After John had been arrested and Jesus called the first apostles to follow him, he gathers everyone together to teach them about a new way of life. A rabbi, gathering his disciples around him to teach them, was not a new thing at all. In fact it was a pretty mundane and ordinary thing. Something to which no one would give a second thought. As he goes to the top of the mountain, called Hattim, today known as the Mount of the Beatitudes, he begins the Sermon on the Mount, the reading we have been following for several weeks. We hear those old familiar sayings like “Blessed are you who… Blessed are they who…”
Moses, in our first reading from Leviticus, is doing the same thing. It is in the year 1447 or 1445 BC before the birth of Christ. The Exodus from Egypt had started around the time Moses was 80 years old. In today’s reading he has already received the Ten Commandments from God and he gathers the people. As he goes to the top of Mount Sinai he begins to teach them about the covenant they have made with God and that God has made with them. Again, with the familiar phrases of “Thou Shalt…” and “Thou Shalt Not.”
A covenant is an agreement that helps each party regulate their behavior and the actions of one another. In this case, Moses explains that God will not look at them as a mere creation, a thing, which he created in the times before history began.
God acknowledges them as “a people;” a people called and chosen to go forth and do great things. A people who will go forth and proclaim all that God has done and all that God will do for them.
From the mountaintop came The Law. And from the mountaintop came the wisdom needed to follow The Law, so that all might understand who they are and how they are to see each other: as people, as family. Family members usually get along, but there are exceptions. You probably have an exception in your family, too! We usually use the phrase “The Black Sheep” to describe them. But Moses says “You shall not bear hatred for your brother and sister in your heart.” And “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” With wisdom, God allows us to see that there is no one who is “less than” or “unworthy” or “below us.” And ignorance of the law is no excuse for the Israelites.
The laws are summed up in Deuteronomy: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Impress these laws on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
One day, 1445 years later, and 400 miles away on another mountaintop, an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your
neighbor as yourself.’ “You have answered correctly,” Jesus said. “Do this and you will live.”…
But what happens when we are not seen as neighbors? When others begin to look at us as mere objects, or as things that they must tolerate in life. Where is the wisdom of God when people begin to see us as “less than” or “unworthy” or “below them?” This is when the Commandments become tough and difficult to follow.
The world shifts, we are no longer on top, we are on the bottom; the tables have turned; the winds have changed; the shoe is on the other foot; and we get a taste of our own medicine. We begin to look over our shoulder and not ahead. When we are no longer honored or held in high esteem. An automatic response might be to turn on those who think of us this way.
We have heard from the top of two mountains that it is not about paybacks; settling the score or balancing the books. We may never have the opportunity to turn the other cheek; go the extra mile; give someone the shirt off our back, or neither a borrower nor lender be.
Moses and Jesus say it is about loving, or at least trying to do so, to see others in their dignity and that they are made in the image and likeness of God. No matter who “they” or “we” are, when that happens, it can bring us out of rough seas and into safe harbors after a perfect storm.