SMALL TOWN LIFE AND THE GREAT COMMANDMENT
By Chris McLain
I can’t speak for those living in urban contexts, but in Crowell it matters whether you’re native-born or a transplant from elsewhere.
Let me explain. It’s not that new people who move into our community are any less welcome or loved than the locals, but their experience of small-town life is certainly different.
Many of the folks who grew up here have large, extended families of several generations nearby. That makes for a broad support system and relational community year-round (and the convenience of avoiding holiday traffic is no small benefit either).
The “new Crowell” folks are much more likely to feel isolated in our close-knit community. It can be difficult to make new friends because “old Crowell” folks already have established networks of family and friends.
That means it’s especially important for folks in Crowell to be neighborly. And, as a pastor, I’m partial to the notion that Christians are specially called and gifted to meet that need.
Scripture really goes further; it’s a command. Remember Jesus’ two-sided “great commandment” to love God and to love neighbor. Jesus was picking up on two Old Testament passages, so this goes back early in God’s dealing with mankind.
The first half of the commandment has its roots in Deuteronomy 6:5 — “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (NRSV).
Then Jesus elaborates in the second half, quoting Leviticus 19:18 — “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (NRSV).
I find it ironic that this second half of Jesus’ greatest commandment, “to love your neighbor as yourself,” comes from the most maligned and misunderstood book in the whole of Scripture. It’s boring old Leviticus that Jesus quotes in answer to the Pharisees’ interrogation, and stodgy old men like them probably appreciated it!
But then again, maybe Jesus is onto something with Leviticus 19, because I’m pretty partial to what comes before v.18. For one thing, it contains a few of the “greatest hits” from the Ten Commandments, but Leviticus 19 is also the key passage in the “Holiness Code” portion of Leviticus, and the thing that makes it revolutionary is that God explicitly connects his image and his holiness with the neighborly behavior of his chosen people, Israel.
God commands, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” And according to Leviticus, God’s kind of holiness isn’t just achieved by worshipping him and offering appropriate sacrifices, it also includes a whole host of instructions about how to treat our neighbors, both native-born and outsiders.
Churches serve not only as places of worship, but also as community centers where retirees can enjoy social interaction, where children and students can find relief from summertime boredom, and where young families can meet surrogate parents and grandparents — to say nothing of celebrating weddings and births, and finding comfort in times of hardship and death.
All this neighborliness has the cumulative effect of not only honoring Christ’s command but also endearing ourselves to the ones who bear his image, which is something that both native-born and outsiders have in common. Neighborliness, holiness, is the way Christians both live distinctively so that God’s people are set apart from the rest of the world, and offer a visible witness to that same world.
Leviticus helped the Israelites keep all that in perspective, and I think it can help us, as well, in towns like Crowell where “new” people and “old’ ones connect and become neighbors to one another.
This post is a part of Evangelical Immigration Table’s ongoing “Telling a Better Story” blog series.