Lesson: Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.
15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Leviticus is the third book of the Torah and is mostly concerned with laws and the worship of YHWH. The book gets its name from the priests who were of the Tribe of Levi. It is part of the Priestly writings and dated to the time of the Exile (587-539 BCE) and after the Exile.
Today’s reading is part of the “Holiness Code” written after the Exile that comprises Chapters 17 to 26. The opening verses call the people of Israel (and us) to be “holy” – which is understood as being “separate” (that is, not OF this world and its values, even though we are IN this world). The call to be “holy” is also found in Exodus 19:6 and Numbers 15:40.
Verse 18 (“love your neighbor as yourself”) became the Second Great Commandment in the Gospels when combined with Deut. 6:5 (“love the LORD [YHWH] your God”) (Mark 12:31).
The second part of the reading (vv. 15-18) has a tone very much like the Ten Commandments but assumes a settled society. Verse 15 is directed at judges to make fair decisions. Verse 16 prohibits spreading false rumors or profiting when a neighbor is falsely accused. Scholars suggest that verse 17 is better rendered as “Do hate your kinsfolk in your heart, rather correct your kinsman lest you incur guilt because of him.”
Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
1 You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. 3 For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; 6 nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, 7 though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. 8 So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was Paul’s first letter and was written around 50 CE. Accordingly, it is the oldest writing in the Christian Scriptures.
Thessalonica is a seaport city and was the capital of Macedonia. Even today, Thessaloniki (as it is now called) is a charming city of one million persons, and the cultural center of Greece. The saying there is that “Thessaloniki is to Athens as San Francisco is to Los Angeles.”
According to Acts 16 and 17, Paul went to Philippi and then to Thessalonica. He spoke gratefully in Philippians 4:16 of gifts sent to him by Philippians when he was in Thessalonica. In today’s reading, Paul spoke of having been “shamefully mistreated at Philippi” (v.2). This may refer to his imprisonment described in Acts 16:16-40 for exorcising a slave-girl who was engaged in divination and was verbally harassing Paul.
The letter to the Thessalonians encouraged the Jesus Follower community to be steadfast in the face of persecution. Paul emphasized the sincerity of his preaching to them and asserted that he considered himself entrusted with the gospel by God (v.4).
Paul was never bashful about making the claim that he was an “apostle” (v.7) – one who is sent out with the Gospel message. In the same verse, he also described himself as a “nurse.” In Greek, the word he used is better understood as a “wet nurse” – one who feeds children from her breast, an image that conveyed Paul’s great care for the Thessalonians.
Gospel: Matthew 22:34-46
34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.