“Slaves and Statutes”
Text: Leviticus 18:1-5, 19:8-18
Proper 10, C
Jesus, in the Gospel reading, makes use of our text from Leviticus. A lawyer asked him, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” Our Lord uses this text to teach us how we are to live as his children in this world. It helps us think through what it looks like to “love your neighbour like yourself.” These words are meant to help us understand what kind of people we are to be, now that we belong to Christ. What are our lives to look like and how can they best reflect Christ? First we stop being slaves to the past or to the future, but we instead rejoice in being servants to the will of God.
1The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. 3You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. God’s people are not slaves to the dictates of the past nor are we slaves to dictates of the future. The Israelites were warned against falling back into the terrible sins of Egypt they have just left, and they are equally warned against falling for the terrible sins of the Canaanites whose land they will soon be entering.
The same warning holds true for Christians to this day. We are warned here not to hold on to some idyllic picture of a world that never was (aka Norman Rockwell historians) defending a culture that never existed. The good old days were not free from the sin and vice that still plagues us today. A thin veneer of goodness cannot hide the rot beneath. However, we must also be continually reminded that we are never beholden to any brave new vision of the world. Despite what others may say we should not simply “Get with the times or get out of the way.” New isn’t always better, nor is every latest and passing fad morally superior. People are not smarter now, just because it is now. We must never become a slave to the past that never really was or to a future that others tell us should be apparent, what with it being the current year and all!
So who, or what, then do we serve? God tells us: 4You shall follow my just decrees and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. 5You shall therefore keep my statutes and my just decrees; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.
And here is the rub, we are warned not just about the necessity of not following in the evil of others, God also warns us that we must be actively pursuing the good of our neighbours (even those whose detestable practices we are to avoid). We are slaves to the will of God and that will is that we love our neighbour as ourselves!
And at this point the text goes into a lengthy description of what this God-pleasing love for our neighbour looks like. It would take too long to list out every instance and nuance, but you should most certainly take the time to see just what God expects in our day to day dealings with people. And it is so very progressive and so very thorough that it quite frankly puts many modern day Social Justice Warriors to shame. I will simply summarize it as Moses himself does: 17“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18You 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.”
Not looking out for the poor and destitute, mistreating the blind or deaf, not getting what you can get just because no one would know any better, not playing favourites or perverting justice, not spreading false or malicious words about anyone ... each of these is born of a hatred for those who are not ourselves. A disdain for those who are not me. Not having the time or the patience or the love for others (no matter how different or vile) comes from a blackened and bent heart that praises the self at the cost of everyone else around. So what is God’s will for us then? We should love our neighbour in the same way and to the same degree and extent that we love our self. Note how God presupposes that each person naturally and selfishly loves himself. The command is for each person to display at least as much love for his neighbour as he already has for himself. Why? Not because they deserve it. Not even because we are really capable of doing it! But only because God loves us!
I am the Lord your God. 5You shall therefore keep my statutes and my just decrees; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord. And here is the key to understanding this passage of Holy Scripture … these words of God’s are not just a claim of authority or a statement of Law “You belong to me, I am your boss, do what I say!” Far from it, These blessed words are in fact a wonderful assurance! “I belong to you! I am at your service.” With this assurance comes the promise of life that is more than just physical survival, it is all about God-given liveliness and vitality, prosperity and blessing.
I know this may seem backwards, but God says that by looking out for others our own lives will be more prosperous, by sacrificing for others our own lives will be blessed, by going without so others may have our own life will be more lively and vital. How? Because God was at our service by being our good Samaritan. He came in the flesh of Jesus Christ to live these laws for us and pay for our trespasses and failures on top of it! Jesus walked in God’s statutes, and lived accordingly … but then died for our sins! He is the Lord your God, Who serves you that you may serve others. He is the Lord your God and that turns everything upside down!
And what kind of people are we to be, now that we belong to Christ? What should our lives look like and how can they best reflect Christ? First we are no longer slaves to this world, at the whims of political correctness or the newest interpretations of the right side of history. We are servants of the will of God ... for the sake of our neighbours. We are servants of the one who first served us through His own life and death and into the promise of our own everlasting life. We are servants only to the statute of His enduring love.