Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I originally wrote the following blog post in 2011 as a series of reflections on Leviticus while reading through the Bible in a year. I’m re-posting it today because it fits the themes I’ve been writing about in terms of Leviticus and displaced people.


 

neighborWhen I grew up, I spent a lot of time watching Mr. Rogers. I’m not sure why, but there was something about the songs, sweaters, and shoes that just kept me coming back for more. Mr. Rogers loved to ask that simple question day after day for his riveted little television audience: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

In the Bible, we find the theme of being a neighbor all over the place, even if it is a bit more serious than Mr. Rogers. When Jesus is asked what the most important commandment in all of the Hebrew Bible is, He answers by saying that we are to love God with all of who we are and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:28-34). Jesus’ summary statement ties together two commands: love of God and love of neighbor. Like with a coin, they are two sides to the same law of love.

The commandment to love God is fairly easy to grasp. Jesus draws from the celebrated Hebrew shema found in Deuteronomy 6. The shema is an identity marker for the Jewish people, in which they are called to worship and adhere to God alone.

The second half of Jesus’ words, however, comes from the often neglected book of Leviticus. In the midst of instructions about rituals, guidelines about annual ceremonies and festivals, and list upon list of what to eat and not to eat, we find these powerful words: “love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18). Leading up to this statement, all sorts of relational situations are mentioned: stealing, lying, partiality in justice for the poor or the wealthy, slandering others, seeking revenge because of a grudge, making life difficult for the blind or deaf, and more.  Into the midst of many real life situations, God is saying that the ideal of loving our neighbor must be worked out in every social arena. It is our response to who God is. How we love others matters to God.

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Leviticus for Today

LeviticusThis past weekend at Eastbrook, my message was essentially a theological interpretation of the book of Leviticus for Christians today. I found a number of resources helpful in this, but particularly enjoyed the insights of Gordon Wenham in his masterful commentary on Leviticus. In a section of his introduction to the book entitled “Leviticus and the Christian” he writes this helpful interpretive understanding for our reading of Leviticus:

It seems fair to say that the NT not only accepts the moral law of the OT, but reiterates the basic theology of the covenant of which the law forms a part. If the NT stresses much more strongly the grace of God, this is because Christ’s incarnation and death displayed God’s mercy more strikingly than even the exodus in Egypt.

Besides moral laws such as ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (19:18) Leviticus contains a number of laws that are sometimes described as civil legislation, e.g., laws about farming (e.g., 19:9-10, 19, 23-25) and rules fixing the death penalty for certain offenses (e.g., 20:9-16). This type of law is quoted less frequently in the NT than the simple moral imperatives, but when quoted it is treated as equally authoritative (e.g., 1 Cor 9:9 quoting Deut. 25:4 and Mark 7:10 citing Lev. 20:9).  The arbitrariness of the distinction between moral and civil law is reinforced by the arrangement of material in Leviticus. Love of neighbor immediately precedes a prohibition on mixed breeding; the holiness motto comes just before the law on executing unruly children (19:18-19; 20:7-9). Instead of distinguishing between moral and civil laws, it would be better to say that some injunctions are broad and generally applicable to most societies, while others are more specific and directed at the particular social problems of ancient Israel. In this commentary the following position is assumed: the principles underlying the OT are valid and authoritative for the Christian, but the particular applications found in the OT may not be. The moral principles are the same today, but insofar as our situation often differs from the OT setting, the application of the principles in our society may well be different, too (34-35).

In relation to our topic of these past weekends about “God in Blank Spaces” or “God of the Displaced Ones,” Wenham writes this:

Though this law is inapplicable literally in modern societies, the principles underlying it should still challenge Christian men [sic] to devise the most effective means that can help the poor of our age. It is not the task of the commentator to say which means should be adopted, e.g., food subsidies or welfare benefits, but simply to emphasize that Christian politicians and voters have a duty to support good schemes to help the needy.

God of the Displaced Ones. part 2

This past weekend, I concluded both Eastbrook’s Missions Fest as well as our series “God in Blank Spaces.” Building off of Jenny Yang‘s message on the global situation of displaced people the previous weekend, I continued the theme of God’s mission amongst the displaced people of the world.

My approach to this topic, however, was to engage more deeply with the theme verses chosen for the week from Leviticus 19:33-34:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 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.

I sought to provide an overview of the book of Leviticus and its vital role in our own faith today as the New Testament people of God. In particular I focused on Leviticus’s theme of holiness, giving attention to four aspects of holiness that we must grasp clearly:

  1. God makes His people holy.
  2. God is making His people holy.
  3. Holiness is personal in nature.
  4. Holiness is relational in nature.

Here is the video and sermon outline of my message, “God of the Displaced Ones, part two.”

You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

 

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Life in Leviticus 3)

When I grew up, I spent a lot of time watching Mr. Rogers. I’m not sure why, but there was something about the songs, sweaters, and shoes that just kept me coming back for more. Mr. Rogers loved to ask that simple question day after day for his riveted little television audience: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

In the Bible, we find the theme of being a neighbor all over the place, even if it is a bit more serious than Mr. Rogers. When Jesus is asked what the most important commandment in all of the Hebrew Bible is, He answers by saying that we are to love God with all of who we are and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:28-34). Jesus’ summary statement ties together two commands: love of God and love of neighbor. Like with a coin, they are two sides to the same law of love.

The commandment to love God is fairly easy to grasp. Jesus draws fromRead More »

Rules to Live By (Life in Leviticus 2)

Rules, rules, and more rules. That’s what many people think of when they begin to read Leviticus. That’s why we often skip right past it in our reading of the Bible. Why are there so many rules in Leviticus? Last week, I began a series of posts on why the book of Leviticus can bring life to us. This is part of the journey many of us are taking this year of reading through the Bible.

Rules Point to Reality

Reading through Leviticus, you find rules about clean and unclean foods (ch. 11), rules for how women recover from childbirth (ch. 12), rules for what to do with skin diseases (chs. 13-14), rules about sexual relations (ch. 18), and more. Rules are everywhere. These rules are important because they put us in a context for life. When Moses instructs God’s people in Leviticus, Read More »

Sacrificial Offering (Life in Leviticus 1)

There are certain books of the Bible that people tend to avoid. Somewhere near the top of that list for many is the Old Testament book of Leviticus. For those who are participating in Through the Bible 2011, we have run full speed into Leviticus this past week. This week and next, I will write two posts on the important life-giving concepts found in Leviticus that are important for us today.

Sacrifice and Offering in Leviticus

The first seven chapters of Leviticus deal largely with different forms of sacrifice and offerings for the people of Israel.Read More »