We are to do this out of a humble awareness that we are all sinners.
Among the various rules of conduct outlined in Leviticus, chapter 19 is this admonition that [we] “shall not bear hatred for your brother in [our] hearts.” These “rules of conduct,” like the Ten Commandments, are ultimately essential for the human community to survive and thrive. These ‘rules’ exist because of human sinfulness, our tendency to sin against one another both in act and in response. Hate is the worst of these responses and is marked by resentment, retaliation, and revenge. It is deadly to self, to others, and to society.
Leviticus goes on to say, “Though you may have to reprove your fellow man, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countryman. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is, as Jesus tells us, the 2nd Great Commandment, which follows the 1st Great Commandment to “love God with your whole heart, your whole being, and your whole strength.” This ‘rule of conduct,’ then, must be rooted in a love of God, neighbor, and self. And the truth is that only this rule of conduct will bring about the peace and justice we so deeply and naturally desire.
This is often a hard concept for us to understand or to agree to, precisely because of our own habits of human sinfulness. When we are injured by others in any way, our first response all too often is to get back, to take some satisfaction in retaliation, or in revenge. Resentment is the swampy ground out of which these things arise. There is no love in these things. It is because of this that there is so much suffering in the world. Worldly ‘wisdom’ fosters hate and the results are evident all around us. Because of this, the world needs our Christian commitment to love God with all of our being, and our neighbors as ourselves. This is the wisdom of God. This is the ‘rule of conduct’ at the root of our Christian faith, and the salvation of the world.
This is no passive rule. As Christians, we are called to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. But we are also to remember that within the classical spiritual works of mercy, we are told to “admonish the sinner”. Jesus did this throughout his ministry. We, though, are to do this out of a humble awareness that we are all sinners. The call to ‘admonish’ nevertheless, cannot be passive, or silent, because it will not be noticed or ineffective. While it must be bold and forthright, our admonishment should never be condemnatory, but it should make clear that what one is doing is incompatible with the dignity of one’s humanity, or the name of Christian. Our admonishment must be an act of love for our brother or sister, rooted in a desire to help them liberate themselves from the imprisoning habits of sin. We, too, must be open to being admonished by our brothers and sisters when we fail to be the person God made us to be.
As baptized Christians we are to be in the world but not of it. Jesus reinforces the above ‘rule’ from Leviticus in his Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5: 43-44, 48). “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Our heavenly Father is the standard by which everything else is measured, not the world, not a politician, or a particular party, or a group, or any other human entity.
Let us pray daily to understand more clearly the uncompromising Word of God in our lives so that we may love God, our neighbor, and ourselves more dearly by observing the heavenly ‘rules of conduct’ more sincerely, and let us turn away from the empty, useless, and destructive ‘rules of the world.’