Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God. You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD. You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD. You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 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.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. “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 that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
These two readings include lists of divine commandments. In Deuteronomy, these are laws which are part of the covenant between God and the Hebrew people who were then wandering in the wilderness during the Exodus. In Matthew 5, the commandments are from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (the entire sermon, which undoubtedly is a mosaic of sayings from a number of speeches, goes through Chapter 7). The Bible includes numerous codes of law, each of which arose from a particular situation and time. In detail, they are not necessarily compatible . . . but certain general themes are recognizable and deserve attention. Liberal Christians, out of desire to not be legalistic, tend to downplay the role of commandments in their understanding of the faith. Appropriately, we look for faith-meanings that are not simply prescriptions for certain kinds of behavior. At the same time, we can’t overlook the presence of “law” and “commandment” in our religious tradition.
What is the overall purpose of God’s commandments to humankind? If we do not imagine God as a particular consciousness, then where may we say these commandments came from? What place do Biblical commandments fill in your ethical life day to day? What, in your opinion, is the hardest commandment of all?