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All or Nothing: Reflections on Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

But in the Levitical worldview it is as important to eat right as it is to act right, as important to sacrifice correctly as it is to worship rightly, as crucial to engage in proper sexual behavior as it is to love one's kin. The Levitical worldview is whole and complete, part of an interlocking system of eating and sacrificing and acting in the light of certain "givens" that the priests lived by. Only certain foods; only certain kinds of sex; only specific sacrificial practices. But, the large question always comes: just who decided what is "right" to eat? Who determined with whom one may engage in sex? Who says which things may be sacrificed and which may not? And the answer is: the priests themselves. Their basic claims may not at all match my own; in fact they most certainly do not, shrimp-lover that I am. Therefore, I have absolutely no right to pick one priestly demand and discard another. It is a package, this way of thinking, for good or ill. Oh, I can certainly find value in the rules and ideas of Leviticus 19; they have a sort of universality that is appealing. Little wonder that 19:18 shows up in some prominent Gospel passages.

But tread carefully here. The priests ask far more of us Christians than most of us are willing to give. And they reject our slipshod, hand-picked use of their carefully constructed view of all things. When one preaches from Leviticus, whatever part of Leviticus, she has entered a different world and should make clear to her hearers that that world is far from theirs, asking beliefs and practices of us that the vast majority of us are no longer willing to pursue.

2/14/2011 5:00:00 AM
John Holbert
About John Holbert
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.