Love - Old and New
Another of the many contrasts John draws in his first letter is that of the old command and the new command. In 1 John 2:7 he says, I'm not writing you a new command but an old one, yet it is a new command. So which is it? New or old?
He means to say it is both old and new. Leviticus 19:18 reads, "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." (emphasis mine) Jesus said that we should love one another as he loved us, which is more than loving our neighbor as ourselves (John 13:34). Loving someone as God loves us goes far beyond loving someone as we love ourselves. In this way, Jesus' teaching is an old teaching with a new twist. It is a command of a greater magnitude. The Jewish hearers of Jesus' teaching would have noticed the change immediately. They had been taught to love only those who did good to them.
But Jesus' teaching specifically went beyond even loving our neighbors when he proclaimed, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43). So the teaching of Jesus progressed from the old command to "love your neighbor as yourself" to "love your neighbor as I love you" to "love your enemies". Changing from "love your neighbor" to "love your enemy" indeed makes it a new command. Undoubtedly this is one of the hardest teachings of Jesus to accept and try to practice.
For Reflection: As Christians, how are we doing at loving our neighbors? How are we doing at loving our enemies? Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, "Who is my enemy?" Today I hear people in the U.S. speak of "those republicans" or "those democrats" as if they are the enemy. Or we speak of unnamed terrorists or ISIS or Al Quaeda as the enemy. Yet Paul says we wrestle not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). So who, indeed, is our enemy?
Let us pray. Jesus, I seek to follow your command to love my enemies and pray for, or do good to, those who persecute me. Who have I been treating as my enemy? I ask you to help me see them through your eyes. I need help praying for them and not against them.
Many of the rules or laws in Leviticus seem rather strange to us today. There are rules about not mixing different types of fibers in clothing, for example. Yet today we have clothing not only made of mixed fibers but no fibers at all. Some of the laws don't seem to apply to everyone, only to specific people. One such is "When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat its fruit. In this way your harvest will be increased. I am the Lord your God" (Lev 19:23-25).
People who grow fruit trees know that the first several years the tree either produces no fruit or the fruit is small and not tasty. It takes several years for a fruit tree to mature and produce good fruit. So we could see in this law generally good advice about fruit trees. But the other lesson is about who to thank for those fruit trees and their produce. In the first year that the fruit matures the entire crop should be given to God in praise and thanks. The tree has grown; the soil has been fertile; the rainfall and sunshine plentiful; no locusts or birds have eaten the fruit. So in this first good year of harvest, the firstfruits all belong to God (Proverbs 3:9).
We all have first fruits of one kind or another. We earn a college degree and go out for our first year of work in our chosen field. We enter an apprenticeship program, become a journeyman and then a master. We start a new venture and have our first year when we turn a profit.
There's a temptation for many of us, I think, to consider this thanks offering as a tax instead. It is not necessarily freely and gratefully given. But a praise offering needs to be given with thanksgiving in our hearts.
For Reflection: Has there been a time in my life when I did not give all the firstfruits of my labor to God? If so, how can I make up for it? Have I continued to give God thanks through the days and the years for all He has given me?
Let us pray. Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. How priceless is your unfailing love (Psalm 36: 5-6, 7).
"Homemade Rice Bowl" By ParentingPatch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Fun or Sin
Many people consider the 10 commandments and other Christian rules to be things that God said "don't do" or the churches say "don't do" just to keep people from having fun. In reality God has reasons for those rules and the churches are charged with teaching those rules.
The first of God's reasons seems to be "Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy" (Leviticus 19:1; Matthew 5:48). God made us to be like him. He is holy and perfect and he wants us to be holy and perfect. As a father he is holding himself up for his children as an example to be followed. And so his commands are about doing what he would do and not doing what he would not do.
The second reason would seem to be because his commands, his instructions, help us to get along with him, with ourselves and with others. Leviticus 18 - 20 expand on the 10 commandments. These chapters give details and no doubt answer questions that had arisen about following God's rules. They cover participating, or not participating, in the customs of the people around them, e.g., "Do not give your children to be sacrificed to Molech" (Lev 18:21). We mustn't defile ourselves or other people because it also defiles the land. "And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you" (Lev 18:28).
For Reflection: There is nothing like the Bible for vivid imagery. God spoke of our actions defiling the land long before modern man came up with the idea of mankind polluting the land and the seas. Do any of these sins sound like fun? Do being disrespectful to God, ourselves and others sound like fun?
Let us pray. "May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous." (Psalm 119:172).
Photo: "Streamerglass" by Tiffany Studios. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Streamerglass.jpg#/media/File:Streamerglass.jpg
Another of the directives of the moral code in Leviticus 19 concerns the poor, travelers and foreigners. "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 alien. I am the Lord your God" (Lev 19:9-10). We must not hoard all that God has given us; we must share our bounty with others among us. No matter how we receive our harvest today, whether through a paycheck, commission or self-employment, others must be considered. It does not even say that we should gather it and then parcel it out to the poor and the needy, which is what we tend to do today. The direction is to let people help themselves.
We might also notice that it assumes there will be poor people and travelers or foreigners present. Jesus said, of course, that the poor would always be with us (John 12:8, Matthew 26:11). And on another occasion, when he and the disciples were traveling, they stopped to pick grain in a field (Matthew 12:1). In other words, they helped themselves.
Most of us today are not farmers and the idea of people helping themselves to what we have earned (however we are paid) is foreign to us. Don't we always try to get paid as much as we can (whether we are individuals or corporations)? Of course, we do. We mitigate this by giving to charity, donating our time to non-profits, and various other activities.
But how often do we resent what we tithe? How often do we denigrate the beggar on the corner? How often do we harbor a grudge toward the foreigner among us who is trying to get a leg up?
For Reflection: Does what I earn belong totally to me or should I share it? How much should I share? How should I share it? What is my attitude toward foreigners around me?
Let us pray. Jesus, if I knew that it would be you picking from my fields I don't think I would hesitate to leave some good pickings. But most of the time I don't know exactly where my giving goes. Most of the time I am disdainful of the poor and distrustful of aliens. Help me to not hoard what you have given me and to see you in everyone. Help me to be gracious and give freely.
Rage of the Age
Tattooing is the rage of the age. It used to be that only low-lifes or drunken sailors would get a tattoo because they were a shameful thing. Obviously that is not true in the U.S. today. People proudly display the marks on their bodies. Some even turn their bodies into canvasses for tattooers, becoming living billboards. Even Christians today get tattoos of crosses or Scripture verses.
But as we saw in our last post, the Mosaic law forbids tattoos. Who would have thought that tattoos had been around that long, but they have. Leviticus 19:38 states, "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord." Some interpreters propose that this only applies to a mourning practice of getting tattoos in memory of a loved one. Others say that it applies to all tattoos. Still others that it has to do with cutting the body and not causing infections. I was taught, as a child, simply not to deface the body that God gave you. Our bodies are beautiful and precious because God made them and they are his gift to us.
When Jesus summarized the law as to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself, he summarized this part of the law also. So cutting our bodies and getting tattoos fall under not loving ourselves. We are God's handiwork. We should be loved and appreciated.
Let us pray. "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." (Psalm 1:1-3)
Our God, Our Source
When I was a child, I was taught many things that "Catholics don't do." I didn't know then that these were really things that "Christians don't do." A number of examples come to mind. We didn't participate in non-Christian religions. We didn't join cults, or sects. We didn't join the Masons. We didn't consult any type of fortune teller. We didn't get tattoos.
Although God's laws have not changed, many Christians disregard these prohibitions. But I suspect God had good reasons for telling us, through Moses, not to do these things. Yes, through Moses. The laws are that old. We can find them in Leviticus 19:26-31. Leviticus 19:26b says, "Do not practice divination or sorcery." Verse 31 says, "Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God." This law was to prevent people from looking to other sources than God for guidance. God alone knows the future. So there is no reason to consult the zodiac, astrology, crystal balls, fortune tellers or mediums. We have no need of seances, Ouija boards, witchcraft, spells, or tarot cards. We have God. He is our source. It is he whom we must consult for guidance.
For Reflection: if we have consulted any of these other sources, even if in ignorance, we need to repent. He is the Lord our God. We shall have no other gods.
Let us pray. Father, I repent of looking to any thing or any one other than you as my source, and I ask your forgiveness. You are the only one who knows the future. You are the only one who knows the full truth. You are the Lord, my God. I will not have other gods beside you.
(Photo: 123rf stock photo)
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.