If you pray the Daily Office, you may have run across this passage earlier in the week:
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:17-18, RSV)
This comes from part of the Torah known to many scholars as the Holiness Code. According to the text, God has called the people of Israel to “be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (v. 2), and now he’s telling them how to do it. The list of commandments is an inspiration to anyone with high ethical standards: do not oppress your neighbor, do not be partial to the rich (or the poor) in judgment, leave produce in your field for the poor.
And reason with your neighbor.
It’s hard to reason without dialogue. Can we say, then, that God called the people of Israel—and, by extension, is calling us—into dialogue?
Maybe. Speaking for God with certainty is risky business, of course. But it is interesting to find this command ensconced amid so many others that lay out the basics of just, fair, merciful behavior.
Even more interesting is how close this passage ties “reasoning with your neighbor” to matters of love and hate. You shall not hate, so you must reason. You shall not hate, so you must love your neighbor as yourself.
That says two things to me. First, dialogue is an alternative to hate—even a way through hate. It’s difficult to hate someone when she’s talking with you.
The second thing keeps us talking: a commitment to love. When, in our hearts, we can commit ourselves to seek the other person’s good, for better or worse, we don’t give up. We might take a break from dialogue to clear our heads or let the emotion dissipate. But love keeps us coming back to the table—if not to agree, then to learn how to respect each other within our differences.
Imagine what would happen if, say, the warring factions within the Christian Church acted this out. Might they actually find a way to live together, conflicts and all?