So in case you didn’t know, there are only two (or three, depending on your tradition) books in the Bible named after women. Ruth is one of them and she’s the first. (#BiblicalGlassCeiling #Smashed) Ruth is also a girl power book because it’s about two women making their way in the world by sticking together, so it at least marginally passes the famous Bechdel test. (If you’re not familiar with the Bechdel test, Google it after reading this!)
Anyway, I bring up Ruth because it’s Valentine’s week and Ruth is a book about love. It’s not a romance story. Ruth does end up getting married in the book, but the point of the story is definitely NOT romance. The love that is highlighted in the book is not that between Ruth and her new husband Boaz. It’s the love between Ruth and her friend Naomi (her dead husband’s mother). When we talk about love, we usually mean romantic or erotic love but this is a different kind of love, the kind of love called HESED.
Hesed is also sometimes called “loving kindness.” It’s when you are kinder to a person or a group than they deserve or when you are kind even when a person or group doesn’t deserve it at all. In Ruth’s case, she was kind and loyal not just to Naomi, but to the Israelite people as a whole… even though their cultural norm was to reject her for being a foreigner. She seemed to see only the good things about her Israelite neighbors and was willfully oblivious to their flaws (and the many reasons they were likely to ostracize her). And because she brought the HESED even when they didn’t, she ended up becoming part of the royal Davidic line and changing cultural norms around acceptance of foreigners.
Some of our neighbors here in Alabama are not very welcoming to those who are different. You know what they need during this Valentine’s Week of Love? They need hesed – loving kindness. Not because they earned loving kindness but because unearned loving kindness may be the only way to change the world.
And on that note, Happy Hesed Day!
Rev. Tabitha Isner is the interim CEO of Christian Services for Children in Alabama, an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a Hometown Action member and former candidate for Congress in Alabama's Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery with her husband and son.