A little boy who had been given the part of a sheep in his school’s nativity play was asking others in the program about their roles. Coming to a little girl whose mother was helping her into her costume he asked, “I’m a sheep—what are you?” “I’m Mary,” she replied. With an air of solemnity, the boy declared: “It’s hard being a sheep, you know.” “Yes,” the little girl agreed. “But it’s also hard being a virgin.”
She could have been speaking for many of us. Whether our commitment is to abstinence as a single person or fidelity to our spouse as one who is married, it isn’t always easy being morally pure in today’s society. Impure practices are widely tolerated. They are a common feature in movies and on television. Advertising images frequently appeal to our sexual impulses to sell their products, and many implicitly endorse homosexuality. Instead of being seen as a covenant made for life, marriage is now widely regarded as a temporary social commitment that can be revoked at any time. Many people don’t see any need for marriage at all.
Today’s passage contains an assortment of commands whose purpose, in some cases, is not always easy to understand. The intent of the command to help a neighbor whose ox or donkey has fallen in the road is clear enough. So are the commands that protect a ￼￼woman’s reputation from false accusations about her moral behavior. What, however, are we to make of the others? Why did God care if an Israelite took the mother bird along with the young from her nest? Why did He command His people not to wear clothes of wool and linen woven together or to plant two kinds of seed in a vineyard?
In general, these commands emphasize the truth that a community whose culture has been shaped by divine values will also respect the limits that God has set. Whether it involves the safety of others, the preservation of the environment, or sexual practice, God alone has the authority to set moral boundaries.