Neighborly love

Today’s reading is on Leviticus 19:1-18.

In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked by a member of the Pharisees what the greatest commandment is. His response, in verses 37-40: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Chet wrote yesterday about how he was challenged to think about loving others, in a reflection of Jesus’s love displayed in Luke 19; I hope you’ve had some time to reflect on how you love your neighbor too.

Spoiler warning: a reflection on His first response, a quote from Deuteronomy 6, will come later. But His second answer comes from Leviticus 19:18 – “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.” In this passage, God establishes how His people should leave part of their harvest for those in need; not steal, lie, or falsely swear under His name; not withhold from or harm those reliant on you, either directly or indirectly; not slander, hate, or seek vengeance upon others. All obviously timeless instructions, but capped off with that last statement: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, a man from Jerusalem, injured and in desperate need of help, is ignored by those he’d expect help from, and is instead offered above-and-beyond assistance from a Samaritan man, from a tribe with a bitter rivalry with those from Jerusalem, who was probably risking his own safety by even being near Jerusalem in the first place. A man asks Jesus who we should consider our neighbor in our shows of love; His response, in verse 36-37: “’Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ The man said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.’” Being a neighbor has no geographic bearing in this sense; any who need mercy, compassion, a show of love: those are our neighbors we are called to love.

All week, we’ve had writing centered around Jesus both displaying & describing incredible acts of love to those in desperate need of grace, who by our judgement, may have been very tough to show love towards. The prodigal son squandering his dad’s fortune in Luke 15; A blind man begging for mercy in Luke 18; A greedy tax collector in Luke 19. Our Savior led a perfect life, giving the ultimate display of showing mercy to those in need by dying a cross for all mankind. When we were on death’s door in our sin, Christ gave all He had to give in order that we would have life. When we are called to show love to our neighbors on Christ’s behalf in situations where our natural predilection may be to do otherwise, because we don’t care for them, or we’re too attached to our material worth to give it away, or afraid for our comfort or well-being if we go out of our way to help, I think of the good Samaritan as an example of the kind of love Christ had for us, and how Romans 5:6-8 describes the weight of this love: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” When Christ would give His life for a worthless sinner, how simple and doable in comparison does the hope of well-being for those hurting & broken around us have? How easy do the laws of Leviticus 19 seem – giving up just a portion of what you have, offering fair & truthful behavior to those around you, being a good and honest person – compared to Jesus’s desire to give up everything on our behalf? 

As a word of encouragement to wrap up on, I’d like to come back to verse 2 of Leviticus 19, where beginning this decree of the Law, God tells Moses: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” We show genuine self-sacrifice, mercy, care, and love to those the world may consider it unusual for us to show love to, rather than our typical broken inclination of complacency. In that, we fulfill God’s command to be holy, setting aside our lives to bring glory & the word of God into the lives of others. But more than just a command, I like to think of this as a promise. God has already given us everything we need to reach out to others & bring His light into their lives. All we have to do is trust Him, and in our transformed lives act upon this trust by trusting His command to live apart for Him, and we can be confident than in the love & compassion we share, He will set us aside to bring glory to Him. And for that, I pray Psalm 115:1: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!”