What is does it mean to love with the heart of God? Keeping God’s commandments and loving one another as God has already loved us. Certainly no easy task as we read in today’s Scripture from Leviticus and the Gospel of Matthew.
In the first reading we read a commentary on the Ten Commandments. There is an expansion of the commonly conceived list to include a variety of more specific statutes, each admonishing God’s chosen people to be aware of their relationships with one another. It is a law of social justice, of God’s view of how human interaction should take place. Take the last two verses of today’s first reading for example:
You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment.
Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty,
but judge your fellow men justly.
You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin;
nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
I am the LORD.
“You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove him,
do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.”
Moving beyond the more “black and white” simplicity of the decalogue, this enjoinder suggests that there are other ways by which we can harm others, bear the burden of sin and alienate ourselves from one another and God. Bearing hatred in the heart, taking revenge, holding a grudge and so on are not easily discernible from the usual list of 10 commandments. Yet, for God these are included among the ways human beings can live in wrong relationship.
The Gospel of Matthew, in what is perhaps the most famous passage of the text, offers a renewed account of what it means to love with the heart of God and do be in right-relationship.
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
What good is the law, what good is worship and faith and prayer without living in community as God has desired? There are ways in which one might understand him or herself as a good Christian simply by touting the lack of bad or insidious actions. Well, I’ve never lied, stolen or murdered!
Yet, God in Jesus Christ makes it clear that in addition to actions that clearly break relationship, do harm and alienate others, there are also sins of omission. You can be guilty for not doing something.
Additionally, I think that the passage from Matthew, which presents images of who will be rewarded and who will be punished, says very little (read: nothing) about appropriating Christian doctrine or the like. Instead, it is the way one lives in the world that marks who is and who is not ‘saved.’ This seems very apropos today in light of the controversy surrounding the Christian pastor Rob Bell and his forthcoming book that is said to suggest a similar way of looking at the popular notions of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell.’ His point seems to echo Jesus’s in this Gospel.
This Lent, and always, may we come to be those who served Christ in the least of those around us.Note: This post was pre-written and scheduled to be published while I am away on a service trip to the Dominican Republic with students from Siena College. Regular daily posts will resume upon my return. While away I am unable to respond to comments posted here.