“Second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Jesus now adds to the first command about loving God with the second—that we are to love our neighbors. This is a direct quote from the Greek LXX of Leviticus 19:18, but the difference is found in the application. In the passage from Leviticus, God is specifically giving this command in the context of dealing with other Jews. Specifically, the passage speaks of how the Jews were forbidden from stealing from one another and that they were not to be partial to the rich or do injustice to the poor. Finally, the passage states that they are forbidden to hold grudges against one another and to take out vengeance against the sons of Israel, but were to love their neighbor as themselves. In the context of Jesus’ teaching, though the same word for neighbor is used, we find a far broader application of the concept. No longer should neighbor be understood only as other Jews, but also as gentiles as well. When Luke records Jesus as using similar words in an earlier context, Jesus applies the principle of the neighbor to a Samaritan, hated half-breeds from the region north of Judea. No other statement could have been more poignant to the Jewish people at that time; they were show grace and mercy and indeed love to even those they despised the most. In fact, such a commandment no longer allowed them to despise their gentile or Samaritan neighbor, but required them to reach out and minister to their needs.
How radical a thought that this is, that we are to serve those around us regardless of race, creed, likeability, looks, or preference. That we are to not hold grudges based on what someone might have done to us in the past—did not Paul plead with Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother and not as a runaway slave to be punished? Oh, loved ones, what a radical call to rethinking the way we live! Sometimes we take a great deal of comfort in holding on to the grudges that we have. These grudges make us feel justified in grumbling about someone or speaking poorly of them. Let us repent of these things and seek to live out the commandment of God in every aspect of our lives! Let us seek to love even those we might despise like the Jews despised Samaritans (and visa versa) that the glory of God might flow through our lives and actions. Oh, beloved, what a call to service we have been assigned, to work to care for and minister to even the un-lovely of our society and of our world.
The question then that we are left with is that of whether or not Jesus is redefining the law. Some would say that he is, but I would say that he is simply clarifying the intention of the commandment that God gave to his people through Moses. Indeed, the immediate context of Leviticus 19 is that of God’s people dealing with one another, but the broader context of God’s covenant with his people is one of blessing to the nations. God’s promise to Abraham is that through his seed the people of the world will receive God’s blessing (Genesis 12:2-3). How are the nations to be blessed if they never enjoy the grace of God’s people in their lives? How will they be blessed if God’s people hold a grudge of anger over their heads? Oh, loved ones, let us recognize this not as a new law or a redefinition of the old law, but as a clarification of what the old law was always meant to be: God blessing his people so that his people would be a blessing to the nations; or, to rephrase it in a slightly different way: God blessing his people so that through his people the gospel would go out and men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation would proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord because of the way God’s people live their lives. In many ways, this is a call to evangelism, let us order our lives in such a way that we might live it out.