The whole of the Law, God’s Fatherly instruction (torah), is teaching God’s people how to love their neighbor in the details of their lives (Galatians 5:13). When we want examples of what love looks like, we can look to the formative teaching God gave to Israel through Moses.
How much would it cost someone to kill their ox in the Ancient Near East? During that agrarian time period, the ox was the cornerstone of economic productivity and among the most valuable asset in every home.
Here in Exodus 21:28-29, we see God doing three things: 1) indicating the preeminent value of human well-being, 2) demonstrating the real cost of loving your neighbor, and 3) correcting the passive flinch within humans to not confront destructive situations head on.
Human well-being matters more than economic gain, crop stability, and wealth management. Love of neighbor may requires that we make costly decisions for the sake of the flourishing of our fellow humans.
In God’s eyes, failure to kill or contain the ox doesn’t merely make one negligent, reckless, or forgetful: it makes them punishable as a murderer, one is implicated for the loss of life!
God calls his people to make the financially, emotionally, and temporally hard decisions for the sake of the flourishing of their neighbors. This teaching doesn’t just communicate that in a positive sense, but also in a negative sense: we are held accountable for our passivity.
Are there places where we have avoided the painful decisions that love would require of us? Are there boundaries we need to set, hurtful people we need to confront, or rough situations we need to lean into in order to protect our neighbors from further or future pain?
Where have we refused to kill or contain an ox that is “accustomed to goring”? May the Spirit give us the ability and the courage to do what love requires.