This morning I was reading from Leviticus 19. In the midst of a long string of commands, where God’s people are told what they must either do or not do in order to be holy as their God is holy, God gives these instructions.
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.
In these books of Law we find all kinds of laws that we would expect: Don’t murder; don’t steal; don’t take someone else’s wife; if you’re a judge, don’t take a bribe; if you kill an unborn baby, you are guilty before God; all kinds of laws like that. But then there are times when we come across passages like this one that can just seem totally unexpected.
Our God’s justice is not like our justice. Intrinsic to the founding of ‘the City of God’ is this notion that the poor, the widow, the orphan, the sojourner must find a home. They must be taken care of. Why? Because it is a reflection of God’s heart for the downtrodden. If God’s people are to be holy, as he is holy, they must reflect the same heart as him: the poor must be comforted.
So how does that translate into the new covenant? I would suggest that we see this fulfilled in no less than three ways as we live in the current ‘City of God’.
- Jesus’ message could be summarized this way: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matt 4.17). This call to repentance is filled out a little more in this way: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt 5.3). In other words, the kingdom of heaven has come, and is possessed by those who are poor–in spirit. These are the ones who are broken over their sin before a holy God (Matt 5.4); the ones who realize they are not perfect as God is perfect (Matt 5.48). They are therefore quick to show mercy, as God has shown them mercy (Matt 5.7; 39-47; 6.14-15; 7.1-5). This is the exact same calling as those citizens of the City of God in the OT received (Lev 19.33-34).
- Just as the thrust of the commands throughout the OT were to be kind to the poor in their midst, so in the NT, kingdom citizens are to be abundantly merciful and generous to meet the needs of other kingdom citizens. The early church did not miss this at all, but saw it quite clearly (Acts 2.44-45). The emphasis must be placed here: the first place we must give and look after the poor is in our own midst–this was so in the OT, just as it is in the NT (see also Gal 6.9-10).
- The Christian must be known as one who does not withhold the wages of the labourer, but gives to each what is due. The cries of even the unbeliever, when he is oppressed, will reach the ears of the Lord and the one who has withheld good from him, will bear his guilt (Jas 5:1-6). The Christian must never be known as one who values his money more than he values people; this would not reflect the character of our God at all.
I love my God because he cares for the spiritually poor (broken) and the destitute. He is a God of mercy, compassion, and grace–this is clearly revealed in both testaments. If we are to be his ‘City’ then we must reflect his character, his person, his passions. We must show mercy to others, as he has shown mercy to us.