When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.
Do not steal.
Do not lie.
Do not deceive one another.
Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.
Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.
Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.
Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind but fear your God. I am the Lord.
Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great but judge your neighbor fairly.
Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.
Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (New International Version)
All of these Old Testaments commands to the ancient Israelites are a development and expansion upon the basic core Ten Commands or Words given by God to Moses.
Those core commands are based in the character of God. That same character is to be the normal daily lived experience of God’s people.
The Levitical instructions are a fleshing-out of God’s basic commands for a specific people in their particular social, economic, and historical situation.
Although we need not, as modern folk, strictly observe the commands, as they are culturally constructed, we very much need to fulfill the ethics and morality which are behind the specific instructions.
Today’s Old Testament lesson has to do with being a good neighbor – a person who conscientiously lives in community with others and pays attention to the collective needs and wants of everyone. It is to live into God’s overarching ethic for the common good of all persons.
A commitment to community life needs good neighbors. They are characterized by the following virtues:
Israel was chiefly an agrarian society. So, when the season of harvest came, the workers gleaning the fields were to only go over it once. That way, the poor and less fortunate could come behind and pick up what the workers missed or dropped.
Any landowner who instructed the workers to keep working until they got every scrap of grain or fruit was being cruel to the poor. Merciful and generous owners would, conversely, instruct the workers to leave a bit behind and not get everything.
Since God sacrifices on behalf of humanity, so we, too, are to make sacrifices which benefit the common good of all persons in the community.
Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. (Ephesians 5:2, NLT)
A sacrificial spirit, not a self-indulgent one, is what God is looking for in a good neighbor.
Cheating, lying, stealing, and deceit have absolutely no place in the kingdom of God. Instead, honest dealings with others, always being above board in all matters, is of upmost importance to God.
Witnesses in court are expected to speak the truth without falsehood. Business dealings are to have accurate weights and measures. Integrity and trustworthiness are the building blocks of any good society.
Since God is truth, so we, too, are to live into truth through being honest in all we say and do.
Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent. (Exodus 23:7-8, NIV)
An honest spirit, not a thieving one, is what God is looking for in a good neighbor.
In the ancient world, and still in many parts of the world today, workers were paid at the end of the day for their day’s work. Bosses who withheld expected wages till the next day were quite literally depriving a family of their supper.
For those who are not able to do a solid day’s work, such as the blind and the handicapped, it’s bad enough to simply ignore them, because God is attentive to their plight. That situation is exacerbated exponentially, whenever someone or a group of people, decide to make such persons’ lives even harder than they already are.
Since God is fair in all dealings, so we, too, are to extend fairness to all without any prejudice or favoritism.
The Lord watches to see if we are fair or if we cheat others. (Proverbs 16:11, CEV)
A fair spirit, not an exploitive one, is what God is looking for in a good neighbor.
Unequal treatment is about as far from God as one can get. Being concerned only about those with similar political views, economic interests, or spiritual inclinations is a gross practice of injustice. It denies the ethic of the common good of all in favor of the common good of some.
Since God is just in all things, so we, too, are to uphold biblical justice for our fellow humanity, no matter who they are or where they come from.
Never deprive foreigners and orphans of justice. And never take widows’ clothes to guarantee a loan. (Deuteronomy 24:17, GW)
A spirit of justice, not injustice, is what God is looking for in a good neighbor.
Hate is the inevitable result of holding onto anger through nursing a grudge and holding onto bitterness. It fails to speak up and speak out.
Love, however, assertively addresses anger and seeks to make things right in a calm and concerned way. Love attacks problems, not people.
Since God is love, so we, too are to love one another.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. (1 John 4:7, NIV)
Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good. (Romans 12:21, MSG)
A spirit of love, not a hateful vengeful one, is what God is looking for in a good neighbor.
A good neighbor is one who seeks the common good of all persons because God is good, all the time, and always does what is right, just, and fair.
Gracious God and Father, in a world of fear and suspicion, teach us that love is the only means to conquer fear.
Loving Lord Jesus, Son of God, in a world full of anger and frustration, teach to overturn the tables and tear down the fences which turn away the hungry and homeless; and to practice hospitality without prejudice.
Blessed Holy Spirit of God, in a world of indifference and ignorance, teach us wisdom, to be caring of one another, and to protect one another.
Blessed Holy Trinity, the God whom we serve, help us to know the peace that steals gently in through quiet acts of kindness, just as peace is always within you as one God, now and forever. Amen.