Isn't it odd that we read from a book of laws written a thousands of years ago for a group of semi-nomadic ancient near-eastern tribesmen with the expectation that perhaps this text was relevant and even life-giving? I hope you found it odd. Leviticus is worth reading though, for two reasons (beyond its being in the Bible). First, it is the heart of the Torah. It is 3 of 5 in the collection of books ascribed to Moses. The laws and instructions of Leviticus are what distinguish and set Israel apart. Israelite children often start their biblical education with Leviticus because of its importance. Secondly, Leviticus, at its core, is about a group of people called by God, trying to figure out what it means to be that people. So are we. We look back in order to look forward.
Leviticus 19 is a unique set of commands placed right at the heart of the book. We'll look at a few of those specific commands, but it is important to note, right off the bat, that Leviticus 19 frames the commands this way: You shall be holy, as I the Lord your God am holy. The list of commands is not given under the auspices of pleasing an angry God by getting on his level. The people of God should be like the God they worship. Each of the subsequent commands tell us something about who God is, they meant something for Israel, and they mean something for us.
For example: When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather all the gleanings of the harvest.
God: is uniquely generous and his economy prioritizes the poor.
For Israel: this meant leaving food in the fields and money on the table. Grain was currency, and to leave it in the fields or on the ground was to leave money in the field. It became a rule of thumb for the Israelites that 1/60 of their fields would be left unharvested. This law reminded Israel that they had a legal obligation to leave enough in their fields for those without fields.
For us: we must live under the authority of God's economy, wherein squeezing every ounce of profit and every drop of energy out of people is not the goal. The dollar is not god. God is uniquely generous and his economy prioritizes the poor and so should ours.
Another example: The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse the deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.
God: defends those who have no defense.
For Israel: The hired worker/laborer was someone at the bottom of society, possibly with no legal status. They were an undocumented worker, the sort that was regularly taken advantage of. Wages were garnished or payment was held until the next day to get another 12 hours of cheap labor. But God insists that Israel imitate God in his commitment to justice and to those who cannot defends themselves.
For us: Sometimes it feels like we’ve made so much progress. But we also live in a world that charges exorbitant interest rates on loans to the poor because we know we can get away with it. We take 10% of a hard earned check just to get it cashed, simply because you live in dirt-poor part of town. We live in a world that is far more eager to push lottery tickets than it is to push affordable housing. We allocate resources in ways that lead kids to believe that the only way up is through violence and then we roll our eyes when we see that another one has been shot. And I say “we” not because any of us are directly involved in these decisions or transactions, but because that does not entirely exonerates us.
What does it mean to pay the hired man his wages, to not put stumbling blocks in front of those who have no one to defend them? It means, at least in part, that we dive deeper into our partnership with Breakthrough Urban Ministries. My time spent over in Garfield Park makes me so thankful for Breakthrough, whose social workers make sure that the poor know what resources are available to them. It makes me thankful for their clinic that helps folks navigate insurance and health care for their families.
Leviticus 19 is full of commands that tell us about our God. He is generous. His economy prioritizes the poor. He does not act out of fear, but out of love. He defends those who have no defense. He shows no partiality. Be holy, therefore, just like your Father is holy. We have been called and set apart as God’s new community, called by Christ to imitate Him; To be like the God that we worship.
Prayers of the People
We pray for those struggling with illness. A friend of the church wrestling through a second cancer diagnosis; A friend nearing the end of a struggle with ALS. God of peace and mercy, be near to those who are scared. Be courage to those who face difficult paths. Bring comfort to all afflicted by illness.
We pray for organizations like world relief and others who care and support refugees. As the current admission numbers has drastically been lowered there have been staffing and funding challenges. But most of all we pray the refugees whose lives are in our hands and we pray that our presidential administration would understand the needs of the refugee and those who seek to help.
Loving God, we pray for the unemployed and underemployed. May you open doors and provide opportunities for meaningful and fulfilling work.
Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer