My class is going through the Bible chronologically, and we just finished a unit on The Law. At the end of each unit, we are assigned a project elaborating on a principle we picked up in that section. The firs unit resulted in a silent, black-and-white film based on Job (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMoGX652pdw) For this unit, we were supposed to pick a law, pull a key principle and sub-principles from it, and fit those principles to a modern context. Approaching this project, I was hesitant. Didn’t sound like my idea of fun (Swan Princess, anyone?) But, as it is due tomorrow, so I jumped in, and before I knew it I was writing my third page. Four verses brought me three pages of analysis and application. I’m just as surprised as you are, and I thought I’d share what I learned with you.
Key Principle: Love is not based on the other party’s actions.
–Love is others-centered. Implied in this whole passage is the idea that the Jew noticed the missing
animal/object, and this isn’t necessarily as straight forward as it sounds. He has a farm of his own, his own animals to tend to, his own crops to plant, fertilize, irrigate and harvest, his own family to feed, his own life to live. It would be easy to get so caught up in his own life that he never notices the simple oxen slipping away from his neighbor’s barn. But God tells him to be others-focused, neighbor-focused. He needs to take the time to pull his eyes beyond his own yard to that of his neighbors’, and rather than criticizing or falling into the jealousy-trap, stop and see if there’s anything he’s overlooking that needs to be done.
–Love is active. Repeatedly this passage says, “you shall not see… and pay no attention to it”. The ESV translates this same concept as “you may not ignore it”. It is not loving to stand by and do nothing when a need presents itself. As believers, we are called to love our neighbors, and, as this passage asserts, love is more than a feeling. Love is seeing a need, and meeting it.
–Love is unconditional. Nowhere in this passage does God say anything about compensation for the Jew’s time or money. He simply says that he is to “bring them back to [his] countryman”, and if the neighbor is away from home, or even a stranger, “[he] shall bring it home to [his] house and it shall remain with [him] until [his] countryman looks for it”. He doesn’t know why the animal is roaming around, he doesn’t know how long you will have it, and he can’t demand anything back from its owner. There is no way for this situation to benefit him, and that’s the point. Love is not about what someone or something does for you, it’s about meeting needs, unconditionally. God also knows that we often try to loop-hole our way out of obeying His commands, so He made this law clear: “Thus you shall do with is donkey… with his garment… with anything lost by your countryman…” There’s no way for the Jew to say, “Whew! It’ just the Jones’ horse. Good thing it’s not an ox or a sheep, because then I would have to help them.” Similarly, we as believers are not to
loop-hole our way out of helping a neighbor. Quit the hair-splitting and just love them.
–Love is costly. You don’t just keep an ox in your barn; you have to feed it, water it, and clean up after it. And with no promised compensation in this law, all that food, water and time is coming straight from your pocket. This law shows that love takes more than going through the motions (putting the animal in your barn), it takes time, money and effort, and sometimes you don’t get anything in return for your work but a strengthened relationship and a God-glorifying reputation.
–Love is about God, not the neighbor. Assuming that this “neighbor” is a God-fearing man, who has strong relationships with his surrounding friends, it would be easy for our hypothetical Jew to take in his animal for a short period. It would be doing a favor for a friend. But let’s say that this “neighbor” is that neighbor, the one who plays his music to loud, who slams the car door at odd hours of the morning, who leaves his barking dog outside to annoy the whole neighborhood, who lets his “ox or sheep [stray] away”. That makes this whole situation different, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be best to just let the animal wander off? After all, the neighbor should learn to keep a better watch on his own belongings. He has to learn to be responsible, right? God thinks differently. While He does demand personal responsibility from each of us, that lesson is between God and the “neighbor”. e calls Jews (and believers) to love their neighbors. Period. Why? Because we are to love with the same love we’ve received from God through Christ. Love is about reflecting God, not justifying some warped need of personal revenge wrapped in a lesson in responsibility. When we love our neighbors, in spite of their actions toward us and others, we reflect God’s love. He did the exact same thing for us.
–Love is selfless. So our Jew found the animal, brought it home, cared for it, cleaned up after it and invested time and money into it, and then the neighbor shows up looking for his wayward beast. How does God tell the Jew to respond? “You shall restore it to him”. Simple as that. The animal doesn’t belong to him, he was just taking care of it for a while. The real owner is back, so he must give it back to him. He donates his time, money, effort (and maybe emotional attachment) to his neighbor along with the animal, getting nothing but one less shoveling job in return.
So how does this apply? After all, we aren’t Jews, so we aren’t called to keep the Law. Well, Jew or Gentile, the principle(s) behind this passage are just as valid. Love is not based on the other party’s actions. For example, look at a mother’s love for her baby. He may be cute as a button, but that child requires a lot of his mother. 3 am feedings, endless diaper changes, hundreds of dollars in clothes and accessories, and all that screaming (sadly, no mute button). Ignoring the motherly instincts God has put inside women, there is no practical reason why this woman should love her child. He does nothing for her. In fact, his whole life so far is spent taking from her. And yet, she loves him, actively, unconditionally, selflessly, in spite of the cost. It is by no means easy, and when he grows up, he’ll leave. A Godly mother is an example of love: meeting someone’s needs, simply because there’s a need, expecting nothing in return. God gives us the capability to love others, and when we do, we reflect and glorify Him. So what’s holding us back?