Can anything good come out of Leviticus? Jesus seemed to think so.

Some of the most strident criticisms of both Judaism and Christianity stem from people reading Leviticus. Laws. Laws. Laws. Some of the reasons for the disenchantment with Leviticus stems from the ways some verses are often cited to trump another person during an argument. Many times these verses are plucked from their context and used to support a person’s pre-determined vision for life. It does not make much sense to use the Bible to beat people with our vision of life. Jesus did not. When he pointed to the Scriptures he sought to point out a way in which the meaning of the Texts under consideration were more often used as a minimum for treating others rather than the maximum that exposes the world to God’s grace and mercy.

Jesus refers to the “law of retaliation” (Lev. 24:20ff) The law was actually intended to stop the cycle of retribution. Rather than and eye for and eye and an ear, the law stipulated the limits of retaliation. Too many think the law “prescribes” retaliation. So, when Jesus comes along in the Sermon on the Mount, he subverts even those limits of retaliation by asserting that we should not even be angry. You may be recalling Nathan’s message from Sunday wherein he reminded us that Jesus calls us to be a different kind of people – people who don’t get angry. Without anger there is no need for limits on retaliation, and so no need for a law prescribing its limits.

Jesus is noted in the Sermon on the Mount for pointing out that we “should love our neighbors as ourselves.” Unfortunately most of us think this was original with Jesus. The truth is, Jesus finds some good coming out of Leviticus. In our Old Testament text for Sunday, our reading points us to the way life looks like the life of God – be holy as I am holy. Rather than being like God in isolation, the shape of Leviticus 19 requires us to be like God in relationship, and most often with others. In fact, in something of an oft overlooked connection, Leviticus 19 not only instructs us to love our neighbor as our self, it goes on to say we are to love the “alien” as ourself. Now this is taking the notion of love too far! You mean it is not enough to love the person standing next to me who generally looks like me and hails from my own area, region, or country. You mean to tell me I must love the person who “came over here” from “over there” and now lives in my area, region, or country? Yes. That is precisely what we find in Leviticus. Jesus’ practice of extending the law in a way that does not give us a loophole was not really all that new.

When we settle in on one passage or verse or three in Leviticus in order to win an argument, we might be better served looking at Leviticus 19 to see how well we are living out the vision of God in our own lives before we determine the “way” for another. Nathan remarked that a theologian is often a person looking for the loopholes. Any time we speak of God we are “doing” theology. We must be careful about our own attempts to look for a way around the very things Jesus draws out to be important. You have heard it said . . . .

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One way to think about the mission of Jesus - He calls into question the way things are and points to the way things may be in the Kingdom of God. 

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