This week we are reading the most important text from the book of Leviticus. It is interesting: a few years ago when I had an intern from a more evangelical background and I was away when this passage came up I asked him to challenge himself and preach on this text. He refused, stating that it was too close to the passage on Homosexuality and he was afraid, in that fairly moderate, but accepting congregation, to preach on something like that.
Unfortunately, that is how many see Leviticus. When many of the Gay and Lesbian people hear this passage, they run the other direction or even stay away thinking they know what to expect. Even beyond that group many cast it off as a “rule book” or something that is just extremely boring. All of those preconceived notions keep us from understanding Leviticus and really coming to a positive relationship with the book for what it is.
Leviticus is a code for how to live as a healthy community ordered and focused on worshipping God. Leviticus was also written for a specific people, with certain understandings, at a moment in time. In fact, the book of Leviticus, as we know from other biblical texts, was not always followed, and at times was seemingly contradicted; however, the over-arching understanding and message of the book remains important.
Marry Douglass, a British anthropologist who became very interested in the Levitical codes as they related to the culture pointed to Leviticus 19:18 as the pinnacle text in the book. Like a keystone that holds the whole book together, this text, recited by Christ, known as the second commandment, is the key to understanding the whole book “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.” Interestingly, most Christians do not know that this is even in the Old Testament; even more interestingly, when people recite the Levitical codes as a decree on someone else, they miss that at the heart of Leviticus itself is the call for forgiveness.
I often think about it with a line worker I counseled once. He was always getting in trouble with his boss. Though he thought he was always doing the right thing, he would spend a lot of time correcting what the other workers were doing. This infuriated the boss and when his boss told him to stop the man felt beaten so he came to talk through it with me. I asked him the simple question of whether or not it was his job to correct them. When he said no, I asked, “Might your boss have told them to do it differently? Might you have done something dangerous paying too much attention to others?” The man perked up and said “Oh!”
When he went to work the next day and apologized to his boss, his boss let him know that his boss could see more than he could, and in fact his corrections almost caused him to get into a serious accident had the boss not stopped him. And the boss told the man: “This is the job you have and the only one you can control is yourself. You always want to be aware of what else is going on, but worry about where you are first; then ask for help if you see something wrong.”
As people of faith, our first place is to confess where we are coming from but also to always recognize that we are called to live in this community together, ordering our lives one love for one another, not judgments.
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Le 19:18). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
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Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen