You and Your Neighbor
  • Sunday, February 23, 2014

7 Epiphany

Lev. 19:1-2, 9-18Ps. 119:33-401 Cor. 3:10-11, 16-23Matt. 5:38-48

Sanctity is the point: a point to which, in this life, we never quite arrive and yet “things done” and “left undone” cannot blunt the sharp edge of God’s dividing word. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). “I am the Lord!” resounds four times in a short text. Additional commands pile up: you shall fear your God; with justice you shall judge your neighbor; you shall reprove your neighbor; you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:14,15,17). The last command, too often associated solely with the New Testament, shows God’s concern for those at the center of the community as well as the resident aliens among them.

To protect the broader community, especially the vulnerable, prohibitions are proffered at length. Consider the list, adding the words “You shall not” to each item: reap to the very edge of your field, strip your vineyard bare (leave the leftovers for the poor of the land), steal, deal falsely, lie, swear falsely, defraud your neighbor, keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning, revile the deaf, put a stumbling block before the blind, render unjust judgment, be unfair to the poor, defer to the great, go around as a slanderer, profit by the blood of your neighbor, hate in your heart anyone of your kin, take vengeance or bear a grudge (Lev. 19: 9-18). Unless there is constant vigilance in recognizing that there are things to be “left undone,” social cohesion and civility would immediately collapse. Sanctity, in this bracing list of commands and prohibitions, is about something akin to a decent human life. This does not come to us naturally. We have to be told. “I am the Lord.”

Consider this question about yourself and your neighbor. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). Take time with this statement: “God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:17). Since God is in the temple of your body, and since God cannot be divided, God is sustaining all things in you. Thus, “all things are yours.” Indeed, “all belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (1 Cor. 3:22-23). So enriched, we go out both to ourselves and our neighbor to love and care for and respect “the body.” This does not come to us naturally. We have to be told, “God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

Fortunately, there is something at work deeper than a simple command. “You have heard that it was said,” Jesus reiterates, showing both his respect for the law and his authority to interpret its present meaning. “But I say to you,” he continues, voicing the law’s fulfillment in a superabundant righteousness (Matt. 5:38-48). If abused, turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Love your enemies. Is this a call to absolute nonresistance (Daniel Patte)? Or, is this a plan of nonviolent resistance to the principality of this age (Walter Wink)? In either case, we are struck by the impossibility of what is commanded, and that may be precisely the point. Only the inner working of love given by God — a divine love — can help us in the real living of our real lives.

Love your enemies. “This commandment would actually be impossible and, consequently, monstrous if Christianity consisted only in the commandment to love. But Christianity is not only the commandment but also the revelation and the gift of love. … In this is the staggering newness of Christian love — that in the New Testament man is called to love with divine love” (Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist, p. 136).

Look It Up
Read Ps. 119:36. An infused heart will incline.

Think About It
Love insinuates.

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