24 February 2010

Feb 24

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today's reading describes the handling of discharges of bodily fluids. Excited yet? Bodily discharge makes one ceremonially unclean. This includes semen (for men), menstrual blood (for women), and random fluids leaking out of the body. Anyone who has a discharge seems to be unclean for the duration of the discharge plus, in most cases, another day. Anyone who touches something that was discharged upon is also considered unclean for a day and must wash. If the discharge was abnormal, a sacrifice must be offered once it has ended. Sex makes you ceremonially unclean for a day, and you must bathe afterward.

The reason for all of this fuss about purity and discharges is because, according to God,
This is how you will guard the people of Israel from ceremonial uncleanness. Otherwise they would die, for their impurity would defile my Tabernacle that stands among them.
Based on the experiences of Nadab and Abihu, I think that we can interpret this as a threat that God will murder anyone who comes near him in an impure state. Now, I think God is perfectly reasonable to ask people to be ceremonially clean in his presence. However, I think murdering those who are not is taking it a bit far.

Then the reading contains some information about the Day of Atonement when Aaron can enter the Most Holy Place (assuming he wears the proper clothing and makes the proper sacrifices). Part of this process involved designating a scapegoat.
When Aaron has finished purifying the Most Holy Place and the Tabernacle and the altar, he must present the live goat. He will lay both of his hands on the goat's head and confess over it all the wickedness, rebellion, and sins of the people of Israel. In this way, he will transfer the people's sins to the head of the goat. Then a man specially chosen for the task will drive the goat into the wilderness. As the goat goes into the wilderness, it will carry all the people's sins upon itself into a desolate land.
Poor goat (although the one in the painting I found does look terrifying).

New Testament

In interesting contrast to our recent readings from Leviticus, today we read what Jesus has to say about purity. But first, we see that Jesus has a tendency to over react to simple questions.
So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, "Why don't your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony."

Jesus replied, "You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you [plus a fair bit more ranting]" 
Now, I know Jesus and the Pharisees have a bad history and, if we take Jesus' word for it, they were being hypocritical, but does he really think this is a productive way to engage them? I have a temper and lose it regularly, so I can reassure you (and Jesus) that losing one's temper generally is the worst response to a situation like this.

In any case, after ranting for awhile, Jesus finally gives the teaching on purity.
It's not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart. ... It's It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person's heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.
Given the context, it is reasonable to interpret this saying as implying that the old requirements of purity have been meaningless because they had lost their symbolic representation of inner purity in contemporary Jewish teaching. However, such an interpretation becomes harder to accept after reading in Leviticus today that God will kill anyone who comes near him when they are ceremonially unclean. If God is willing to murder, I think the impurity bestowed by consumption involved more than just symbolism.

That said, I agree with Jesus here. I am just not sure that the God of the Israelites would agree with him.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing new or noteworthy in todays Psalms or Proverbs readings.