It may seem strange, but there is a passage from Leviticus that consistently calls out to me and challenges my way of thinking and behaving. The chapter, Leviticus 19, begins with the Lord telling Moses to tell the Israelites, “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.”
That alone is incredible, and we could spend days exploring what it means to be holy; but my first question tends to be more along the lines of… how? While my mind wanders to grandiose visions of what holiness is, I’m left feeling overwhelmed and unable to translate the lofty imperatives of the Scriptures into concrete terms. Fortunately, if I can remember to just keep reading, the entire chapter is then filled with practical examples of what this should look like. I believe what we find as the passage reaches its crescendo, is that being holy looks like loving your neighbor as yourself (vs. 18). One example:
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, 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.
It seems counter-intuitive to my Western tendencies but when it came time for harvest, the Israelites were actually told by God to be less than fully efficient. Apparently productivity isn’t as high on God’s list of priorities as it is for most of the modern world. Instead, God’s concern is for the poor and the sojourner – those members of society that are most vulnerable.
These instructions were probably not too surprising. After all, in Egypt, it was the Israelites who were the poor and the sojourners. They were the vulnerable, mistreated members of society. In the event of the exodus, the Israelites saw God act powerfully on their behalf as he rescued them from the hand of their oppressors through signs and wonders. Having seen and experienced the grace of God first handin their own redemption, the Israelites are now asked to extend his grace both to one another and to the surrounding nations. They are to love others with the same kind of love that they have received.
In these actions then, the Israelites are called to act in accordance with the (holy) nature of God, and to reflect God’s nature to the nations around them. So something as simple as leaving a portion of the crops for the poor actually serves to make God known to the world and to further its sanctification! How awesome is that?
One of the more challenging aspects of this passage for me is the simple fact that these acts of holiness, if we can call them that, are not part of the regular tithes or offerings. Any official giving is based on the portion of the crops that is gathered, but God does not allow the landowners to even gather this portion. It is to be left in the fields for the poor. There is no tax receipt here, there is no thanks to be received, it does not ‘count’ in any tangible way.
There are probably many answers to that question, but one of them certainly has to be because caring for the vulnerable isn’t an optional extra for God’s People, or something that can be reduced to a simple formula. This is something that is deeply rooted in the heart of God and should be one of the most natural expressions of love for his People.
Love is messy. Love is costly. Love is personal. Love is holy.
God’s heart for the vulnerable is nowhere more clearly expressed than in the cross of Jesus Christ. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, we have all been beneficiaries of God’s divine love. Where we have been vulnerable, God has worked on our behalf and rescued us from our oppressors. He has set us free from our slavery to sin and brought us into new life in union with Christ. This grace and love that we have been shown by God in Christ motivates us to behave in like manner in the world – to love others with the same kind of love that we have received.
So, something as simple as – providing groceries to a family in need; giving warm clothes in the winter; playing games with a lonely child; welcoming refugees into your city; volunteering your time at a soup kitchen; helping an elderly person cross the street – actually serves to make God’s nature and character known to the world and to advance its sanctification.
“Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:18