Signpost for Sunday 19th. February, 2017: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48.
I recently read the whole of the book of Leviticus. Not, I must admit, in one sitting, but I did manage to start at the beginning and reach the end. It is a book full of rules and regulations, many concerned with the ritual of sacrificial worship, but also related to the way the people were to demonstrate the holiness of God, in contrast to the ways in which the surrounding peoples behave.
The first injunction: you shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy, is presented as a requirement for the whole congregation. It is followed by sections which may be read as stating the requirements for holiness, reiterating the Ten Commandments. In the part of the chapter we have specified in the lectionary, in the verses from nine to eighteen, the third and the sixth to the tenth of the commandments may be recognised. They are regulations, a specific set of instructions on how to behave. Like regulations in general, they set a minimum standard of behaviour. It is easy to recognise this fact, since failure to abide by the regulations leads to punishment in one form or another.
The passage from the sermon on the mount is rather different. It falls in a chapter in which Jesus makes seven statements of the form: You have heard that it was said… with an interpretation of a commandment as typically given by teachers of the law. This was followed by: But I say to you… with his own instruction at the end. The aim is to strive towards a goal of being in the world a way which, in our limited human way, represents the way our god in Christ is in the world.
Perhaps this might be summed up by saying that Leviticus gives instructions on how to behave; in the sermon on the mount we get information on how to be.