Posts Tagged 'Leviticus 19:1-2'

For Oct. 26, 2014: Proper 25, Pentecost 20, Year A

The Reading                                                           Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18

By some counts the book of Leviticus issues 613 commandments that specify how God’s people and priests are to behave. Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 cuts to the point: rather than judging unjustly, slandering, profiting at a neighbor’s expense, or bearing grudges, we are to behave in love toward all.

The Response                                                   Psalm 1

Psalm 1 contrasts those who follow the way of the Lord with those who are wicked. It reinforces the message of Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 as it carries forward the message of Psalm 23: those who follow the way of the Lord will be blessed by bearing fruit that endures.

The Epistle                                                          1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica was brief and controversial; detractors accused him of dishonesty and trickery and then drove him and his group out of town. In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 he reminds his readers what made them believe the gospel he brought: it was spoken to please God, without impure motives, and in tender love.

The Gospel                                                               Matthew 22:34-46

The gospel of Matthew moves inexorably toward Good Friday as Jesus is challenged by the religious authorities. In Matthew 22:34-46, the Pharisees try a trick question and get an answer they were not expecting. Then Jesus asks a question about the Messiah to which they have nothing to say.

 

Further thoughts

Almost fifty years ago, up to 100,000 mostly college-age baby boomers in love beads, tie-dyed T-shirts and bell-bottomed jeans began converging on San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district for the counterculture live-in known as the “Summer of Love.” Participants were sure it was going to transform the world. It fell short of expectations, unsurprisingly: the movement hasn’t been invented that human beings can’t screw up, sometimes literally. But the Beatles’ deceptively simple “All You Need Is Love” was a smash hit of that summer of 1967 for good reason: it resonates, as the readings for Proper 25 do more profoundly, with the fact that we humans are wired to crave love, just as we are wired to be our most God-true selves when we deeply give love. As “All You Need Is Love” puts it, “There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made / No one you can save that can’t be saved / Nothing you can do but you can learn to be you in time / It’s easy / All you need is love.”

Love isn’t easy, of course—Paul brags a little to the Thessalonians about the effort he has put into approaching them in love, and Jesus’ staggeringly self-emptying sacrifice on the cross is even more stupendous if the identity of the Messiah means that the crucifixion is true not only for all time but in all time. Love in Jesus’ and Paul’s terms is certainly not just “the feels”, as one sees it on Facebook, and Lord knows our feelings can as often lead us to reject the love we need as to refuse to give the love we should. And only the Lord, through our fellow humans, can help us out of the swamps of despair that fester there. But what if, giving the glory to God, we invert the ’60s mantra from “If it feels good, do it” to “If it does good, feel it”?

For Feb. 23, 2014: 7 Epiphany, Year A

The Reading                                                            Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

Priests in Israel were Levites (that is, of the tribe of Levi), and the book of Leviticus begins by discussing the priests and their duties. Chapters 18 through 20 are called the “Holiness Code”; they lay out how all the people who are God’s are supposed to behave, and can make for uncomfortable reading.

The Response                                    Psalm 119:33-40

We continue reading from Psalm 119. This is the fifth stanza, called the heh section because in Hebrew each verse in it begins with the letter ה (heh). The psalmist prays to understand and follow the Law.

The Epistle                                                  1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23

The verses from Leviticus called us to be holy as God is holy. Paul tells us that we already are holy, for in this world God’s temple or dwelling place is in fact each of us—each one on the planet. What is more, we belong to each other: contrary to worldly wisdom, grasping for more will not make me better.

The Gospel                                                                  Matthew 5:38-48

As Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount continues, Jesus paraphrases Leviticus twice—extending it outward beyond our neighbor and calling us to love all as God loves. The difficult word perfect translates the Greek telios ‘complete’: the last verse might be rendered “Be as completely like God as you can be.”

 

Ponderables

Jesus misquoted Leviticus—with the goal of helping us to read Leviticus right.

The first quote, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”—alluding to Leviticus 24:19-21—is literally correct but subject to misappropriation. We quote it to justify what we feel we deserve from those who hurt us; we assume it assigns the minimum level of recompense that we are entitled to. In context, however, the verse specifies a maximum and so is not a spur to the human thirst for revenge but a curb. Jesus then goes even farther. If I truly follow Jesus, I should not be looking to get my own back, and I am not entitled to assume that other people intend to hurt or diminish me.

The second quote is a riff on Leviticus 19:18—but that verse does not counsel us to hate our enemies. In fact, the Leviticus reading specifies ways in which we are to deal lovingly with the poor, aliens, and people in our power. Jesus’ version reflects not what Leviticus says but where human wisdom—the human wisdom that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians—tends to take it. Then Jesus blows our interpretation apart. He tells us that our God loves everyone enough to send good things not just to those who, according to the world, deserve them, but also to those who don’t.

What if we all really gave as good as we have gotten?


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