Today’s Reading: Leviticus 19-21
Today’s Reflection: Leviticus 19:1-3
1) And 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. 3) Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.
This instruction, which God gave Israel through Moses, comes at the beginning of a chapter filled with rules about showing kindness, goodwill, and mercy to others (Leviticus 19:4-18. God begins by connecting two distinct ideas: that God expects His people to be like Him, and that His people should respect their origins—their parents for physically bringing them into the world, and recognizing God as their ultimate creator, which is one of the key purposes of the Sabbath commandment (Exodus 20:8-11).
The second idea has an interesting parallel to the 10 Commandments. The commandments govern relationships between us and God, and us and other people. But this text zeroes in on our relationships with people–parents and ancestors in particular–and justifies it with God’s lordship. Why this specific focus? What does it have to do with being like God? And what does all of this have to do with treating others respectfully?
We have to remember where Israel had just come from. 400 years of slavery under the brutal rule of pagan Egypt. 400 years of being told their lives were worthless and had no meaning except being forced to serve others. After an experience like this people begin to think, what did I do to deserve this? Am I cursed? Were my parents cursed? My tribe? My nation? Is the God I serve weaker than the Gods of the ones holding the whips and the chains?
God had answered the last question through the spectacular way He freed Israel from Egypt. But questions must have lingered about what had allowed Israel to become enslaved in the first place. Now God attempts to address these questions: Don’t think of your parents (or your ancestors, or your tribe, your peoples, your nation) as a curse. Respect them. And recognize that I created you all. Be like me.
And what does being like God mean? For Israel at this time in history, it means leaving the edges of your field unharvested so the poor and the stranger can have something to eat (Leviticus 19:9-10). It means paying your employees fair wages (Leviticus 19:13). It means being just and fair with others regardless of their circumstances (Leviticus 19:15).
And how would Israel do this? How could they after all they’d been through. They did not experience this example of kindness from Egypt. They didn’t learn it from their parents. But God says be like Him, and do these things.
You may feel at times like you’re cursed because of your origins. That your family, or ethnic group, or nationality is cursed. You may feel like your parents cursed you through their failures in raising you. You may feel your ethnicity limits your potential for success or happiness in the society you live in. And because of all of this, you may feel it is impossible for you to be what God is calling you to be.
But God says respect your origins, for He created them all with purpose. Your parents may have failed you in many ways, but respect them (even if the only thing you can credit them for is giving you life, respect them for that).
More importantly, God says irrespective of your origins He made you to be like Him. This is your heritage and no earthly circumstance can bar you from it. Don’t worry about what your parents didn’t teach you, about what your culture failed to show you, or about what your nation doesn’t understand. The God who created all things is the one who will give you all of the instruction you need. He will show you all you need to see, and teach you all you need to understand.
Be holy because your God is Holy. You were made to be like Him.