17 February 2010

Feb 17

The high priest will then take some of the bull's blood into the Tabernacle, dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle it seven times before the Lord in front of the inner curtain. He will then put some of the blood on the horns of the altar for fragrant incense that stands in the Lord's presence inside the Tabernacle. -- Leviticus 4:16-18

Reference links:
Old Testament

Yesterday we learned about burnt offerings and peace offerings. Today we learn about sin offerings. If the high priest or the entire Israelite community sins, even without realizing it, a young bull without blemish must be offered. When other people sin they offer various goats. The interesting thing about sin offerings is that the one who sins must lay their hand on the sacrifice's head before the animal is killed. This, I suppose, represents a transference of the sin from the person to the animal. I wonder whether this was originally thought to symbolic or actual transfer of guilt.

A sin offering of a female sheep or goat are required for refusing to testify, touching something that is unclean, and making foolish vows. Two turtledoves or pigeons can be substituted by those who cannot afford a sheep or goat. If you cannot afford that, grain can be substituted. Before we saw that Mosaic law incorporated the idea of punishment being related to the damage caused rather than punishing based on intent. Today we see the idea of punishment being proportional to the means of the one being punished. This concept of punishment seems much more subtle than that held by modern mainstream America. Today's reading also emphasizes the point that punishment cannot be avoided just because the guilty one did not know they were committing a crime.

For defiling the Lord's sacred property the punishment is a ram with no defects and payment for the damaged property plus 20 percent. Once this payment has been made, the defiler is forgiven. Forgiveness is another concept we have lost track of in modern American ideas about punishment.

New Testament

Jesus calls Levi (Matthew) to be one of his disciples.
Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus' followers.)
The Pharisees were baffled by this, but Jesus said,
Healthy people don't need a doctor - sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.
This passage and other like it help illuminate an attitude I come across more often than I like. There are some Christians who give lip service to the idea that they are terrible sinners but show by their action and attitudes that they really believe they are better than everyone else. I have often wondered why they insist that they are sinners when they clearly do not believe it in their heart. Passages like this give a potential reason why: they think it brings them closer to Jesus. Ironically, this kind of public posturing really makes them more like the Pharisees than the sinners Jesus was dining with.

Today's reading repeats the story about Jesus and his disciples breaking off and eating grain in a field on the Sabbath. The Pharisees accuse Jesus of breaking the law and Jesus responds by relating a story about how David ate sacred loaves of bread once. What struck me about the story this time is that the Pharisees were there to see this. What were the Pharisees doing? Following Jesus around? Even in grain fields on the Sabbath? Seems rather silly.

Jesus does make an interesting statement as part of his response:
The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.
We really do all need a regular day of rest to separate ourselves from our daily concerns and focus on the big picture.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's reading from the Psalms once again emphasize that everything the wicked do is evil and deceitful. They spend all of their times hatching evil plans. Once again, I am struct by the degree to which the Psalms draw caricatures of evil people. I believe few, if any, evil people have every been as constantly evil as the wicked are said to be the Psalms and yet these verses clearly impact how all atheists are perceived (since atheists are automatically assumed to be wicked, also, I believe, based on passages in Psalms and/or Proverbs).

Today's section of Proverbs starts the "Proverbs of Solomon" (who we will later learn was a wise king of Israel and son of King David and a wife he won by less than honorable means).