All that follows is based on the Lectionary texts for Sunday, October 25, 2020.
The Behavior of the Righteous must Mirror the Behavior of God (Leviticus 19:1-18)
Leviticus 19:1 And the LORD said to Moses, 2 “Say to all the congregation of the people of Israel, You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy. 3 Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God. 4 Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God. 19:9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. 19:11 “You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. 12 And you shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. 19:13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.19:15 “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go up and down as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand forth against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD. 19:17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Commentary: Leviticus 19 is home to one of the most essential texts in the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament. In Leviticus 19:18, we read: “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” This text makes up the second great commandment which Jesus cites along with the Great Commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This text, too, has its origins in the Hebrew Bible, in this case, in Deuteronomy 6:5. Leviticus 19 begins asserting that the Behavior of the righteous must mirror the Behavior of God:
And the LORD said to Moses, 2 “Say to all the congregation of the people of Israel, You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy.”
To be holy means to be set-apart. The holiness of the LORD and the holiness of Israel is dependent upon all parties observing the Covenant, which God has established with his people through his servant Moses. Holiness and righteousness always go hand in hand. To be holy is to be set apart by the covenant (and the Covenantal God). To be righteous is to fulfill the demands of the relationship(s) established by the covenant. God is holy when God punishes sin and rewards righteousness, both of which are defined by the covenant. The people of God must be holy and righteous before God. They must be holy and righteous with one another. People are righteous when they fulfill the demands of their covenantal relationships. Leviticus 19:1-18 hits the highlights of the covenant.
1. It requires reverence for mother and father.
2. It requires keeping the Sabbath.
3. It requires accepting the LORD as God and total rejection of idols, which are made by human beings.
4. It requires people to practice a “generous harvest,” which leaves something in the field, on the trees, and on the vine for the benefit of “the poor and the sojourner.” This is so important that carries the additional emphasis of, “I am the LORD your God.”
5. People are forbidden to steal, deal falsely, or lie.
6. People are forbidden to swear falsely, for this profanes the name of the LORD.
7. People are forbidden oppress their neighbors, rob them, or hold back the wages of a hired servant.
8. People are forbidden to “curse the deaf, (or) put a stumbling block before the blind.” Those with physical handicaps are afforded special protections.
9. People are forbidden to pervert justice. They are not to be partial to the poor or defer to the great. Though the poor are protected in Israel, the rich are to be treated fairly. The emphasis throughout is on fairness, not equality. Equality is equality under the law.Individuals have different gifts and different liabilities, all of us.
10. People are not to “slander their neighbor” or “stand forth against the life of their neighbor.” In the Hebrew Bible, “to stand forth” means to stand up for or against someone or something. Imagine a company of soldiers drawn up in military formation. The Captain says, “If you want to volunteer for special duty, take one step forward.” The soldiers volunteering for the special duty “stand forth” from the ranks.
11. People are not to hate a “brother or sister” in the heart but to reason with them. Grievances are to be expressed and hopefully settled. They cannot be settled when left unexpressed. Vengeance is forbidden. Vengeance is a violent, one-way settlement of a grievance. Vengeance belongs to the LORD.
The warrant for all of the “laws” of Leviticus 19 is found in verse 18. People are to leave vengeance (and grudges) to God and “to love their neighbors as they love themselves.” Leviticus 19:1-18) The passage before us, covers eight of the Ten Commandments. The commandments forbidding “adultery” is covered im chapter 18, and “coveting” omitted, at least the language is. In the text before us, additional consideration beyond what the Ten Commandments require is given to “the poor,” “the sojourner,” and “the handicapped.”
The Expectations of the Righteous (Psalm 1)
Psa. 1:1 Blessed are those who walk not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers; 2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night. 3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, that yield fruit in season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff which the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
Commentary: Psalm 1 extolls the advantages enjoyed by the righteous. “They delight in and meditate on the Law of the Lord, day and night.” The result is “in all they do they prosper.” They can be compared to “trees planted by streams of water, that yield fruit in season, and their leaves do not wither.” The warning is given: the Lord knows (and is author of) the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
The Foundation of Scripture (Matthew 22:34-40)
Matthew 22:34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
Commentary: Jesus lifts up the two Great Commandments of the Mosaic Law. The first has to do with the love of God, with all the heart, soul and mind. The second has to do with the love of one’s neighbor (which is based on the love of one’s self). Jesus said, “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” Sometimes we get hung up on the letter of the Law and wooden adherence to certain commandments, whereas Jesus lifts up “the spirit of the Law,” the principles on which the Law is based. We are free to choose spirit of the Law over the letter of the Law. Thus, in Romans 7:6 St. Paul writes:
“But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.”
The Conduct of the Apostle (1 Thessalonians 2:1-8)
1 Thessalonians 2:1 For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not in vain; 2 but though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the face of great opposition. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or uncleanness, nor is it made with guile; 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please people, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never used either words of flattery, as you know, or a cloak for greed, as God is witness; 6 nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
Commentary: In this passage from 1 Thessalonians St. Paul calls attention to his own character. In preaching the gospel, he is not seeking his own advantage, but that of his hearers. Yet, he is not seeking to please his hearers, but “God who tests our hearts.” Here, as in Leviticus 19, people interact with one another, but their covenant, is first of all with God. In accomplishing all this, the apostle compares himself to “a nurse taking care of her children,” and confesses how completely he has given himself to his task. He was read to share with the Thessalonians not only “the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because (they) and become very dear to (him and his companions).” No pastor ever had a better reason to serve a congregation, for Paul’s affection for the Thessalonians is as important as his commitment to his service of God. A great missionary once said, “I looked into the face of God as revealed in Christ in the Scripture, and I looked into the face of the world, and I spend a lifetime bringing the two together.”