The stories on the news since Saturday about the unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia have been a lesson to me. Knowing only that Scalia was seen as one of the most conservative judges on the court, I failed to see this longest serving member as the brilliant scholar and interpreter of the law that he was. More interesting to me was the report of his close relationship with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose comment to the press about Scalia was that they were “best buddies.” They disagreed on everything about the law, it is said, but were able to discuss everything and remain deeply committed to their relationship. High praise from many quarters across the political spectrum helped me to see the unfortunate consequences of labels like “conservative” and “liberal.”
I felt somewhat the same when reading the lectionary texts for today. Matthew 25 is the familiar chapter about the sheep and the goats, i.e. the law of love for neighbor. It was the reading from Leviticus (19: 1-18), however, that brought the lesson to my consciousness. Leviticus is about the Mosaic Law, a book that I have tended to skip over, determining it “dry” or not applicable to life in 21st century America. I was surprised at the tone and the examples of the directives that I read this morning that were each followed by the declarative, “I am the Lord” – God’s reminder of who is in charge of making the laws. Two sections drew my attention the most after the command to “be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” Take a look:
You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor. You shall not withhold overnight wages of your day laborer. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God. (much warmer and relational than the specific dimensions of the temple building…)
(This one’s for Justice Scalia.) You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your fellow men justly. You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
Reading these relational statements from Leviticus makes me see that perhaps even the tiniest or seemingly banal tenets of the Mosaic Law might hold some meaning if I took it upon myself to look deeply and not judge this book by the proverbial “cover.” Today, then, I will resolve to pay more attention to any tendency in me toward judgment without evidence, and I will pray in gratitude for men like Justice Scalia who clearly lived a life of integrity in service to God and to the law.