|Episcopal Church in Minnesota|
Environmental Stewardship Commission
Year C, Fifth Sunday of Easter, Old Testament
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.
Reflection on Leviticus
by John G. Gibbs, PhD
Leviticus 17-26 is the famous Holiness Code. Its main theme is that God's People are to be holy just as God is holy, as 19:2 maintains. Holiness is being purpose-filled, or set apart for singular use by God's purpose.
Within this blending of cultic and ethical requirements in God's holiness there is included what we do with the land, the earth itself. The following command is a clear instance of eco-justice envisioned, for it works toward justice within humanity community and creation-community alike: "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."
It is part of holy obligation not to wear out the land. Sabbath rest says as much, as does also the Jubilee Year. Daniel C. Maguire, a past president of the Society of Christian Ethics, has written: "The sabbath was the original 'earth day.' The harmony it sought was not limited to humans. Earth people cannot be at peace if they are not at peace with the earth." (The Moral Core of Judaism and Christianity, p. 269; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993) As he further observes, every seventh year was also "a sabbath of sacred rest for the land" (Lev. 25:3-5). Sabbath rest and harmony includes animals as well as land and humanity (Deut. 5:13).
Quite clearly, Levitical theology and practice regards environmental ethics to be an indispensable part of the holy life of God's holy people.
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