Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A   Leave a comment

Above: The Gleaners, by Jean-Francois Millet, 1857

Active Compassion

FEBRUARY 23, 2014

FEBRUARY 19, 2017

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Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.

You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Psalm 119:33-40 (New Revised Standard Version):

Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes,

and I will observe it to the end.

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law

and observe it with my whole heart.

Lead me in the path of your commandments,

for I delight in it.

Turn my heart to your decrees,

and not to selfish gain.

Turn my eyes from looking at vanities;

give me life in your ways.

Confirm to your servant your promise,

which is for those who fear you.

Turn away the disgrace that I dread,

for your ordinances are good.

See, I have longed for your precepts;

in your righteousness give me life.

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 (New Revised Standard Version):

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,

He catches the wise in their craftiness,

and again,

The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,

that they are futile.

So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future– all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Matthew 6:24-34 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus said,

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The Collect:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The Book of Leviticus is really quite interesting in places.  High-minded, laudatory-sounding commandments rub shoulders with others that seem scary or trivial.  So, Leviticus 19:3-8 contains the commandments to honor one ‘s parents (a good thing to do), reject idols (also a good thing to do), and to make peace offerings to God just so, or else be cut off from the community (scary).  Then 19:19 mentions kosher clothing, and 19:20 requires the sacrificial offering of a ram for forgiveness of the sin of having sex with a slave girl whose freedom has been purchased yet who is promised to another man.  I could continue with this list, but that exercise would constitute overkill, and the book is in print.

One can become lost in such details in Leviticus, but that is an error.  The selected commandments for reading on this Sunday go hand-in-hand with other assigned lessons.  These commandments from God require active compassion toward others.  Some of the literal details do not apply to how many people live in 2010 or 2011, but the spirit of the law is timeless.  And there is a time-honored religious practice of seeking new applications of the spirit of the law.

The word “perfect” from Matthew 5:48 requires some explanation.  The word choice makes sense when one applies it to God, but no sense with regard to fallible human beings.  Commentaries tell me that “honest” is a better choice with regard to people:  “Be honest, just as God is perfect.”  The parallel reading in Luke says “merciful,” which applies here, too.  And these options echo nicely with Leviticus and its command to be holy, as God is holy.

Holiness is concrete, not abstract.  And it entails acts of mercy and compassion toward others–those we know and do not know, as well as our friends and our enemies.  The last part of that equation is quite difficult, possible only through grace.  But it is possible.

Thanks be to God!

KRT

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