Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18Last week's first reading came from the Pentateuch book of Deuteronomy; again this week God speaks through Moses, this time with words recorded in the book of Leviticus that's also in the Pentateuch – or Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. These texts were part of the oral tradition before they got written down; the written words were a long time coming and happened probably during the Babylonian exile, or possibly while resettling Jerusalem after the exile. We need to remember the oral tradition is not the same as written-down words spoken aloud, but has a dynamic life of its own. This is the only reading from Leviticus in all three lectionary year! Probably no surprise, since most of the book rings true to its stereotype of mostly containing instructions for the sacrificial system and purity codes. Levites were the priests of the Jerusalem Temple.
1The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2Speak 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.
9When 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. 10You 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. 11You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. 12And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. 13You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. 14You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. 15You 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. 16You 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. 17You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18You 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.
This passage opens with God's command and God's promise: "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." God gave these instructions for covenantal life together to Israel while they still were transversing the desert wilderness, before they crossed the RIver Jordan into the Promised Land.
Discussion: What does "holy" mean to you?
Over the past few weeks in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's gospel we've heard Jesus' telling his followers they are blessed, how to be blessed. Jesus has been saying, and now these words from Leviticus back up Jesus as they describe how to be holy in the same way God is holy. Instructions in the passage are clear and self-evident, but almost everyone mentioned that many grocery stores and other retailers are leaving "gleanings" of food for food pantries and other distribution centers so food doesn't go to waste and more people have enough to eat. This pericope is about our behaviors and actions in covenantal community, in our lives together.
I mentioned perfect in Matthew 5:48 48, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect," is from telos the same Greek word that gives us teleological, goal-oriented, be the whole, integral, complete person God created you to be, and is far from post-enlightenment Western ideas of perfection.