“You shall not see your brother's ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother's, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. You shall not see your brother's donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again.”
This passage from Deuteronomy makes me go back to Psalm 112, which praises the righteous person, and read it in a way that I don’t normally consider. It changes my perception of “the man who fears the Lord,” the one who “greatly delights in his commandments,” the righteous person “who will never be moved.”
I know that there’s a lot more to the law than the few commandments we get here in this short passage, but looking over them I’m struck by the simple, ordinary goodness that God calls the Israelites to. In my tradition, local church, and seminary we get a lot of the strong Reformation teaching that says, “The law condemns, the law crushes you, and Christ saves us from it”—but here Deuteronomy says, “If you see a lost sheep on the side of the road, return it to its owner.”
Don’t ignore the needs of your neighbors.
If you’re passing by and your brother’s ox has fallen over—you know, car trouble—stop and help him. Take care of each other in the little things.
It reminds of Micah 6:8. God has shown us what is good. And what does he require of us but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God?
There’s a story I heard once about a Mennonite community, where a new family had moved into the neighborhood. They bought their house from another Mennonite who was leaving town, and after moving in they discovered that the foundation was just shot. There was serious, serious damage, and the family that sold them the house hadn’t told them that. They were looking at a repair upwards of $10,000, but the rest of the community came together and said, “We’re going to pay that for you. You’re part of our community. You’re our brother on the road. You were wronged, and it’s not right for you to have to shoulder that burden all on your own. That’s not the kind of community—not the kind of church—that God has called us to be.”
I’ve seen this spirit at my local church, St. Peter’s. This is a very generous church. And our senior pastor deserves a lot of the credit for it. There’s not an intern at my church who hasn’t either received or been offered significant help, from his discretionary fund or simply from his time. We’ve had car repairs, new cars, no-interest loans for taxes. You name it.
That is “greatly delighting in the Lord’s commandments,” as Psalm 112 puts it. That’s being just and loving kindness. That’s the kind of righteousness that endures forever.
So this morning I just want to encourage all of us to let this law make its way into our hearts. Let’s listen to Moses on this one. Let’s follow the example that my senior pastor, other pastors at my church, and many others on the staff and in the congregation have set—and the example that Jesus gave, as he stopped along the road to serve his brothers and sisters who were blind or had blood issues or sick children. Jesus always had time for someone else. Let’s participate in this ordinary, inconvenient, boring, biblical, and incredibly special work. That’s the kind of stuff that the Kingdom of God is built on.