“Let him become a fool that he may become wise, for the wisdom of this world is folly with God.” The gospel inverts everything we’ve ever known to be wise and true. The strong are weak and the weak are strong; the poor, the meek, the hungry, and the sad; all of those are called blessed. The central image of our faith, the place to which we return again and again is the cross. The place where, instead of rising to power to overthrow the oppressive powers of the day, Jesus was stripped of his power to be tortured and killed by those very powers. Yet this is thing in which we boast!
All of the wisdom of the world—gain power, store wealth, get even—is turned upside-down/inside-out by Jesus. So one of the first things that happens as we follow Jesus is a transformation of mind. What used to seem foolish, contradictory, and unnatural begins to make sense. A renewed mind makes way for a compassionate heart from which love flows.
The readings from Leviticus and Matthew both speak of love. Each one paints pictures of how we should relate to and interact with the people around us. In Leviticus, Moses speaks to Israel; in Matthew, Jesus speaks to a crowd; both speak from a mountain. At the beginning of Jesus’ sermon in Matthew he says, “I have not come to remove the law, but rather to complete it.” This is hardly seen more clearly than in the two readings of this week. What began in Moses was completed in Jesus.
How we love. Both passages begin with how we should love and each seems to show the same thing: giving. The passage from Leviticus begins with this picture of a field of crops. This is like our work today. The sowing and watering is the work we do and the harvesting is our paycheck. Moses says to the people, “Don’t pick all of your crops. Don’t clean out the whole field.” In other words, “Don’t assign all of your money a place to go. Don’t keep a tidy budget.” But why? The wisdom of the world would say otherwise. It seems sloppy to leave some of the crops in the field; it seems unwise to pour your loose change back into your budget. What do we do with it? It is to be given away to the ones who don’t have any. The ones who need money, the ones who need food. Let them take it.
What Moses spoke to the powerful, Jesus spoke to the marginal. Moses said, “When the wandering and poor come asking, have something for them.” What Jesus seems to say is, “When the evil and unjust come stealing, give it to them.” Let them take it. And don’t just let them steal what they came for, give them even more! Moses began something, and Jesus took it a step further. So, how do we love? Not only by leaving something for the poor to take, but also by giving even more for those who came to steal. We undo evil by outdoing it with good.
Who we love. Both passages also move toward who we love. While both share the common thread of others, the difference here is more clear. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” says Moses. Love the ones you see every day. Love the ones who share your common interests. Love the ones who it benefits you to love. After all, if you didn’t love them life would be difficult. If you’re not on good terms with the ones you see every day, then every day will be hard. If you don’t reach out to the ones with the same interests as you, then how will you ever promote yourself to them? The wisdom of the world speaks so clearly here, you should know a good business move when you see it.
Yet what Moses began, Jesus takes a step further. “Love your enemies,” he says. Don’t just love the ones it benefits you to love. Jesus calls that worthless. Love the ones that it will cost you to love. Sometimes it will cost you money; sometimes it will cost you time; sometimes it will cost you comfort; and sometimes it will cost you your very life. That’s what it cost Jesus. When someone comes to do you harm, love them anyway. “Pray for those who persecute you.” Why? We undo evil by outdoing it with good.
So, I guess the question to all of this is How do I renew my mind? How to I learn to love like this? And that brings us to the prayer in Psalm 119. In short: we need help.
The only way our minds will change is by the shaping of the Holy Spirit. We must ask for his help. And that is this prayer: Teach me, give me, lead me; incline my heart, turn my eyes; confirm your promise, turn away reproach. This is a needy prayer! Because we are so desperately in need of help! So as you seek to love never cease to ask for help, for he will give you help in your time of need.
O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we
do is worth nothing; Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our
hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace
and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted
dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son
Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.