Tag Archives: love your neighbour

Love your neighbour—seriously?

Leviticus 19.1–2, 12–18
Matthew 5.38–48

Christianity is always political. But not in the ways we imagine—for the Beatitudes are its constitution, and love is its only law.
Diana Butler Bass


I’m going to say something a congregation rarely hears from me. Are you ready? It’s this: ‘Let us listen to what the Book of Leviticus has to say to us today.’ That doesn’t happen often.

Leviticus is slap-bang in the middle of the so-called ‘Books of Moses’, the books that form the basis of Jewish law. It is number three of the five books of the law. It follows Genesis and Exodus, and is in turn followed by Numbers and Deuteronomy. Most of Leviticus deals with rules about the priesthood and also about daily life—for example, what you can and cannot eat or wear, and what are proper—and improper—sexual relations.

It reads oddly to us; what can you expect? It was written a long time ago. It’s a ragbag. Different topics are jumbled together, nestling cheek by jowl.

The passage we read tonight ends with ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’.

That’s a very high theme; but it is immediately followed by laws about not breeding different animals together, not wearing clothes of mixed fabric, and then rules about what happens when a man has sexual relations with a female slave.

Leviticus is a mixed bag.

But when Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment, he says (Matthew 22.37–40)

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ [and] ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’

Then he says, ‘On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ Remember the Golden Rule that fulfils the law and the prophets?

Jesus is quoting from two books of the law. ‘You shall love the Lord your God…’ comes from Deuteronomy 6.5. ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ is from our passage today. Leviticus 19.18.

From among all the laws in Leviticus about not wearing polyester-cotton shirts and not eating bacon or prawns and when you’re ritually clean or unclean, Jesus zeroes in on this one. We should look at it more closely. Jesus did.

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Reading the Scriptures three dimensionally: “Should I not be concerned about Syria?” (Year B, 1 November 2015)

Ruth 1.1–18 (Psalm 146)
Mark 12.28–34

The Lord keeps faith for ever,
giving food to the hungry,
justice to the poor,
freedom to captives…
comforting widows and orphans,
protecting the stranger… from Psalm 146

As I come towards the end of my time here at Centenary, I wonder about what to say to you. So I have a particular question in mind as we approach the wonderful readings before us today. It is this:

Do you read the scriptures as two-dimensional words, or do you read them as a three-dimensional Word?

And what on earth does that even mean?

We can read the scriptures in two dimensions, as flat words on a flat page. When we read in two dimensions, every part of the scriptures is as important as every other part. So in the Old Testament, God tells the Israelites to kill whole populations; and Jesus says ‘Love your neighbour’.

How does that fit together? In my younger years, I heard preachers saying that the Israelites killing every man, woman and child was loving their Israelite neighbour, delivering them from temptation to a life of idolatry. I was never convinced.

That’s a two-dimensional way of looking at the scriptures. It seeks to harmonise things in the Bible. But you know, it’s really not possible to harmonise everything.

Perhaps it could be that the people of Israel grew out of the idea that genocide serves God’s purposes? If so, later they may have looked back at what their ancestors did and think they were just plain wrong. Perhaps they learned to read these stories as a kind of illustration of how to deal with sin in the human heart? An illustration of how sin needs to be removed, root and branch, but not a model of foreign policy?

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Loving neighbours: hope, faith, love


Colossians 1.1–14
Luke 10.25–37


This was in the news just over a week ago:

Good Samaritan stabbed in laneway

July 6, 2013

Police are hunting for a man who attacked a good Samaritan in a Brisbane laneway on Friday night.

The man suffered wounds to his neck, back and hand after he attempted to stop another man from stealing a handbag in the suburb of Milton.

The reporter didn’t have to explain what a ‘Good Samaritan’ is; everyone knows that!

Don’t they?

I wonder if everyone who reads such stories realises that the Good Samaritan is a character in one of Jesus’ parables. I doubt it, really.

But we know all about the Good Samaritan, don’t we? Well, maybe we do, but a little recap never hurts.

A teacher of the law asks Jesus a question. He reckons Jesus won’t have a good answer.

Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

That’s the same question the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ asks him. Jesus points both men to the Law of Moses. This time he asks,

What is written in the law? What do you read there?

The expert in the law gives the right answer!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.

So Jesus says,

Do this, and you will live.

End of conversation. Not.

Jesus has put the teacher of the law in an uncomfortable position. He has answered his own question. He knows what is right in his head, but he also knows he doesn’t put it into practice. There are ‘certain’ types of people he doesn’t treat as neighbours. So he looks for some wriggle room, some way of getting off the hook. So he asks yet another question:

And who is my neighbour?

Jesus doesn’t answer that question either. Instead, he tells him how to be a neighbour—and who can be a neighbour. And what’s more, Jesus complicates the lawyer’s life no end. Continue reading

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What must I do?—Sunday 28, Year B (14 October 2012)

Mark 10.17-31


Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

That’s the question from the man we think of as ‘the rich young ruler’. In Mark’s story of Jesus, he is a man with ‘many possessions’ who really wasn’t all that young. Matthew and Luke add the other details.

Did you know it’s not the only time Jesus was asked that very same question? Anyone know who else asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life?

It was an expert in the Jewish Law and he said almost the exact same words:

Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

Anyone know where that was? It is in Luke’s Gospel (10.25-37). In Luke, Jesus answered the legal expert’s question with a parable, the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

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Love is the key: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A, 23 October 2011)

Love is the key

1 Thessalonians 2.1-8
Matthew 22.34-46

We meet Jesus again today, still a ‘person of interest’ to the authorities, and in the last week of his life. And still being asked questions. Remember last week we read that he was asked about paying taxes to Caesar—it was a trick question designed to get him offside with either the Jewish people or the Roman oppressors. He cleverly escaped.

Today it looks like a harmless question.

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?

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Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A, 20 February 2011)

Blessed are…the enemy-lovers

Leviticus 19.1-2, 9-18
Matthew 5.38-48

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Remember our theme in this sermon series? It’s this: the Sermon on the Mount is addressed to people who ‘get it’. They are the people of the Beatitudes: the poor in spirit; the mourners; the meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers; the persecuted.

The persecuted. Many people are being persecuted today, for their faith, for political reasons, for their sexuality. Christians are leaving Middle Eastern countries today because it’s just so difficult to live there; there are places in which Christians don’t have full civil rights. We really aren’t persecuted for their faith here in Australia; none of us is liable to personal harm or even lack of professional advancement purely because we belong to a church.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake’. This is surely the hardest beatitude. How can people who are persecuted be ‘blessed’ in any way, shape or form? What sense could it make to say that?

Let’s look at how those who were being persecuted for their faith might have responded to what Jesus is saying here.

We need to remember again that Jesus lived in a different time and place to us. His culture was based on ‘honour’ and ‘shame’. A person with honour could hold his head up anywhere, and be highly regarded. A person without honour felt a sense of shame, and could not command any respect at all. Think of the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee prays with a sense of honour:

God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.

The tax-collector takes the place of the shameful: he stands far off, beats his breast and says,

God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

If we look at those who are persecuted in such a society, we see they know what shame is; they have no honour. The people who persecute them have honour; but they have none in their eyes.

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13th Sunday of Ordinary Time (27 June 2010)

For freedom Christ has set us free

Galatians 5.1, 13-25

We’re still on a journey through Paul’s letter to the Christians in Galatia.

Remember that people had come who were wanting the Galatian believers to obey the Jewish laws like eating only certain foods, being circumcised and keeping the Sabbath. The Apostle Paul would have absolutely none of it, because he had discovered that the law he had loved so much was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, now his Lord and Saviour.

Now the centre of Paul’s life was Jesus and not the law.

Jesus had brought one new people into being, a people in which

there is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

This new people is the Christian Church. It’s the Body of Christ, it’s the fellowship of the baptised.

Paul’s concern in the later parts of this letter is what it means to be this one new people in Christ.

And in Galatians 5.1 he gets right into it:

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Why have we been set free? So we can be truly free! We have been set free from the ‘yoke of slavery’. This ‘yoke of slavery’ is not the ‘easy yoke’ that Jesus promises when he says:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

This ‘yoke of slavery’ is obedience to law. It is living rule-bound lives. So does that mean we Christians are law-less? Can we disregard the law? Can we do what we like? We are free, after all! Continue reading


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