Posts Tagged ‘commitment’

RUTH 1:1-18

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10 They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” 14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

15 So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said,

“Do not press me to leave you
    or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
    where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
    and your God my God.
17 Where you die, I will die—
    there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
    and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”

18 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

Ruth’s confessed loyalty to Naomi was of the all-or-nothing variety that Jesus later exhorted in his disciples for the kingdom of God. There are no conditions against such a commitment – “I will love you if” or “I will follow, but” or “I’ll stick by  you until” – and it is characteristically sacrificial in nature. Unconditional commitment determines not to allow changing circumstances, unforeseen risks, personal failures, or even breeches of trust to completely and permanently destroy the relationship.

Just as Jesus called his disciples to give up, leave behind, and move beyond the securities and attachments of this world for the sake of the gospel, so had Ruth determined that her love for Naomi would survive every conceivable loss. The quaternity of land, home, nation, and god (verse 16) names the intersection of forces that most powerfully shape a person’s identity in the world. Ruth was ready and willing, therefore, to transcend her very identity in faithfulness to Naomi. Once again, the parallel with the story of Jesus is both remarkable and instructive.

The shadow side of this lesson is that we all have a hell of a time (literally) breaking free from these identity-defining influences, and often decide in the interest of security over fulfillment. We will take up membership in a church, for instance, but when the urge to grow and change comes upon us, we might hide behind a wall of excuses or create a diversion of complaints and accusations.

When commitment is hedged by conditions and escape clauses, it’s not genuine.

1 KINGS 2:10-12; 3:3-14

10 Then David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David. 11 And the time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat upon the throne of David his father; and his kingdom was firmly established.

Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father; only, he sacrificed and burnt incense at the high places. And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings upon that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “Thou hast shown great and steadfast love to thy servant David my father, because he walked before thee in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward thee; and thou hast kept for him this great and steadfast love, and hast given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, thou hast made thy servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.And thy servant is in the midst of thy people whom thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered or counted for multitude. Give thy servant therefore an understanding mind to govern thy people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to govern this thy great people?”

10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14 And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”

Solomon’s choice of wisdom from among all the things he might have preferred provides us with yet another moral lesson. His particular station in life, serving as his father’s successor to the throne of Israel, set upon him the special obligation of being responsible for the governance of his people.

While the self-indulgent side of Solomon might have rather had riches and power, the other side of him, the side that humbly acknowledged his own inadequacy and dependency on God in the face of such a daunting task, admitted him need for a wisdom far beyond his years.

In fact, wisdom as a virtue is not the same as having expertise in a given field. It is not so much about the expanse of one’s knowledge or the focus of one’s specialization. You can have all the information at your fingertips, but if you can’t discern what is the right thing to do in a critical moment of decision, your knowledge is practically useless.

Wisdom, then, is about the application of what we know to the situations of life, guided and inspired by the moral values we hold in highest regard. Our values, and ultimately what we value most deeply, steer our decisions along the path of the greatest good.

JOHN 10:11-18

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

The telling difference between the good and true shepherd and a hired hand is that only the former cares enough for his sheep, rather than for the reward of his earnings, to risk injury and death for their protection. When danger comes, the hired hand decides that the sheep are only “so much an hour” in value anyway, and saves himself instead. The good shepherd, on the other hand, knows his sheep and values them as having intrinsic worth – that they are “worth saving.”

In just about any life domain you can easily tell between those who are there because they believe in the cause, and those who are in it for the payoff.

One of the things that dawned on the disciples in that revolutionary moment of realization called the resurrection, is that Jesus had been genuinely committed to his cause. When the cross appeared on his horizon he didn’t calculate in the interest of his own safety and individual survival. Whereas other self-proclaimed messiahs had appeared around the same time – the named “Barabbas” of the Gospels may have been one – many had forsaken their apocalyptic visions and promises by abandoning their followers at the eleventh hour.

Not so with Jesus. He had remained focused and faithful to the bitter end, and this courageous integrity on his part authenticated his gospel in the very instant of his self-accepted martyrdom.