Thursday, 15 December 2016

Eden to Patmos. Week 3

This morning my reading included the most boring chapter in the Bible to date, Numbers 7. I know that when I reach 1 Chronicles there are even greater depths of tedium to be plumbed, in those interminable genealogies, but today it was 89 (!) verses listing what each of the 12 tribes gave as an offering when the altar of the tabernacle was consecrated. Each of the TWELVE gifts are described in excruciating detail, and each of the TWELVE tribes gave exactly the same thing! Aaaarrrggghhhh!

For the last couple of days, in Leviticus and Numbers, it has all been laws: laws for priests and laws for people telling each group how to set up and then how to run a system in which to keep themselves pure. It has been about establishing the dichotomy between sacred and profane, and how to police the boundary between the two. There are two very brief references to homosexuality in this regard, and there are lengthy and repeated references to the avoidance of touching corpses, either of humans or animals. Which raises for me an issue of the way Jesus used these texts, and the approach to scripture which he seemed to be encouraging in others.

The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 is most often used as an illustration of the need for compassion, and sometimes, also, to show the perfidy of those who are in power. Reading the purity laws in Leviticus again, the focus of the story shifts, and exegesis - the way we interpret and use the Bible - is, surprisingly, revealed as the central theme of the parable. The story is Jesus' answer to a lawyer who has engaged him in an exegetical debate: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What does The Law say about this question?" "How are we to interpret what we both agree the law says?"

Read the purity codes in Leviticus and Numbers and the priest and the Levite are seen, not as heartless and cowardly reprobates, but rather as faithful men, scrupulously obeying the clear and plain commandments of scripture. The texts are completely unambiguous. Don't touch corpses, under any circumstances, but particularly if you are in that heightened state of ritual purity required of priests and Levites performing their sacred duties. Don't do it. Never. Which part of DON'T do you not understand?  And in answer to the question of how we interpret the plain word of scripture Jesus holds up, as an exemplar to be followed,  someone whose nationality places him outside the law and who is acting in complete contradiction to the plain word of scripture. No wonder they nailed him to a cross, when he went round saying stuff like that!

It seems Jesus was inviting the lawyer he was debating with into a deeper perception. He was inviting him to repent: that is, μετανοείτε (metanoiete), think again.If we can only get past ourselves, past our preconceptions and assumptions, there is a deep truth waiting for us.

This deep truth is lying there, I suspect, even in Numbers 7. If only I could get past myself.

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