Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Leviticus 14:1-15:33


The uncleanness of "leprosy" leads to a kind of social death. The person infected is cut off from her or his community, family, and God. Leviticus 14 gives instructions for the rituals of purification by which a person could be restored to right relationship in all of these areas of life.

The details of the ritual are somewhat arcane. I don't think anyone knows quite what the purpose of the scarlet thread and the hyssop actually was. The implication of the ritual seems to be that sin is the cause of the disease and its attendant uncleanness.

In this age of modern medicine we can no longer consider sin the cause of illness. At least not in the simple calculus of Leviticus. Sin as a cause of broken relationships, however, is still a valid equation. In fact sin as the state of brokenness is a good Lutheran theological premise.

Returning to the mysterious use of the hyssop plant in the purification ritual, I can't read this chapter without remembering Psalm 51 which, I think, speaks of hyssop metaphorically.

Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean indeed. (Psalm 51:7)

This verse featured in the order for confession that I knew as a child. Here it refers to cleansing from sin.

Chapter 14 also gives rites for the purification of "leprous" houses and fabrics.

Once again, provision is made for the poor to offer less expensive sacrifices.

Bodily discharges are the subject of chapter 15. Wet dreams, unusual genital emissions, menstrual blood are all unclean. Anything they come into contact with becomes unclean. Uncleanness is removed by rituals of purification. Except for clay vessels. Apparently earthenware absorbs uncleanness and must be destroyed.

Although I am comfortable with the language of sin and forgiveness--I think it accurately describes the human condition of estrangement--talk of cleanness and uncleanness is foreign to my thinking. As a Christian I believe that one thing Jesus did was to break down the barriers between heaven and earth, the sacred and profane, the clean and unclean. His cross brings holiness to the least holy places. Christ hallows all the earth.

Next: Leviticus 16-18

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