“Love your neighbour as yourself”. An oft quoted and treasured phrase across religious and secular spectres and an imperative in these difficult times. When I hear the phrase I usually think of Jesus’ teachings and the famous “Good Samaritan” story. Apparently I am not alone.
My husband is ESL and one of our hobbies is to ask Google home where English idioms and quotes come from. (We do this so often that our toddler daughter has added “google” to her growing repertoire of words.) This morning when I said, “hey google, where does the phrase ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ come from?” It also referred to Jesus and the Good Samaritan story.
Well google, sorry to say but you are wrong! The origin of the phrase comes from a book in the bible that is known for being dry and obscure and difficult for modern readers to understand…. (drum roll) Leviticus! The book of the law for the ancient Israelites.
When I found the following social justice passage in Leviticus I was surprised and excited because it is was so refreshing and relevant for today.
“”When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
Leviticus 19:9-18 ESV
https://www.bible.com/59/lev.19.9-18.esv (bold and italics mine).
The verse that almost brought tears to my eyes was the one about cursing the deaf and putting a stumbling block in front of the blind. A deaf person would not know if you cursed them. A blind person would not see you causing them to trip. You would seemingly be able to get away with it. I can hear the compassion in God’s voice. He would know and somehow they would know too. You know when you can just sense that someone doesn’t like you but they’re trying to be polite? Oh so Canadian… I have been on both the receiving and the giving end of that. And I have seen friends with disabilities, subtly and not so subtly been given the cold shoulder or hurt for someone else’s pleasure.
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbour” How hard that is to not simply hold things in your heart against your neighbour without speaking or “vent” to everyone else. We had a dispute with our neighbour about the fence we were building and things got worse and worse until I stopped keeping my feelings inside and had the courage to talk to her honestly. It all worked out and we have a beautiful fence. Another time I assumed that our neighbour on the other side had been the one who complained to the city about our tree during landscaping construction and I wrote a scathing text. Wisely, she did not text me back but waited until she saw me. She told me that she hadn’t been the one who complained and fortunately forgave me. Both my husband and I are conflict avoiders and peacemakers. A blessing and a challenge. It has been interesting to see that show up in our marriage and our relationships with others. After 35 years of life, many of those years fleeing from any sort of argument or disagreement, I am beginning to realize that conflict to some degree is unavoidable. Every night when my daughter goes to bed and the house is quiet I think maybe tomorrow she won’t scream or whine at all and she’ll just listen to what I want to do… Lol. And so I dream.
I can’t escape the fact that I will clash with others but I can escape having a hard heart and a cursing mind. And if you think sweet Melody doesn’t curse in her mind you would be surprised…
The first few verses about leaving grain and grapes cut right through the heart of fear and hoarding. Oh, it is so easy for me to point my finger at others in this. Yes, I laughed and shook my head at the people who were fighting over toilet paper. Back when I didn’t believe that quarantine would come and businesses would disappear. My first instinct in hard times is to protect my family and that is good but I also realize my many privileges and that I am very comfortable while others nearby are suffering. The farmers in this passage did gather for themselves and their families and they had enough. What of my harvest can I share?
Google was not totally wrong when I asked about loving neighbours. Jesus quoted this verse to people who had forgotten. People who were trying to get by with the very bare minimum and still claim their reward. The law had become what perhaps it is today. A cliche. A nice thing that sounds good to try. Maybe put it on a fridge magnet. When I see this verse now I think about the heart of God. The God who called a nation apart to live in a new way. A loving way. The God who calls out today to come and be loved by Him so deeply that our only possible response is to let it spill over.