“Love Your Neighbor” that’s what your supposed to do, right? Well, at least that is what Jesus said in in Matthew 22:38 repeating a line from Leviticus 19:18. But, what about those other voices in scripture? You know the ones that say not so nice things about neighbors or wish not so nice things upon them. We can see a little bit of what happens in the context of liturgy in today’s lectionary reading from Psalm 79.
Click on over and check out the verses that are used … 8, 9, 11 and 13. Okay. So, what are we missing? Verses 10 and 12, right? (This is almost always a fun exercise -for me at least, looking at what’s missing.) Is there any reason why they might be missing? I don’t know let’s read them:
10 Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants
be known among the nations before our eyes. (NRSV)
12 Return sevenfold into the bosom of our neighbors
the taunts with which they taunted you, O Lord!
I think here we have a less than forgiving attitude toward one’s neighbor for whatever reason. That reason is not important here in the context of talking about lectionary.
What does the lectionary then do when there is something contrary to the idea of “Love Your Neighbor”? Here at least it appears that the reading is sanitized by removing those parts. What can this tell us? I think when we look at what is used and what is missing we see what the modern church values. We value forgiveness and we value love of neighbor. Thus, rather than give worshipers an example of someone who does not feel this way and reflects this in their prayer, we choose from those words of theirs that may be more edifying.
Now, I don’t think that this works out so well as an overall strategy. If we simply ignore difficult passages or passages that don’t agree with those attitudes from scripture that become accepted within the community, this can lead to a great deal of dissonance when people do finally encounter those passages. It can also lead to dishonesty with God (i.e. a person saying in a prayer that they love someone when they really don’t feel that way). But, perhaps this is okay if the matters are dealt with elsewhere … say in the homily.
At any rate, I think that if we read between the lines of the lectionary today, we might come away with the message “love your neighbor” even if it is in contrast to when the Psalmist wrote.
Psalm 72 – Shame on the Lectionary