Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me
The story of Ruth, as well as being a nice little love story, is also an important one. Ruth, because of her dedication to Naomi, became one of Jesus' ancestors, and it is that dedication that we need to consider here.
To summarise the story briefly, Naomi, her husband and two sons left Bethlehem and went to Moab to avoid a famine. While they were there Naomi's two sons married Moabite women, but sadly all three men died leaving the three ladies as widows. Naomi knew that her life was "over", as it was not common for widows to remarry and, as there was no social security, she would have to depend on the generosity of her relatives back in Bethlehem. Her prospects were not good, especially as she and her family had deserted those very relatives when they left Bethlehem for Moab at the start of the famine. Naomi knew that her daughter-in-laws' best hope of a future therefore, lay with their own people and so she told them to leave.
The first girl, Orpah reluctantly agreed and went back to her people, but Ruth clung to Naomi and said to her: "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried." Then she sealed her oath by saying, "May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely if anything but death separates you and me." That is some oath but, whilst it sounds very bold, it is perhaps more common than we realise. Every time a couple are married in Church, they promise one another that they will love and cherish each other until death separates them and, in the context of the service, there is the understanding that God is invited to witness this vow and, "may He deal with them, be it ever so severely, if they don't keep it."
What we see at the heart of these two situations is a relationship: a relationship in which two people, out of the deepest love, choose to bind themselves together.
In Luke 14 we find Jesus walking towards Jerusalem where He was about to show the full extent of His love for His disciples (see John 15:13). As they walk, Jesus spells out the relationship He wants to have with His disciples. First He says that a disciple must "hate" his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters and even his own life. This may sound drastic, but it isn't as drastic as it sounds. In a marriage service both bride and groom promise to forsake all others, in other words, they will put each other first in all their relationships. This is what Jesus is saying, it's just that the ancient Jewish way of saying things was rather black and white. To be a disciple of Jesus, He must come first. Then, he goes on to say "Till death us do part", or, "now take up your cross and follow me."
Many of us have been brought up believing that being a Christian is all about "going to church". Going to church is part of it, but it isn't all of it. At the heart of Christianity there is a relationship with Jesus, not a religion that just believes in Him, and until we understand this we will never understand His teaching or why young girls like Agnes were prepared to die for Him. What is your relationship with Jesus like? Perhaps now might be a good time to stop and take stock.