As you know, when I talked earlier this month, I spoke about Social Justice, in light of Isaiah 58 and the call to prayer and fasting that was pleasing to the Lord. In the current political climate, in the US as well as in Panama, where there is such a backlash against «immigrants» and «illegals» and so much discrimination, I find it challenging that once again today’s readings focus on aspects of social justice and what it means to be a follower of Jesus and to really and truly love our neighbour.
We all know pretty well the text in Matthew, chapter 22, where one of the Pharisees asked Jesus about the greatest commandment of the law, to which Jesus replied (Matthew 22: 36-40):
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.
The ENTIRE message of the Bible can be summarised in this short paragraph! You can ignore all of the small print of the Bible, if you just do these 2 things. Easy, right?
Maybe not so easy, because we find that in another part of the Gospels, (Luke 10: 22 and following) a lawyer who wished to justify himself by asking «who is my neighbour?», to which Jesus responded with the parable of the good samaritan. I’m not going to look at, this morning, «who is our neighbour» – but rather focus on what it means, in a very practical sense, to love your neighbour. What is the visible expression of your love for God and the commandments that were given to the people of Israel through the Law and the Prophets?
In Romans 13, verses 8 to 10, Paul says:
8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Our readings this morning, especially from Leviticus, give a context to the response that Jesus gave the Pharisee and then his conversation with the lawyer and the parable of the Samaritan. When Jesus spoke of «Love your neighbour as yourself» he was making reference to these particular verses from Leviticus 19, which would have been well known to the Pharisee and also to the lawyer. We might not know them so well; so I’d like us to take a moment to review the verses we read this morning and the examples of what it means to love your neighbour in a very practical sense.
- Verses 9 and 10 – be kind to the poor and the alien by leaving something for them in your fields and vineyards: do not reap to the very edges, do not gather the gleanings that fell, do not go over your field a second time picking up what you missed and do not pick up what has fallen. The poor and the alien still have to work for it, but it is made easy for them to find and forage for food.
- Verses 11 & 13: teach us compassion and absolute honesty and justice in our relationships
- no lying
- no fraud or dealing falsely
- no stealing
- no defauding
- and don’t keep for yourself an employees wages until the next day – always pay on time.
It’s interesting this last point, because under the Law it was perfectly legal to pay the labourer the next day for his work – you didn’t have to pay him the same day. But God’s law says – it’s just and right to pay him that day, so that he can take food home to his family. It wasn’t about what was legal, it was about what was right.
According to an article I read recently, it says that a persons lies 2 to 3 times every 10 minutes. Yes, mostly totally white lies: «How are you doing?» «I’m great!» – the lie may be the person asking how you are doing – when they really don’t care, or the lie may be the «I’m great» when they really aren’t feeling that way… And of all the lies we tell, 25% of those lies are for the sake of the other person! Very thoughtful of us, isn’t it!
What upsets me is not that you lied to me, but that from now on, I can no longer believe you.
- Verse 12: Don’t swear in God’s name
- Verse 14:
- don’t curse the deaf
- don’t put a stumbling block before the blind
It’s very easy to make fun of someone that can’t hear what you are saying or see what you are doing, but that doesn’t make it right. Verse 14 reminds us to treat every person with empathy according to their situation and not take advantage of any weaknesses that they might have.
- Verse 15: be just and judge your neighbour with justice
- do not be partial to the poor
- do not defer to the great
- Verse 16:
- Do not speak badly of others
- Do not profit at your neighbour’s expense
- Verse 17:
- Do not hate in your heart anyone of your family
- If your neighbour makes a mistake, be the one to tell him so that you aren’t an accomplice to his actions. When you give feedback to an employee, do you care about them enough to tell them the hard truths, the mistakes or omissions that they are making that are holding them back from doing better? Do you love someone enough to tell them that they are messing up and that they need to turn their life around? Or do you just want to be seen as the nice person that loves them just the way they are? Loving your neighbour is more than just being nice – it’s also practicing tough love, to become all that they can be.
Imagine, if you will for a moment, your child: when they make a mistake you correct them – because you love them enough that you want them to grow and learn. You know that this mistake now may cost them dear later on in life and so you make a point of having the hard conversations now, so that later on in life they do better.
Do you do the same with other people in your life? Or is that simply not your problem?
- Verse 18:
- no taking revenge
- no holding grudges
And it ends with «but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.»
Because God is God, you should do this! Because God is love and we are children of God, we do this!
Matthew 5, part of the Sermon on the Mount, illustrates this love for your neighbour in greater depth. If you haven’t already done so, re-read the entire sermon on the Mount!
In today’s passage, we read the following:
- turn the other cheek if someone strikes you
- give your cloak and not just your coat
- go the 2nd mile
- give to everyone who begs from you
- do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you
- love your enemies
- prayer for those who persecute you
- be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect
Because if you only love those who love you, what reward do you have? If you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? God sends rain to all: the righteous and the unrighteous – and so, as children of God, we should follow this example and not only treat well our family and friends, but treat everyone well. The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies – probably because, generally speaking, they are the same people!
So, make an effort today to love your neighbour:
- your homeless neighbour
- your immigrant neighbour
- your poor neighbour
- your uneducated neighbour
- your gay, lesbian, trans neighbour
- your jewish neighbour
- your right wing neighbour
- your fundamentalist Christian neighbour
- your athiest neighbour
- your disabled neighbour
- your drug addict or alcoholic neighbour
And let us all remember, 1st John 4: 20
If anyone says «I love God» but hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.