Re the Daily Office Readings May 18 Anno Domini 2020

Waiting for Work on Edge of a Pea Field, Holtville, Imperial Valley, California by Dorothea Lange 1937

The Readings: Leviticus 25:35-55; Colossians 1:9-14; Matthew 13:1-16

Four things got my attention in the first reading; I wonder what got yours.

The prohibition against charging interest in lending (vv.35-38, present also in other OT law collections). Christians regarded the prohibition as binding until around the 16th century, then did an about-face (see, conveniently, Wikipedia). A step forward, backward, or both?

Israelites and non-Israelites: equal before the law? Within Lev. 17-26, commonly recognized by scholars as a collection with its own tradition history (the Holiness Code), there are strong affirmations of equality, e.g., 19:33-34; 24:22. Here Israel’s unique status and the principle that no Israelite lose permanently their portion of Israel’s land trumps equality: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants” (v.23); “For to me the people of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (v.55). Given the universal perspective of the opening chapters of Genesis, the tension between inclusivity and exclusivity runs throughout the Old Testament.

Slavery (still a scourge, see here and here). The laws re slavery are the parade example of the lethal danger of a decontextualized reading of Scripture, reading without attention to the larger context. The prohibition of enslaving Israelites, once “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it” (Ps. 24:1) sinks in, establishes a powerful presumption against the enslavement of anyone.

“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants” (Lev. 25:23). What happens if we understand this as a principle and combine it with Ps 24:1 (just cited)? I think that, if we claim to be working within the Judeo-Christian tradition, it creates a powerful presumption for, minimally, a tax strategy that discourages the accumulation of wealth across generations, and public investment that minimizes income/wealth-based differences in access to goods such as education and health care. Judging by our current practice, many seem to believe that inequality can increase indefinitely without disturbing either God or public order. What do you think?

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