close relative to Elimelech, and was therefore a possible redeemer of his household – one who could, among other things, marry a widow from Elimelech’s family in order to continue the family name and heritage.
God has provided food for Naomi and Ruth. But there are still needs: the need for a husband for Ruth, the need for an heir for Naomi, and the need for a home for them both. A husband, an heir, and a home. [Lusk, 54]
In our first sermon on Ruth chapter three we focused on the picture that we get here of the Lord’s covenantal care of his people, pictured in and through Boaz. This morning we will be focusing on the kind of love that is on display in this chapter.
And so, with that in mind, we come to Ruth chapter three.
Please listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this morning.
3:1 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? 2 Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. 3 Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” 5 And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”
6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. 7 And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” 10 And he said, “May you be blessed by Yahweh, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. 12 And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. 13 Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as Yahweh lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.”
14 So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 And he said, “Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city. 16 And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did you fare, my daughter?” Then she told her all that the man had done for her, 17 saying, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said to me, ‘You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’” 18 She replied, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.”
This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25]
Let’s pray …
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION:
Lord, your word is a lamp to our feet
and a light to our path.
And we, as your people, have committed ourselves
to keep your righteous commandments.
In the trials we face,
we ask you, Lord, to give us life according to your word.
As you have accepted our praises this morning,
so now teach us the way you would have us to go.
Your testimonies are our heritage forever,
for they are the joy of our hearts.
Incline our hearts to perform your statutes
forever, to the end.
This we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.
[Based on Psalm 119:105-108, 111-112]
This morning, as we return to Ruth chapter three, I want to focus on the kind of love we find here – how it works and how it plays out.
And to do that I want to begin by considering two ways I think we can mis-read the love at work in Ruth chapter three.
READING RUTH IN THE GENRE OF PLATO’S EROS:
The first way we can misread this chapter is to read it through the lens of Plato’s eros.
Now, what do I mean by that?
We tend to think of eros more narrowly in terms of what is romantic or erotic. And while that is included in what I have in mind here, I’m also thinking of something more broad. Plato might not like it, but I’ve called this “Plato’s eros” to focus on the pattern of eros that Plato discusses, regardless of its object.
For Plato, eros is a love driven by lack, and desire. It is a love that sees something it does not possess, desires to have it, and then seeks to acquire it. The fundamental nature of eros is desire, and its goal is to acquire what it desires for itself. [Nygren, 175-181]
This desire can be seen as overpowering – even “intoxicating,” as we often describe the love of romantic love. [Benedict VXI]
And there’s two ways to read this chapter through the lens of desire – the lens of eros.
One is in terms of Ruth and Boaz.
In this reading we see the story of chapter three driven by the romantic desire of Ruth and Boaz. We think of Ruth and Boaz having fallen in love over the period of the barley harvest, but unsure how to proceed. Naomi picks up on this and hatches a plan for a romantic, and maybe even sexually seductive scene on the threshing floor between Ruth and Boaz, where their longing for one another is the primary motive for what transpires.
That’s one way to read the chapter with Plato’s eros – with desire – as the driving force. It’s the more romantic reading.
There is another, more cynical reading that is possible, which sees Naomi’s desire as the driving force. Here Naomi’s desire for an heir and the restoration of her household and her land is what drives the action forward. Naomi commands Ruth to be an instrument toward that end, and seeks to sexually entrap Boaz in order to get what she wants.
Those are two very different readings, but in both cases, what drives the story is one or more people desiring to acquire something for themselves, and then doing what they see as necessary to get it.
And neither reading really fits with the text as we have it.
Consider first the reading that Naomi’s desire to acquire a heritage is what’s driving the story.
A number of things make this implausible.
First of all, it doesn’t fit with Naomi’s attitude towards Ruth in chapter one, where despite all of Naomi’s flaws, she was, far from trying to use Ruth, trying to free Ruth from any obligations to her.
Second, we also saw in chapter one that Ruth is very willing to refuse Naomi’s commands, making it implausible to see Ruth as Naomi’s passive instrument in this chapter.
Third, Ruth is actually quite gutsy in this chapter. In verse nine Ruth not only goes beyond Naomi’s instructions – since Naomi told her to let Boaz tell her what to do – but Ruth doesn’t even speak a humble request to Boaz, she gives him a bold command, telling him, not asking him, to take her as his wife. This was a somewhat audacious way for her to approach Boaz in their cultural setting. [Miller, 124; cf. Block, 180]
All of that is to say that it’s not possible to read this chapter with Ruth as a thoughtless pawn in Naomi’s schemes.
Instead, we should see Naomi’s words in verse one as sincere: Naomi is primarily concerned with seeking rest for Ruth, not with seeking something for herself.
That leaves us with the other desire-driven reading, which sees Ruth and Boaz’s desire for one another as the driving force of this chapter.
But the fact is that the details of the chapter once more undermine such a reading.
First of all, we see that Ruth’s concern for Naomi is driving her action throughout the chapter.
Ruth is not seeking to seduce Boaz. She is approaching him with a marriage proposal, and actually a very specific kind of marriage proposal.
In verse nine, Ruth identifies Boaz as a redeemer. She then calls on him to take the symbolic action that would constitute marriage – extending the edge of his garment over her. Ruth is asking Boaz for a levirate marriage – a kind of marriage that includes an obligation for Boaz to redeem Naomi’s land and provide an heir for Naomi’s household, through his marriage to Ruth. [Lusk, 55-56]
And Boaz understands that. He says to Ruth “You have made this last kindness [this last hesed] greater than the first.” What is the first kindness – the first act of hesed – that Boaz is referring to? Well, he told us in chapter two: it’s Ruth’s hesed to Naomi in traveling to Bethlehem with her. Boaz is not saying here in verse ten that with this proposal Ruth has shown kindness to him. He is saying that with this proposal Ruth has shown kindness to Naomi. It is that Ruth has decided to marry someone who is a legal redeemer and who can therefore serve not only as Ruth’s husband, but as one who will restore Naomi’s house and provide Naomi with an heir. [Lusk, 58]
Boaz goes on to say: “you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich.” By saying this, Boaz is essentially recognizing that Ruth has put her concern for Naomi over and above her own desire for physical beauty, physical strength, or material wealth in a husband. [Miller, 125]
She has instead sought a “redeemer.” But what is a “redeemer”? [Lusk, 125-142 for what follows]
The word used in Hebrew is a goel. It is translated here as a “redeemer” and is also sometimes translated as a “kinsman-redeemer.”
According to Leviticus 25 [v.48-49], a kinsman-redeemer was a close blood relative, and we see in the Book of Ruth that some order of succession was used in practice to determine who this responsibility fell to.
At core, a goel – a kinsman-redeemer – was to be one who had the wealth, strength, or ability needed to advocate for someone lacking that wealth, strength, or ability.
But as one writer puts it: “The critical difference between what a goel does and how we normally help people is the level of ownership. It is relatively easy to give advice or tell people where they can get help, but a goel owns the problem.” [Miller, 111]
A kinsman-redeemer – a goel – had five primary responsibilities in the Old Testament Law. First, they were called on to ransom a relative who sold themselves into slavery. Second, they were to seek and carry out justice for a relative who had been victimized by someone. Third, they were to gain back a relative’s land inheritance within the Promised Land if, for some reason, the relative had to forfeit it. Fourth, they were to serve as a sort of defense counsel in a dispute that came up surrounding a relative. And fifth, the kinsman-redeemer had the responsibility to play the role of a levir in a levirate marriage.
A levirate marriage came up in situations where a man married, and then died without a son. In the ancient world a son would inherit the family land allotment, provide for his mother, and continue the family name. In a situation without a male heir, the widow could be left vulnerable, the family inheritance could be jeopardized, and the family name could be cut off.
The solution was that the deceased man’s brother was called on to marry his brother’s widow. The first son born to them would carry on the first husband’s name, receive the first husband’s inheritance, and be a provider for the mother later on in life if necessary. Other children born would be counted as the children of the second marriage.
This is a practice that, frankly, can seem bizarre to us. But as foreign as it is to us, we need to appreciate that at its core, it was a system that obligated those with more power to use that power to serve the needs of those with much less power.
Of course there are all sorts of exceptions to when and how this played out. Naomi’s comments in chapter one as well as some of the specific wording found in Deuteronomy 25 [v.5] implies that when there was a drastic age difference between brothers, there was not an expectation that a levirate marriage would be sought. While there is debate on the issue, the fact that the Bible uniformly depicts polygamy negatively, and that the regulations in Deuteronomy 25:5 refers specifically to a brother who had been dwelling with the now deceased brother, would all be evidence that the calling went to the next unmarried male relative, rather than imposing a calling to polygamy.
And it is also clear that either party was legally able to refuse such a marriage. It was something one might be called on to do, but was not legally compelled to do. Deuteronomy 25 addresses the fact that the man might refuse such a marriage, and comments by both Naomi [1:9] and Boaz [3:10] assume that Ruth was free to marry whomever she chose.
We may be struck by how odd this would be for the woman – and understandably so – but what we need to appreciate is that in the ancient world, this was a practice to protect her and the life she began with her first husband, while also starting a new household with her new husband.
But on the side of the kinsman-redeemer, there was no real personal benefit to him. This is a sacrifice he would be called to, on behalf of the widow of a deceased relative. Like other obligations of a kinsman-redeemer, this is a case where a man with more wealth, power, or position, was called on to sacrificially use what he had, to own the problems and bear the debts of someone who had much less wealth, power, or prestige than he did.
And that is what Ruth is asking Boaz to do here. Boaz is not Elimelech’s brother, but Ruth believes he is next in the order of succession to serve as a goel – as a kinsman-redeemer. And so Ruth is asking Boaz not just to marry her, but to carry out those duties. That would mean purchasing the land inheritance of Naomi – not for himself, but for Naomi’s legal descendants. It would also mean that their first son, while raised in their household, would legally be considered the son of Ruth’s first husband, and the heir of Naomi’s deceased husband, Elimelech.
In all of that we see what Ruth is seeking from Boaz, and that the driving force for Ruth is not primarily her own desire, but to provide these things for Naomi.
Naomi is motivated by concern for Ruth. Ruth is motivated by concern for Naomi. But in the details of this encounter we see that Ruth and Naomi are also both motivated by a concern for Boaz.
They know that what they’re asking for is big. And it’s complicated by the question of how to ask for it.
They could, of course, ask him publicly, with witnesses around. This would be almost inevitable if they approached him, for neither Ruth nor Naomi would normally get a private audience with a man like Boaz.
But to ask him in that way, when others would hear or know of it, would be to pressure him to say yes, and to mark him with some level of public shame if he said no.
If Ruth had a father or brother available, then the father or brother could approach Boaz privately, but she does not.
And so, Naomi comes up with a way where Ruth can ask in secret, and Boaz can decline without being publicly shamed. By approaching Boaz at night, at the threshing floor, and after everyone has gone to sleep, Naomi and Ruth provide a way where Boaz could have the freedom to decline discretely. Naomi and Ruth are concerned to protect Boaz even as they make their appeal to him. [Miller, 119-120]
That said, we should note that the appeal itself is, in some ways, for Boaz’s good – for his spiritual good.
Ruth is, in a sense, serving Boaz by calling him to an act of mercy that the law of God would call him to. And again, in this way Ruth is acting once more as an anti-Moabitess. If you remember, back in Numbers 25, the Moabite women seduced many of the Israelite men away from obeying Yahweh. But now Ruth, a Moabitess, is calling Boaz to fulfill the law of Yahweh. She is doing this for his good as well. [Lusk, 57-58]
And Boaz clearly understands all of this. Boaz does not respond to Ruth as if this is simply a sexual proposition, or just a romantic proposal for marriage – he knows God’s law, so he knows what she is asking for, and he identifies in verse ten that what has motivated Ruth is hesed love for Naomi.
And then he answers her request in verse eleven by saying: “I will do all that you say.” Which is a striking response. Boaz, though he is the one with all the power, position, and wealth here, is making himself Ruth’s servant. [Miller, 126]
This is so much the case that later on Naomi is confident that Boaz will not rest until he has fulfilled his responsibilities. Boaz will not rest until he finds rest for Ruth and Naomi.
Nonetheless, in verse twelve, an unexpected twist enters the story. [Lusk, 59]
What stops Boaz from agreeing right then and there is that another man is actually ahead of him in the order of succession for a kinsman-redeemer. Another is the rightful next-in-line to redeem Naomi and her land. That means that a marriage between Ruth and Boaz could jeopardize Naomi’s redemption. [Miller, 127]
And once again we should see how concern for someone else – how concern for Naomi – comes before personal desire here. As one commentator puts it, Boaz does not say “Look, this is a marriage made in heaven. So no matter what happens, we’re going to make this work.” [Miller, 127] Both Ruth and Boaz may desire that, but each is putting something else above their own desires.
And so, Boaz points out that this closer kinsman-redeemer must be approached first. He asks Ruth to lie down until morning, carefully using a nonsexual word which means “lodge.” The narrator is making it clear to us that they remained chaste that evening. [Miller, 128]
Once again, what drives their actions here is not their desire, but their concern to care for others, in accordance with God’s law. As one commentator puts it: “It is clear that Boaz wants to redeem Ruth, but obeying the law is even more important to him. He practices self-discipline. He puts obedience above his romantic interests.” [Lusk, 60]
Eros – the love of desire – is often treated as supreme in our culture. It is treated as something sacred, something which other duties cannot be allowed to challenge. When someone in our culture speaks of “Love conquering all,” or love “winning” in the end, it is often this sort of love – this sort of romantic desire – that they are referring to. And we are all shaped by that cultural tendency, in one way or another.
Of course many will recognize that this line of thinking was often employed in public discourse in support of same-sex marriage, but it scarcely began there and is certainly not limited to that subject. The same line of thinking operates in countless books, movies, and songs in our culture that tell us that eros – the romantic love of desire – cannot be stopped, and all other obligations must be secondary to it.
It is this way of thinking that lies behind many affairs and divorces – not only of non-Christians, but of professing Christians as well. It is this way of thinking that has led many Christian youth to conclude that premarital sex must be acceptable if they really love each other.
The assumption that eros – the love of desire – is supreme is everywhere in our culture.
But it’s not in Ruth chapter three. Something else is the driving force here.
READING RUTH IN THE GENRE OF KANT’S DUTY:
So, Ruth chapter three is not primarily about Plato’s eros.
Once we see that, the next temptation we face is to swing in the other direction and misread this chapter in the opposite way: to read this chapter through the lens of Immanuel Kant’s idea of duty, or altruism.
What do I mean by that?
Eighteenth-century philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that our desires determined the moral value of our actions, but in a way very different from Plato. For Kant, when someone did something good out of a genuine desire to help them – to see them made happy and their situation improved – such deeds, according to Kant, lacked moral merit. Instead, actions that had real moral worth were those performed out of a sense of duty and not out of any internal desire to perform them or see their positive outcome. In other words, an act of moral worth is when you do what you do because you know it is right, not because of any desire you have or any joy you receive from seeing the other person blessed. [Kraut]
This is a lens that sees real moral value in cold obedience, with a stoic sense of duty, and is suspicious of the moral value of any good deed that flows out of one’s emotions or desires.
Later philosophers took this so far as to doubt whether a morally valuable gift was even possible, since if the giver even imagined the other person receiving the gift with satisfaction, it would undo the moral value of giving the gift in the first place. [Reynolds]
We might laugh at such philosophical knots, but this way of thinking is very common for Christians. Suspicious of desire, or suspicious of emotions, we can highly value stoic sacrificial duty in a way that is maybe more shaped by Immanuel Kant than it is by the Bible.
And so we can then re-read Ruth chapter three as driven by cold duty. Naomi feels a sense of duty to Ruth and so sends her to Boaz. Ruth and Boaz have no interest in each other, but purely out of duty they go through these steps with one another on the noble quest of helping Naomi. The text quickly becomes stilted and cold.
But the fact is that that doesn’t work either. Because the text is not stilted and cold. There is desire here.
First of all, it is difficult or impossible to read the way that Ruth and Boaz praise one another without seeing warmth, and admiration, and some form of personal attraction there.
Secondly, while sexual desire is not the primary driving force in this chapter, the chapter is not non-sexual.
Look at verses three and four. Though lost on us, in Hebrew these verses are filled with sexual double-meanings.
Naomi sends Ruth to meet Boaz on the threshing floor – but in the ancient world the threshing floor is often associated with sexual encounters.
Naomi tells Ruth to uncover Boaz’s feet. In Hebrew, “uncovering” another can be a way of referring to sexual union, and “feet” can be a euphemism for the male sexual organ.
Naomi tells Ruth to “lie down” – which is another Hebrew euphemism for sexual union.
And she tells Ruth that Boaz will “know” what to do – “to know” is yet another Hebrew euphemism for sexual union. [Miller, 121]
Now, the point of all of that is not that Naomi is telling Ruth to seduce Boaz or that this is all euphemistic code for something more provocative – Ruth follows the literal instructions, not the euphemistic ones. The point is that the instructions are given and recorded for us in such a way as to indicate that this is not a cold and sterile interaction about household redemption. This is a highly sexually charged interaction, which Naomi tells Ruth to make herself attractive for. [Miller, 122]
Desire is present here – and it is treated as a good thing, not a contradiction to more noble loves or duties.
Romantic and erotic desire are not the dominant forces of this chapter, that doesn’t mean they’re not present or important here. The author never denies that Ruth and Boaz desire one another, but tells the story in a way that emphasize that those desires are not supreme here – they are not the ultimate driving force. Ruth chapter three is not primarily about eros – it is primarily about hesed.
READING RUTH IN THE GENRE OF BIBLICAL LOVE:
And realizing that helps us see some of the depth of hesed and the complexity of biblical love.
We tend to separate out different aspects of love.
In a novel I’ve been reading with some fantastical elements, one man, from another world is asking two people from our world about the kind of stories we tell in our culture.
They explain genres to the man from another world. “In our world,” they say, “you got your mystery and suspense stories … your science fiction stories … your Westerns … your fairy tales.”
The man from another world thinks and then asks: “Do people in your world always want only one story-flavor at a time? Only one taste in their mouths?”
“I guess that’s close enough.” They answer.
“Does no one eat stew?” the man from another world asks.
“Sometimes at supper, I guess,” they reply, “but when it comes to entertainment we do tend to stick with one flavor at a time, and don’t let any one thing touch another thing on your plate. Although it sounds kinda boring when you put it that way.” [King, 40-41]
Love stories in our culture can be a bit like this. Some are driven by desire – by eros. Others are driven by a sense of duty: duty to another, or duty to family, or duty to community. We rarely mix the two. And if both aspects show up in a story, often duty to others is set in opposition to romantic love.
But biblical love is more complex than the stories we tend to tell.
First of all, desire is part of biblical love.
We see this, of course, in marital love. Emotional longing, romantic desire, sexual attraction – these are all things God has created, and as such, they are good.
And desire is not limited to romantic love. We enjoy being with and we desire to be with our children or our parents, with our family, with our friends, with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our desire to be with others is not a bad thing but part of how we are made!
And part of how we image God. For God himself has desire for those he loves. Zephaniah 3:17 says: “Yahweh your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
That is not the language of cold duty – it is a language of the joy God has in possessing his people.
The author of Hebrews also tells us that it was “for the joy that was set before him” that Jesus Christ endured the cross. [Heb. 12:2]
Desire and enjoyment are not contrary to biblical love, they are part of it. With two key qualifications.
First, our desires need to be rightly ordered.
We tend to order our desires by how strongly we feel them in the moment. But we are called on to order them in terms of their true value, not their felt value in the moment. That night on the threshing floor Ruth and Boaz may have felt desire for one another much more strongly than they felt their desire to serve a poor widow – but they valued their desire to help widowed Naomi first, even when they felt it less.
In the same way, we may feel the desire for one thing more strongly than another in a moment, but we are called on to order our desires as God calls us to in his word, placing our desire to obey him above all other desires, no matter how little we feel it in a particular moment.
Second, biblical love calls on us to love rightly, even when the feeling and desire to do so is absent.
As one writer puts it: “When feelings are the standard, we are left adrift on a turbulent sea. Every good feeling becomes a new path, so we become good at starting to love, but bad at finishing. Soon we are lost and alone in a maze of relationships.” [Miller, 25]
But biblical love and hesed love are bigger than that: “Hesed is a stubborn love.” [Miller, 24]
In fact, biblical love will desire the good of others and the glory of God so highly that it will be willing to put our desires for ourselves to death if necessary.
But even that kind of death to ourselves is not a cold and sterile act of duty. It is a sacrificial act that desires to see resurrection. Sacrifice is often at the heart of biblical love. Which means death, in some form, is often at the heart of biblical love. But it is death we always embrace in the eager expectation that God will bring from it resurrection. [Miller, 27, 107]
Desire to see and experience God’s resurrection work in our own hearts and lives, and in the hearts and lives of others, is to be what drives our willingness to put other, lesser desires to death.
And so biblical love is not cold, but filled with a warm, eager expectation of what God will do with our sacrifices, whether in this life or in the next one.
And because of this, biblical love resists the temptation to either dramatic anger or to “low-level bitterness” towards those we make sacrifices for. [Miller, 50]
We can easily imagine a bitter version of Ruth – annoyed at Naomi for the ways she has slighted her, angry at God for the situation she is in, and only grudgingly accepting Boaz’s help while resenting his wealth and security. [Miller, 92]
But biblical love is not bitter. It delights in doing good because it trusts that God will bring something from the good we do, whether we can see it or not.
It’s this kind of love that allows the Apostle Paul to say to the Philippians: “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.”
“Even if I am to be poured out.” It reminds me of a scene in a novel in which a character describes an experience by saying that it is “unpleasantly like being drunk.” His friend asks: “What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?” The first replies: “You ask a glass of water.” [Adams, 41]
Being “poured out” – that image Paul uses – sounds unpleasant. So how can Paul say he “rejoices” and “is glad” in it? Because Paul is looking ahead to the resurrection work that God will do through his sacrifice. He knows that that is the greatest thing that he desires. And so he can endure the pain of sacrificial love for the sake of that greater good he desires, even though it is unpleasant in the moment.
That is Biblical love. It is not Plato’s love of desire, or Kant’s love of cold duty. Instead, it is the love that desires, but is not driven by the whims of our greatest desires in the moment. It is love that rightly orders our desires, and is willing to sacrifice our lower desires for higher ones.
It is a love that can delight in sacrificial loving, and that can enjoy receiving God’s good gifts without being enslaved to God’s good gifts.
This is the love we are to strive for. This is the love we are to seek to live out.
And when we fail – and we will fail – we are to remember that we are called on not only to show biblical love like a kinsman-redeemer, but to receive biblical love from a kinsman-redeemer.
For every goel – every kinsman-redeemer – points us to the ultimate kinsman-redeemer: to Jesus Christ himself. [Lusk, 125]
Humanity’s first “husband,” Adam, embraced rebellion and then received death. In response, God sent a redeemer. Actually, God did more than that. God himself came in the flesh. God himself took on humanity, and became our kinsman, so that he might be our kinsman-redeemer. [Lusk, 130]
He has performed for us all that a kinsman-redeemer was to perform. He has shed his blood to purchase us back from slavery to sin and death. He has defeated sin, Satan, and death – our greatest enemies. He has recovered our inheritance, he is our advocate in heaven, and he is growing and nurturing a new humanity in his family the Church. [Lusk, 131-133]
He is at work in us, making us more like him – helping us to live lives of biblical love that we never could on our own. And he is there to own and to pay our debt when we fall short.
And so, as we struggle to love rightly, let us give thanks for his grace, and having received that grace, for the joy set before us, let us strive all the more to love those around us, as he has loved us.
This sermon draws on material from:
Adams, Douglas. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide: Complete & Unabridged. New York, NY: Random House, 1979 (1997 Edition).*
Benedict XVI. “Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est” December 25, 2005. https://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est.html
Block, Daniel I. Ruth: The King is Coming. Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament: A Discourse Analysis of the Hebrew Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015.
King, Stephen. Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2003.*
Kraut, Richard, “5. Kand on Sympathy and Duty” in “Altruism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/altruism/#KantSympDuty
Leithart, Peter J. “The Structures of Ruth” Theopolis.com. January 17, 1993. https://theopolisinstitute.com/the-structures-of-ruth/
Leithart, Peter J. “When Gentile Meets Jew.” Touchstone Magazine. May 2009. https://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=22-04-020-f
Lusk, Rich & Uri Brito. Ruth Through New Eyes: Under the Wings. West Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2018.
Miller, Paul E. A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014.
Reynolds, Jack. “The Gift” in “Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: A Peer-Reviewed Academic Resource” https://iep.utm.edu/derrida/#SH7a
* An important disclaimer regarding both of these novels: While I have drawn from this work in this sermon, I would not recommend these books to all Christian readers. They each contain content that some would find troubling or disturbing (and one of them I have not yet finished, so I don’t even know all that it contains). Caution and wisdom must be exercised by Christians in knowing what would be profitable for them to read and what they should personally avoid.