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Proper 25A 1st Reading

Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18

Mary Paul

Two challenging phrases rise from this passage: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

The “you shall” gets to me, as in, how shall I? This question is followed by a desire not to minimize the call to make it “shallable”. As I ponder these two statements and the whole of the passage I am glad to be reminded of the weekly confession included in many gatherings before communion. A confession that goes something like this:

Most merciful God, we confess the ways that we have sinned against you and others by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways to the glory of your Name. AMEN

I grew up in a church where confession was for those praying a sinner’s prayer (often many times over) and the call of the people of God was to live lives of holiness. There was much good in the church of my youth but the message that I received was pretty consistently that if you needed to confess it was a sign that you had a “broken” relationship with God that needed a new work of grace. You were either “in” or “out” in regards to your relationship with God. It was life giving in so many ways to discover that confession was not just for the rebel but also for the elder child who never left the house of God. Confession also became larger as I began to see the invitation to confession as an opportunity to create space for truth telling and life change. Confession(both corporately and privately) grew to the practice of asking the light of Christ to illumine my mind, soul, spirit, body life and speak the truth of what is revealed. As I have lived into this practice and notion of confession overall I have found it life giving. And yet I find myself also seeing something potentially spiritually lazy creep in.

If I confess in the large terms of not loving my neighbor as myself, or the places and spaces where I am not holy as God is holy what actually am I hoping will arise from this confession? Am I asking simply for a grace filled pass from the “you shalls” in this passage?

The in between words seem to call me to something more than a hall pass;

This list is pretty specific. And while I make no claims that this is an exhaustive description of holy love it’s a pretty good starting point.

Entering into relationships with one another without coming with a ready bias but an open spirit to receive the person, for who they really are. Relating to people with a ready loving regard and respect without making assumptions or conclusions from their status or appearance.

The call not to slander can sound a bit removed but enters us into a full review of how our words have spoken blessing or curse. If we have an issue with another we need to talk directly to the person rather than have talked to ten other people about our “concern”. This takes a boldness and vulnerability that moves us again into life giving, generative relationships.

Leviticus goes on and says; you shall not profit by the blood of the your neighbor. This language is interesting and many of us would assume it indicates that some act of violence or murder brings personal gain.

Walter Brueggemann in his work on Isaiah helped me understand this phrase a bit more. In Isaiah 5 we find a judgement passage regarding the actions of Israel. Isaiah 5:7 says, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!”[1] Brueggemann says; “…Israel should be a community that practices generative, positive social relationships without abuse or exploitation.”[2] The overall call to be holy is to be a people (person) within whom life of God flows and through whom life of God flows. The evidence of God’s spirit is the care for all people, language of blessing over slandering, and justice over bloodshed. Brueggemann says: “ The term “bloodshed” (offered as a play on words in Hebrew: mispah =”bloodshed” instead of mispat = “justice”) means “outpouring” thus the outpouring of lifeblood through exploitative social practice; that is, the kinds of economic transactions that abuse, injure, and slowly bleed the poor to death.”[3]

That’s bigger and hits harder than the avoidable act of violence. And again: The “you shall” gets to me as in, how shall I? Along with a confession that I do at times desire to minimize the call to make it “shallable”.

Perhaps there is something for us in the phrase, “I am the Lord”. Where we are invited to know that real life change can happen within us and through us and around us and between us by God’s power not our own. This holiness and love of neighbor is not ours to conjure up because we have a commitment to be good people of justice. Actually this holiness and love of neighbor is found as we confess in real ways, and reflect in specific ways that we might find ourselves open to the resurrection power of Christ to work in us and through us and around us and between us. To breathe in the breathe of God is to allow good air to fill our lungs in such a way that our breathing out is life giving and fragrant. The ancient prayer, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, is not just that we would know forgiveness (as deeply as we all need forgiveness) but that the LORD would fill us in such a way that our lives are continually transformed into a breadth and width of holy love beyond what we can imagine. Confession is a gift that invites us to come honestly before God and speak the truth (the messy mix of good and bad) that is revealed. By the mercies of God in Christ it is also necessary that we find ways to walk out that confession. This holy love of others has a lot more to do with action than emotion. And in the walking out that confession in practical and real ways the life of God flows through us into a community in ways that are life giving, hope filled and while still peculiar and sometimes even offensive, recognizable as the witness of those who claim Jesus as Lord.

This confession of our lips, and our hearts and our whole being that Jesus is Lord is spoken as a resistance to every competing claim on our lives. In the name of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit we are being changed into the likeness of Christ; that our minds, hearts, souls are being transformed and not conformed to the world. This transformation can come in dramatic ways, but usually in slow incremental ways. As we confess Jesus is Lord and allow that confession to take root in the ways we talk, the ways we interact, the ways we buy and the ways we sell, the very character of God can begin to be recognized over the passage of time.

In some ways the phrase, “I am the Lord your God.” Is also a statement that is speaking of our belonging. As sons and daughters of God we have a family likeness that can become more evident as we continue to grow in this family. Much like you can recognize the familial patterns of a particular laugh, specific gait or welcoming smile. When we live out holy love something significant of our belonging to the family of God (God’s kingdom come) is revealed. These familial characteristics of holy love arise from our mutual dwelling in God and God in us. So when we love as God loves and grow in those ways of love, we can hear “I am the Lord your God” spoken over us as a delight, a promise, a seal. We hear this is my daughter, this is my son and I am their God.

If we confess Jesus Christ is Lord then we shall love, we shall be loved and we shall know love. This transforms the notion of you shall from a heavy weight to a transformative promise. I am, the Lord your God, has spoken this and is speaking this into your being as he spoke the day itself into being. AMEN

[1] Adapted from BCP

[2] Brueggemann, Isaiah 1-39, Westminister Bible Companion,1998 p. 48

[3] Ibid.

About the Contributor

Vice President for Spiritual Development

Mary Paul