Society = Neighbours (March 2018)
Leviticus 18: 16 “
Do not do anything that endangers your neighbour’s life.” (NIV)
Five murders in six weeks and 13 shootings in the first month of 2018, all within the city of Ottawa,
rightly give all of us cause to pause and ask, “What is happening to our society?”We do not need to
look further afield, but when we are confronted with the news and the consequences of yet another act
of violence against students by one who had been one of their own in a “civilised” society south of the
border, we are compelled to examine ourselves and to ask anew, “Who is my neighbour? Do I know my
neighbour?What do I owe my neighbour?What does my neighbour owe me?" If we are to live in
“society” — in social relationships with those who inhabit the same city, neighbourhood, street, or even
the same building — how do we live together in ways that respect life and each other’s right to live?
Sadly, it is fashionable today to dismiss the ancient “holiness code” in Leviticus 18 because there are
within it certain commands or laws that pertained to the ancient Hebrew ceremonial law, now no longer
in effect after the onceforall
sacrifice of Jesus. Yet before we cast aside all air because of some smog
or all water because of some impurities that we might filter out, and leave ourselves with nothing to
breathe or drink, we would do well to grasp the moral framework and backbone that underlies the
Creator’s design for life.
God says, “Do not do anything that endanger’s your neighbour’s life”
(verse 16), and in the same chapter — indeed in the same paragraph —
there are several other specific commands concerning our responsibilities
toward our neighbours. Here is verse 16 in its immediate context:
Leviticus 18: 13-18
13 “‘Do not defraud your neighbour or rob him. “‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired man
overnight. (verse 13)
14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block
in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the
15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge
your neighbour fairly. (verse 15)
16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. “‘Do not do anything that endangers your
neighbour’s life. I am the Lord.
17 “‘Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so that you will not share
in his guilt.
18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as
yourself. I am the Lord.
The refrain “I am the Lord” that appears in verses 14, 16, and 18, is also found at the beginning of the
chapter, introducing this “holiness code”: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of
Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.’” (vv. 1-2)
Because God is holy (i.e. God is “other” — apart from and sovereign over the people whom He has
created and He calls to live in community with each other) God calls for, indeed commands, holiness. This
holiness is shown by respecting the lives of neighbours, each of whom bears the image of God and lives in
that image, even though fallen and imperfect.
God’s laws were more than writings on stone or parchments. Jesus put the laws of God into practice, and
taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan that whoever is in our path and is in need is our neighbour. He
was also on a certain occasion confronted by “an expert in the law” who tested him with this question:
36* “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37* Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your
38* This is the first and greatest commandment.
39* And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
40* All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 3640)
Rooted in both God’s very being and in Jesus’ understanding of the design for human life is the command
to love neighbours.
Christians are called to model love for neighbour. As “neighbourliness” in our city and society in our time
suffers from ignorance, neglect, and downright assault, let us show the better way — the only way — the
way of life. Let us each resolve in the days and weeks
and months ahead in this year to know our neighbours,
and to do something specific and constructive to bless
them, as we heed God’s call and Jesus’ command and
example to do nothing to endanger their lives.
Your pastor, called to be a neighbour,