Leviticus 19: 1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1; 1 Thessalonians 2: 1-8; Matthew 22: 34-46
Tender is not a word that easily comes to mind when I think of Saint Paul or Leviticus. Usually Paul seems sharp or at times condescending and sometimes downright confusing. Leviticus, so concerned with purity laws is downright off putting, because I often feel that I could never make the grade, even if I wanted to. But this morning tender is the very word that springs to mind when I read them both. Listen again to Paul:
But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring
for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we
are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God
but also our own selves, because you have become very dear
I don’t need to tell you this, but life can be hard. Things don’t always work out the way we want them to, think we need them to or hope they will. Jobs are lost, relationships fail, people we love become frail or sick and, as Kevin is fond of saying, none of us, none of us will get out of this life alive. Sooner or later all of us must face our fear of dying whether that comes when someone we love faces a health crisis or when we ourselves face the inevitable. Who here hasn’t at one time or another, or perhaps even today thought even for a moment, “god, life is hard, if only I can make it though this week, or this day, or this hour.” I know I have.
And that is why I find Paul so tender today. He seems to get it. He seems to get what it is like being me. He seems to get what I need, not out of life, but out of love: “so deeply do we care for you that we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.” This is not the great theologian speaking here, although what he says is deeply theological. This is not the great missionary speaking here, although what he says is deeply evangelical. This is Paul the lover, the friend, the compassionate one speaking heart to heart. “So deeply do we care for you that we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”
When life is hard, what I need most is not always what I want. What I want is for life to be easy. What I want is for someone or something to come along and make it all go away. But what I need is tenderness. What I need is to be loved. What I need is a companion for the journey.
Usually those times when I feel life is most difficult are the very times when I feel most alone, most lonely. And those are the very times that I most need to know that I am loved. Those are the times when I most need another, not to lecture or hector me, not to tell me to get over it but simply to love me. And that is what I hear Paul saying to me today.
We hear echoes of this in Leviticus, which we need to remember is not a book primarily about rules and regulations, does and don’t, morals and immorality, but it is a book of holiness: “be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”2 The overarching concern of the authors of the book of Leviticus is that God’s people be like God, holy, and so they listed at great length the ways in which God’s people could become holy, become like God and many of these prescriptions have to do with love:
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
You shall not hate in your heart
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge
You shall love your neighbour as yourself.3
Tender is perhaps not a word that springs to mind when we read Leviticus but that in fact is the direction in which it points. The authors of Leviticus want us to be tender toward one another, especially in those moments when life is so hard.
And that is the gospel word that Jesus proclaims, not simply in his teaching, but in his very being. He comes proclaiming tenderness, not in a wimpy, mushy, sentimental way; not in a “zap, and I’ll make it all go away, way” but in the words of Paul: “so deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves”. For in Jesus, God shares with us his own self. For in Jesus, God becomes our companion for the journey and walks with us in those moments when life is most difficult.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find life pretty overwhelming. I find life pretty difficult. Sure life is wonderful, but it is also pretty hard and as much as I need a companion when life is good, I really need one when life is hard. Sure life is terrific, but it is also pretty complicated, and as much as I need a companion when things are going great, I really need one when the complexities of life are overwhelming. Sure there are times when life couldn’t be better, but there are also times when life is confusing and I just feel defeated by it all, and as much as I need a companion when I am on top of the world, I really need one when I am in the depths of despair.
So where are you today? Do you need a companion for the journey? Or can you be a companion for another? Do you need some tenderness in your life? Or is there someone in your life to whom you can be tender? Do you need to be loved today by another? Or is there someone you know who needs to know that they are loved by you and by God.
Paul, in reminding the Thessalonians, reminds us that to love another is to share our very selves with them. The authors of Leviticus remind us that to be holy as God is holy is to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Jesus, in the mystery of bread and wine reminds us that there is no greater love then to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
So think for a moment. Think for a moment. In the past week, how did you lay down your life? Who laid down their life for you? When did you encounter the holiness of God in another and how did you manifest God’s holiness to another? With whom did you share your life, and who shared their life with you? To whom were you tender, and how was tenderness shown to you?
Sometime this week, someone will need you to lay down your life for them, and you will need another to lay down their life for you; when that happens you will be in the presence of love. You will be in the presence of God.
Sometime this week you will encounter holiness in another, and you will manifest to another that same holiness; when that happens you will be in the presence of love. You will be in the presence of God.
Sometime this week you will find yourself sharing your life with another, or someone will share their life with you; when that happens you will be in the presence of love. You will be in the presence of God.
Sometime this week, you will be in need of tenderness, and tenderness will be elicited from you; when that happens you will be in the presence of love. You will be in the presence of God.
Tender is not a word comes to mind when I think of Paul or Leviticus. But it is the gospel word which they both proclaim to us today. So be tender to someone today; and you will be the face of God. Perhaps someone will be tender to you, and you will see in them the face of God.
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