In this week's reading from Mark, Jesus tells us that one of the most important things in the Kingdom of God is to "love your neighbor as yourself." He's drawing on a passage in the book of Leviticus – a book which is often seen as a loose collection of "dos and don'ts" in the Old Testament. In the middle of this seemingly tedious rule book sits (what Jesus identifies as) the heart of God's design for us. Leviticus 19:5-8 starts with instructions on how to share a fellowship/peace offering (loving God) and then moves to how we love each other:
Leviticus 9-18 (The Message)
9–10 “When you harvest your land, don’t harvest right up to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings from the harvest. Don’t strip your vineyard bare or go back and pick up the fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am God, your God.
11 “Don’t steal.
“Don’t deceive anyone.
12 “Don’t swear falsely using my name, violating the name of your God. I am God.
13 “Don’t exploit your friend or rob him.
“Don’t hold back the wages of a hired hand overnight.
14 “Don’t curse the deaf; don’t put a stumbling block in front of the blind; fear your God. I am God.
15 “Don’t pervert justice. Don’t show favoritism to either the poor or the great. Judge on the basis of what is right.
16 “Don’t spread gossip and rumors.
“Don’t just stand by when your neighbor’s life is in danger. I am God.
17 “Don’t secretly hate your neighbor. If you have something against him, get it out into the open; otherwise you are an accomplice in his guilt.
18 “Don’t seek revenge or carry a grudge against any of your people.
“Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God.
Loving our neighbor does not end (or even begin) with simply a feeling of affection, affinity, or affirmation (even though there's nothing wrong with those things) – this Kingdom-of-God kind of love gets its hands dirty with issues of ethics, care, justice, speech, and interior renovation. Reread the above section from Leviticus again and notice how many different verbs are used that are finally summed up in the verb “love.”
The apostle Paul also has a famous section on love-in-action (1 Corinthians 13). As you read his words, try to synthesize both Leviticus and Paul, and then live both of these "love passages" toward your neighbor next door, across town, and across the world.
1 Corinthians 13 (The Message)
1 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
2 If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
3–7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
8–10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love
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Tomorrow on the Daily Connection: Who Is My Neighbor?
About the Author
Isaac Gaff is the Managing Director of Worship and Creative Arts at Calvary UMC