Jesus summed up the Torah as being about loving God exclusively and loving your neighbor as yourself. But of course, He did more than talk about it, He modeled it in all aspects of His life so that when we look at Him, we see Someone who was the epitome of loving God and others.
To that end, Deuteronomy 22:1-4 is a text with designs on showing us an important element that is involved in loving our neighbor and living out community. Anyone taking even a casual trip through the book will quickly see that living as community is one of its chief concerns. Living in the promised land would be great and part of what would make it that way would be allowing their lives to be shaped by the book’s teaching in regard to their life together.
The overall aim of these verses is more than involvement with those around us—it is a call to take initiative. It is active, not passive good will they are called to practice. The difference is substantial. Involved but not initiating, means that you are usually doing what someone had told you needs to be done. This is not a bad thing. It’s the construction worker following the blueprints. Initiating means you have taken an extra step and are on the lookout for things that need to be done—you’re not waiting for someone to tell you. It is the construction worker tweaking their plans to add a doggie door. Involvement is good, initiative is better.
With this in mind, Israel is told, as some of the older translations have it, not to “hide” themselves (v. 1, 4) when they see a neighbor’s ox, sheep, donkey, or cloak where it’s not supposed to be. They are to take it upon themselves to get it back to them. They are to live with this seeking attitude.
This would be quite beneficial to their neighbor as these animals weren’t pets, but rather a substantial part of their economic livelihood. But of even greater importance, this attitude would cultivate the sense of community they needed to thrive and prosper. After all, having your animal(s) returned was good. Knowing you had a neighbor who was watching out for you was even better.
All this calls us away from self-absorption and to living outside ourselves. It means we are aware and alert to what is going on around us. That is the spirit these verses push us toward. Like turtles, we’ll make no progress until we are willing to stick our neck out.
Hide or seek? The choice is ours!