Last month, I shared this story of the “Little Red Hen” with our church family. I think most of us can appreciate this familiar fable because of the important life lessons it teaches. Work hard. Don’t be lazy. I like it because there is a sense of justice. You get what you pay for. If you don’t work, you don’t eat.
This story reminded me of Naomi and Ruth. In Ruth 2, both widows were confronted with a practical need: food. They had none and they were hungry. We’re not told explicitly but all things indicate that Naomi was depressed. She lost her husband and sons and returned to her hometown empty-handed. Even if she was hungry, Naomi had no desire to go out to get food. Rather than sit around and do nothing, Ruth acted. She traveled into the fields and gleaned whatever grain she could. Reaping grain was hard work. It involved endless hours bent over in the heat of the day gathering stalks of wheat. It was dangerous work. As a single woman with no husband to cover her, Ruth was vulnerable.
In some ways, Ruth was like the Little Red Hen: working hard, with no help. Naturally, we may wonder, “where was Naomi?” Naomi was older but probably only 45-50 years old. She was still capable of working especially in such desperate times. Like the Little Red Hen’s friends, she was doing nothing. At this point, I want to shout, “But, that’s not fair!” When it comes to things like this, don’t we always have a scale in our minds? I know I do. Minimally, the give and take should be equal. If I can give less and take more that’s called a profit. It’s not fair but when it’s in my favor, it’s a positive thing in my mind. But what happens when I give more and take less? That’s called a loss and when it’s not in my favor, it’s a negative thing.
The scale was totally imbalanced for Ruth. She sacrificed everything for Naomi: her identity, her gods, her safety, her comfort, her entire life without even a “thank you” in return. Then Ruth worked in the fields to provide for Naomi while she stayed home.
How would we feel if the story of the Little Red Hen ended differently? When the Hen asked, “Who will help me eat this bread?” and all her friends said “I will!,” what if she not only let them but also gave them so much bread that they had leftovers to take home? How would we feel about the story then? That’s totally unfair?! You betcha! Yet, that’s exactly how the story ended for Ruth.
So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied.
Hesed is unfair. It’s totally unbalanced. It gives with no return. In fact, hesed is foolish, really foolish. If bankers managed their investments according to hesed, they would be bankrupt within minutes. Hesed is a foolish investment. Love, especially lavish love, always is.
Maybe that’s why I am afraid to love in this way. If I keep giving with nothing in return, what will happen when my love runs out? The reserves in my love tank can barely get me out of the parking lot let alone down the highway of hesed. If I love this way, I will lose everything. I will lose myself. It feels like a really short-sighted investment. It will and does feel foolish.
So why even try to love? Because this unbalanced, unfair, uncanny way of relating is the way of the gospel. Jesus literally gave us everything and got nothing but our punishment in return (LOSS). We literally gave nothing but got everything in return (PROFIT). His loss in our gain. Totally imbalanced. Totally the heart of God.
Because of Christ, the scales are totally tipped in my favor. In relationship to God, I have all profit and no loss. So when it comes to loving others, why wouldn’t I be able to suffer some loss for their sake? Why should I worry about the balance of the scales lest I be like the unmerciful servant who was forgiven everything but could not forgive (Matt. 18:21-35). God made a foolish investment when he showed me hesed yet I’m so grateful that he did! Thanks be to God that his foolish ways are not my ways!