Text: Deuteronomy 14:17-22
Date: August 3 & 4, 2019
Event: The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
Deuteronomy 24:17-22 (EHV)
17Do not neglect justice for an alien who lives among you or for a fatherless child, and do not take the clothing of a widow as a pledge.
18Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, but the LORD your God redeemed you from there. Therefore I am commanding you to do this.
19When you harvest the crops in your field and you forget a bundle in the field, do not return to get it. It will be for the benefit of the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in everything your hands do.
20When you beat your olives off the tree, do not strip the boughs clean of olives. Some are to be left for the benefit of the alien, the fatherless, and the widow.
21When you cut grapes from your vineyard, do not go over it again. Leave some for the benefit of the alien, the fatherless, and the widow.
22Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. That is why I am commanding you to do this.
Loving Your Neighbor Means Loving All
It’s a lesson all parents have to teach their children. We should be kind to everyone. Parents have to teach that because that is no child’s (and no adult’s) default state of mind. We always think that there is someone we have the right to not be kind to. Maybe it’s the classmate who stole something from us or spread rumors about us. Maybe as adults we feel entitled to disrespect those who come from another nation or culture, who don’t speak our language or who hold different political ideas than we do. But it’s never ok, right? We should be kind to everyone.
This morning for our lesson we have a brief section of God’s law for his Old Testament people from the book of Deuteronomy, which was Moses’ second telling of the law for God’s people. The law was originally given to them after God led them out of Egypt, but at the time of Deuteronomy, they’ve now spent forty years wandering in the wilderness because they didn’t trust God. So this group that is about to take possession of the Promised Land is an entirely new generation, and Moses is restating the law to help guide them as they setup their nation.
This presents us with some challenges today in the United States in 2019. God gave his people three types of commands. The first were moral laws, laws that are universally applicable. We most often think of these as summarized in the Ten Commandments. They are in place for all people at all times, but are underscored by God in his Word. The second group of commands is the ceremonial laws, laws that governed the Israelites’ worship life. Think of the various offerings, sacrifices, and festivals that God commanded his people to observe. Those are not applicable to us anymore because they almost all were foreshadows of the work that Jesus would do. And since now that work is done, they no longer apply.
The third type of law God gave to his people was the civil law, which is what we have before us today. These were laws setup to govern Israel as a nation at that time. They do not apply to us anymore than the laws of 15th century Greece apply to us. We don’t live in that place or at that time, so they are not part of a law code that is over us.
However, they are laws that God himself gave. So while they may not apply in the letter of the law, there’s probably a lot to be gained and learned from their spirit. Many of the civil laws God gave to his people show his heart in a unique way, ways that tend to be expanded upon and reinforced in the New Testament.
And so what is God’s command to his people? Do not deprive anyone of justice or their basic needs because they do not have an influential family, because they are not wealthy, or because they are not from your nation. The Israelites were to remember that had been slaves and as such, they knew what it was like to mistreated and abused by a foreign power. They were not to bully people because they had been bullied. They were to treat other people, all people, with the same kind of love God had shown them.
Note that God doesn’t give any direction to make sure that the people who got the grain or olives or grapes were really in need. He doesn’t say to police it. He simply says to be generous. If someone is going to abuse this system, that’s on them. The people couldn’t use that as an excuse to disregard these laws.
All of this should be obvious. Of course they should provide for other people’s needs when they have been given an abundance. Of course no one should waste away while they feast. Of course they should be generous as they had been shown generosity. But part of God’s point here, and Jesus’ main point in our Gospel, is who should be the receivers of that generosity. It should be everyone.
The Samaritans and Jewish people were rivals and enemies. The surprising thing in Jesus’ parable was not that someone spent time and money to help someone that they didn’t know. The surprising part was that a Samaritan helped a Jewish person. The original question that prompted Jesus’ parable was “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ parable reinforces the answer hinted at in our verses from Deuteronomy: everyone on earth is your neighbor.
In today’s climate, these notions unfortunately have political overtones. We can have our own political opinions about immigration, border security, welfare, etc. But that’s not really the point. The Bible does not rule our nation. We are not out to make our nation be governed by Christian ideals and morals. But what do these guidelines we can see in Deuteronomy say to us, today, as individuals and perhaps as a congregation?
God would remind us of the same thing that he reminded his people in Israel, “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, but the LORD your God redeemed you from there.” Our slavery was not a physical one; it was a far worse and more severe slavery. We were slaves to sin and death. We were destined for hell with no hope of escape. We had offended the holy God, and would face eternal punishment.
But then God did for us the same thing that he did for Israel: he redeemed us. To “redeem” means to pay a price get something back. If someone sells something to a pawn shop, and then goes and buys it again, he has redeemed it. The price of our redemption was beyond measure. The apostle Peter put it this way: “You know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, not with things that pass away, such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Jesus paid for us, not with a bag full of money, but with his life. Because God bought us back with Jesus’ blood, we are free from sin and death. We will not face the punishment for our sins.
So now what? “Remember that you were a slave to sin, but the Lord your God redeemed you from there.” This changes our whole life! Rather than living in sin and loving that sin, we live for God. We live our life in thanksgiving for everything that God has done for us.
So, in the context of showing love to our neighbor, what can you do? In the United States we are fortunate that some of our taxes go to support those in need. That is overall a good thing for our society, that there is a safety net of sorts in place for those who need it. But God is not suggesting that we outsource our love for neighbor to the government so that we, personally, no longer consider those in need. So what can you, personally, do? Is there a food bank near where you live that you can donate food or other resources to help support people in need? Could you volunteer there every so often to help their work? Instead of assuming that the person begging for money on the sidewalk or at the intersection is abusing people’s generosity and that the money is being used for alcohol or drugs or some other harmful thing, what happens if you offer to buy him or her a sandwich at the local restaurant? Is there a reputable charity that you could support which helps people who are far away from us here in California, whom you would likely never meet in person, but who would benefit greatly from your generosity?
If you are at all like me, you think back to the last weeks, months, or years and you come up with time after time where you haven’t loved ALL people as God directs us to. You passed opportunities to help a coworker, you made assumptions about a stranger that were not positive, you just felt selfish and greedy. None of those are good, but all of them lead us back to our Savior. These are the very things from which God redeemed us. We have been forgiven and released to do more and do better today and tomorrow. We serve all people, love all people, be a neighbor to all people to thank God for his forgiveness! May God give us the strength to be generous, both with our material blessings, and especially with the gift of the good news of sins forgiven in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for us!
Lord, we ask for your help to identify the situations and people that we could help. Enable us to provide that help as one of the ways we thank you for your eternal generosity. Lead us to show the love you’ve given to us to everyone we come into contact with! Amen.