Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My apologies to Leviticus

Through the Bible in 90 days: Day 9

Read Leviticus 14:33-26:26

Verse that stood out: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD - Leviticus 19:18.

I need to apologize to the book of Leviticus. Yesterday, I questioned its relevance. I called it tedious. I wrote that it was weird. Sorry about that. Today, it was still a little strange, and still tedious in places, but it was also moving, convicting, and yes, even hope inducing. What was the change? Well, once I got past all the ceremonial rules and those strange regulations concerning bodily fluids, there in the middle of this book were commands that championed justice for the least of these and mercy for the poor, the downtrodden, and the foreigner.
  • 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 . . . Leave them for the poor and the alien (19:9, 10)
  • Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight (19:13)
  • Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God (19:14)
  • Do not pervert justice; do not show paritiality to the the poor or favortitism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly (19:15)
  • Love your neighbor as yourself (19:18)
  • Have the same law for the alien [foreigner] and the native born (24:22)

These laws speak to both issues of justice and mercy. God's people are to treat all people, not just the ones who are related to them or beneficial to them, fairly. God's people are to watch out for the least of these, those folks who because of their position in life have limited resources with which to defend themselves. God's people are to be generous to the poor without regard to the reasons of their poverty. Sure, these laws don't go as far as some of Jesus' words on these same topics, but the basic ideas are there.

Also, in these pages is the hope for more, a hope for not only justice and fairness, but a desire for God's abounding grace. Chapter 25 presents the concept of the Year of Jubilee, a year that was to occur every seven years. Jubilee was a time when debts would be forgiven, slaves released, land returned, and fields left fallow. Jubilee was to be a regular interruption of grace into the daily grind of just desserts; a release valve set to prevent God's people from spiraling into a slavery of their own making.

Scholars doubt that the year of Jubilee was ever practiced. It is a concept filled with difficulties primarily related to our own sinful hearts. And yet here it stands, a commandment of God. The prophets of Israel, like Isaiah, picked up on the idea of Jubilee as what would happen on the great day of the Lord - a day when God himself would return and enact the Jubilee promises. It was from one of these passages that Jesus would announce his own ministry, a ministry of Jubilee, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Remarkable words out of our Savior's mouth, from the prophet Isaiah, and first presented in the most underappreciated of texts, the book of Leviticus.

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