This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on February 19th, 2017.
If a preacher were to say to a congregation, “Please turn to Leviticus,” I wonder if the congregation would say something like, “Who is Leviticus?” Or might they think, “Did he say, Spartacus?”
Hearing the word “Leviticus” in today’s church might be as foreign as hearing the name of “Spartacus,” the Thracian gladiator, in the church. Indeed, some preachers might feel one must be a gladiator to prepare a sermon from Leviticus.
The preacher might want to start her sermon on Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 by dealing with the book of Leviticus and its regular neglect by many preachers. She may want to address the thought of some that this biblical book is not relevant today and perhaps not easily understood and even boring. One might have the view that today’s world has nothing to do with sacrificial rituals and regulations as emphasized by Leviticus. By contrast, there may be those who see the person and work of Christ in the book as they interpret it through allegory. Notably, the preacher must be resolved on her view of the book before preaching the text.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on July 10, 2016.
Luke recorded Jesus’ telling of the story of the Good Samaritan. The title, Good Samaritan, is today synonymous with a person doing good deeds for another person. Jesus told the story to answer a question posed by a man regarding eternal life. Luke painted the scene for us this way: Jesus was sitting down teaching, a customary position of a Rabbi as he taught. Suddenly, an expert in the Law of God stood up, interrupted the lesson and asked Jesus a question. This man was a member of the Sanhedrin, which was a 72 member group consisting of experts who studied, taught, and interpreted Hebrew Semitic law, and were typically antagonistic toward Jesus and his teachings. By standing, the man either showed respect or attempted to show authority over Jesus. The latter seems to best fit the context. He tried to examine Jesus intellectually, but with wrong motives, and test Jesus by asking a potent question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus exposed the man spiritually and reoriented the conversation by answering the man with a question of his own, “What is written in the Law?” The man would know the law, as it was his job. He quoted passages of the law found in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. Basically, he answered his own question. Jesus gave this same answer in Mark 12 when someone asked about the greatest commandment of all the 613 commandments found in the Torah.
The passage he quoted, “Love the Lord your God with all your strength and with all your mind” is known as the Great Shema. It was familiar to every faithful Jew. Devout Jews would write the Great Shema on parchment and secure it in wooden boxes called phylacteries, and wear them on their wrists and foreheads. They would also place the Great Shema in a case and nail it to the right side of every doorpost. It was a type of post-it note that said to everyone entering or leaving the home, that as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Jesus responded to the man by telling him he was right, and if he lived according to the law he would live. Jesus exposed the absurdity of thinking anyone could keep the perfect law. God gave us the law to show how we fall short, it was never designed to save us, but rather point us to God. Jesus used sarcasm to say, if there was something you could do to inherit eternal life, this is it.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year B on November 1, 2015.
The scribe’s question about which is the greatest commandment occurs at the end of a battle of wits between Jesus and Israel’s religious intelligentsia (Mark 12:13-13:34). Each move and countermove intended to sharpen an argument, entrap an opponent, or slice through logical fallacies. In this contest, the Jewish establishment puts forward contenders from various teams—Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, and legal experts—all attempting to disarm and dishonor this small-town rabbi in front of a big-city crowd.
When we reach the final round of repartee recorded in Mark 12:28-34, what is striking about the exchange between the scribe and Jesus is its positive nature. Their dialogue lacks the rancor characteristic of Jesus’ other encounters with religious leaders throughout the Gospel of Mark. The scribe, a legal expert on the Torah and also on its oral commentary, approaches Jesus not with hostility but with genuine interest evoked after seeing how well Jesus had fared with his previous interlocutors. The civility that characterizes their discussion is an embodiment of the second commandment that Jesus chooses—“You must love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Would that such civility and graciousness in debate were more often encouraged today as an expression of loving one’s neighbor.