Almost always I take a ‘Sabbath Day’s Journey’ with the gospel text, a text that usually quite quickly focuses on Jesus and, therefore, the Gospel. This time is a rare exception.
This Sunday is the fifth Sunday after Pentecost, and the gospel text [Luke 10:25-37] is the man asking Jesus, ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus essentially talks about the Law with him—since the man was the one who started it. And that emphasis on the Law makes this week’s Old Testament reading from the book of Leviticus very appropriate.
This is a book that is not read too often on Sunday—or even on other days of the week! Of the first five books of the Bible (often called the Pentateuch), it is used the fewest times in the Sunday readings, only three times during the entire three-year cycle.
The reading for this time is from Leviticus 19, but this Sunday there is also an option for a longer reading, one that incorporates the first five verses from Leviticus 18. In both places there are laws.
This text is the closest we will ever get in three years to the middle of the book of Leviticus. Now you may be thinking that the middle of Leviticus is not an important part of the bible. But the middle, sometimes, can be a very important place.
The Jews thought, first of all, that the Pentateuch was the foundation of the entire Old Testament. But for the Samaritans at the time of Jesus, that happened to be their ENTIRE bible! And in the Hebrew text, the ancient Hebrew editors marked Lev. 8:8 because that was the middle verse of the Pentateuch. They marked a point between two words in Lev. 10:16, because that was the middle of the Pentateuch by the number of words. And they even marked one of the letters in Lev. 11:42 because, within that verse, there was the middle of the Pentateuch by the number of letters. Those editors treated the middle points very seriously!
We tend to overlook the middle. A movie or television show has something important at the beginning to get you interested. And it usually has something important near the very end to bring a climax or culmination to the whole thing. But the middle point is usually overlooked. And the Hebrew literature usually emphasized the middle. That was the way many people wrote back then. It is also true that God emphasized the middle.
Jesus came in the middle of time. He was predicted to come, and then he came, and then the world did not end right away. He came in the middle, and that first coming was an extremely important event. Now, obviously, his second coming will also be important, but the results of that coming are very much dependent upon his first one.
Also near the middle of the book of Leviticus is the chapter on the Day of Atonement, certainly a significant chapter in the Old Testament and in the minds of the Jewish people. It was the ONLY day of the year when the high priest entered the Most Holy Place (or the Holy of Holies) to make atonement for both himself and for the people of Israel.
It is also significant that non-Jews were involved in this event. After the text describes what the high priest is to do, the text says, ‘And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (16:29; emphasis added).’ Usually other races of people were not involved in any of the worship activities of the Jews.
So it is also significant when the non-Jews are involved in the commands that are given in Leviticus 17 and 18. Some have also seen a connection between these commands and those that appear in Acts 15 (see the list in verse 29), when there was an ‘Apostolic Decree’ that people are ‘saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus (verse 11).’ That means that no one has to feel left out.