As we read through Leviticus over the past month – what we found was that there are many laws in the Old Testament that we don’t understand or even adhere too (that’s another blog post for another day) but one thing we saw was the continuity of the God of the Old Testament and New Testament. We see the consistency of the concern for the poor, the marginalized, and love for one another.
One theme we see throughout the Old Testament is a command to love the foreigner among you and to love your neighbor as yourself. Sound familiar? Jesus wraps up the whole of the law in this statement. Love God and Love your neighbor. So while we struggle to love our neighbor – people have struggled with this for all time. Let’s take a closer look at the origin of the command in Leviticus 19:9-18. Check ou the story –
“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.
11 “‘Do not steal.
“‘Do not lie.
“‘Do not deceive one another.
12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.
13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.
“‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.
14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.
15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
“‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.
17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
In verse 9 God institutes a practice called gleaning. Basically what gleaning meant, was whenever you brought in your harvest you were supposed to leave the outer edge of your field untouched, you didn’t go back over your field or vineyard to make sure you didn’t leave anything behind, instead you intentionally left that stuff behind for your neighbor in need or a stranger in your land. God begins his discourse on how we treat our neighbors with a practical step that says, Not only am I calling you to love your neighbor, but let me give you a practical and tangible way to do this. Don’t just give your neighbors lip service, show your love for them in the way you care for them. Here is one way you can and should do this. And really when you break it down, this idea was not simply to force people to have less for themselves or so that poor people could get freebies (keep in mind they still had to work the land to provide for themselves too) but the heart of the practice asks “What are ways in my own life that I can leave margin for others?” In my everyday life, in line at the grocery store, at work, at soccer practice, in my own neighborhood, what are ways I can think of others first, get to know them and demonstrate the love of God towards them?
Notice also, gleaning wasn’t about giving our left overs to our neighbor or someone in need, parts of the field were left completely untouched. Loving your neighbor does not equate to giving them your leftovers, sometimes, and quite often it requires that we give them our best.
And then God, I think he because he knew there would be people like me in the world, who are stubborn and have to be told things over and over again, really drives that point home and says, “let me make it a little clearer: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
Regardless of time, culture or context this is a radical statement. Love your neighbor as yourself. It’s a radical statement because it moves us from simply being nice to our neighbor, or from simply avoiding negative interactions with them and it calls us deeper into relationship with others around us and calls us to focus on others at least as much, if not more than we focus on ourselves. God introduces a new way of thinking to us. He essentially says, “Let me start with your inborn, defining human trait. Your love for your self. This is given, I don’t command it, I assume it.” (Tim Keller)
We all have the instinct of self-preservation and self fulfillment, We all want to be happy, we all want to live with satisfaction, to have food, to have a home, to have protection from pain and violence, we all long for justice in our lives, for friends, for love. All of this is self-love. So God starts with our self love. This isn’t a bad thing; he created us with this instinct. To hunger for food isn’t evil, to want to be warm in the winter isn’t a bad thing, to want your life to count for something isn’t evil. It becomes evil if we pursue all those things to the neglect or detriment of our neighbors.. In other words, that there are basic needs you seek to fulfill for yourself and family – food, shelter, security, belonging, opportunity. It’s not bad for us to pursue these things. But especially in our culture we often pursue those needs in excess. By telling us to love our neighbors as ourselves God is saying don’t pursue excess for your family while your neighbor’s basic needs remain unmet.” Make your self-seeking the measure of your self-giving. And it doesn’t mean your schedule even has to change necessarily. Your priorities and your focus change within your schedule. You simply have to become more intentional with all your daily interactions. Continue being involved in your kids sports, but be more intentional about seeking to know the other parents and find out their needs. Continue grocery shopping at the same store but be more intentional about getting to know the manager of the store, continue working at your job but be more intentional about seeing the needs of your co-workers and doing what you can to meet their needs.
Now if we are honest, that’s a lot easier to do with people we already like, or people who we have things in common with. People we feel deserve our love or we are comfortable with. I think if we are all brutally honest, we are all guilty of this. It pains me to say, but if you look at my friend group and the general group of people I associate with, they are all like me. Similar place of life, similar interests, similar socio-economic standing. We know as a culture and society it’s just easier to love people who are like us. Right or wrong it just is. This is what makes the law of God and the Gospel so radical.
It’s not a bad thing to have friends like that, but God wants us to be different from culture. God’s love has no limits, is not constricted by status, place of life, what car you drive or what color your skin is. And he flips this idea on its head just a few verses later. Look with me at Leviticus 19:33-34
33 “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
In an age where immigration and nationalism and patriotism are hot-button issues it’s important for us to understand the implications of these verses in our own lives. We are all first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of God, so we treat all people we interact with, foreigner, refugee, immigrant, with the love and respect due all people created in the image of God. Secondly we are citizens of a nation and that’s a good thing, so we try to uphold the laws and keep peace, but here is the heart of this issue. When we are given the opportunity to either represent the kingdom of God or represent our nation in our interactions with people different from us or from a different nation or background than us we always choose kingdom of God. Our citizenship in the Kingdom of God always trumps our citizenship in our nation. So in this passage God takes someone who is the least like you as possible, different language, different beliefs, different race, and different values and says, “treat that person as yourself.” And what I believe he is trying to drive home for us is: you don’t always get to choose what kind of neighbors you have, but you do get to choose what kind of neighbor you will be. That’s why when Jesus references this command in Luke chapter 10, he tells the story of the Good Samaritan, he uses a Jew and a Samaritan, two people on completely different ends of the spectrum, two people that could not be more different if they tried, to demonstrate the idea, it doesn’t matter someone’s socio-economic status, race, religion, sexual preference, or place of life – our neighbor is anyone we interact with on a daily basis and we get to choose each day – will I love this person as I love myself? – will I seek food, shelter, happiness, grace, forgiveness for them or not?
Who is your neighbor – how can you love them today?