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Devotional: January 18, 2021

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18 NRSV Many people are familiar with this verse, as it was quoted by Jesus in Mark 12:31. In his discussion with the rich young ruler, our Lord quotes this verse from Leviticus as the second-greatest commandment. (The first is to “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength...”). Looking at this verse in its original context reminds us of the unity of the Old and New Testaments: Jesus was reinforcing God the Father’s original intentions for us. It also reminds us that the verse is not just about loving actions towards our neighbors. The verse begins by prohibiting vengeance, or even bearing a grudge. These days, it feels like there are many people who bear grudges! The overall philosophy of much of contemporary political discourse seems to be built on forming and bearing grudges. Here, the scriptures remind us that God calls us to be better than vengeance or retribution. In fact, even if our actions do not exhibit the vengeance or retribution, our hearts must also be turned away from such negative thoughts. God calls us to love our neighbors. This call is given regardless of how we feel, or whether or not we believe our neighbor has wronged us. This may be hard to swallow, especially for some who have literally had neighbors who have wronged them, or at least caused them great exasperation. It is a high standard. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us would admit that fall short of it. Some cynics believe that the answer is to simply lower our standards. “Let’s allow the occasional vengeful action, and the more frequent hard grudge. After all, it is justified!” Can you imagine if the Lord lowered His standards of tolerance towards us? We are called to unconditional love. Anything less is a betrayal of our duty and responsibility to God, and to our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is the day on which our nation observes the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. An ordained minister, Dr. King succeeded in helping to move our nation forward in terms of race relations. One of my religion professors, Dr. Dale Bruner, used to say that he believed Dr. King succeeded because while many others trusted in their own actions and failed, Dr. King succeeded because he did not trust in his actions, but trusted only in the Word. That is, God’s word. Let me close with one of his quotes, which is a good challenge for our day, as well as it was for his time and its challenges… “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-1968 Prayer Thank you, Lord, for loving me. You want me to follow the path You have put before me. May my words and actions show others who You are in my life, and in the world. Forgive me when I fall short. Help me to believe in and trust You, more than myself or others. Help me to rely upon Your word, and it’s promises. May I not to be distracted by what the world claims to be true, but is not. Help me to love others as You love me. With a prayerful heart, I pray this prayer in the name of the One who came to show us Your unconditional love, Your son and my Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen

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