Friday, February 13, 2009
The purification of persons with leprosy
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: This shall be the ritual for the leprous person at the time of his cleansing:
He shall be brought to the priest; the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall make an examination. If the disease is healed in the leprous person, the priest shall command that two living clean birds and cedarwood and crimson yarn and hyssop be brought for the one who is to be cleansed. The priest shall command that one of the birds be slaughtered over fresh water in an earthen vessel. He shall take the living bird with the cedarwood and the crimson yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over the fresh water. He shall sprinkle it seven times upon the one who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease; then he shall pronounce him clean, and he shall let the living bird go into the open field. The one who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. After that he shall come into the camp, but shall live outside his tent seven days. On the seventh day he shall shave all his hair: of head, beard, eyebrows; he shall shave all his hair. Then he shall wash his clothes, and bathe his body in water, and he shall be clean.
On the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb in its first year without blemish, and a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of choice flour mixed with oil, and one log of oil. The priest who cleanses shall set the person to be cleansed, along with these things, before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. The priest shall take one of the lambs, and offer it as a guilt offering, along with the log of oil, and raise them as an elevation offering before the Lord. He shall slaughter the lamb in the place where the sin offering and the burnt offering are slaughtered in the holy place; for the guilt offering, like the sin offering, belongs to the priest: it is most holy. The priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of the right hand, and on the big toe of the right foot. The priest shall take some of the log of oil and pour it into the palm of his own left hand, and dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand and sprinkle some oil with his finger seven times before the Lord. Some of the oil that remains in his hand the priest shall put on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of the right hand, and on the big toe of the right foot, on top of the blood of the guilt offering. The rest of the oil that is in the priest's hand he shall put on the head of the one to be cleansed. Then the priest shall make atonement on his behalf before the Lord: the priest shall offer the sin offering, to make atonement for the one to be cleansed from his uncleanness. Afterward he shall slaughter the burnt offering; and the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. Thus the priest shall make atonement on his behalf and he shall be clean.
Comments: This is the foundation for the sacramental act of the rite of healing. But the understanding of illness in Moses’ day was that illness was the result of sin, either personal or some other member of the family. It also separated one from the community. Lepers and those with any kind of visible disease were not allowed access to their families, the fundamental community of the society. They could only follow behind the migration of the nomadic people and had no access to the family tents or hearths. To be restored to health was to also be restored to the human community.
Jesus’ atonement restores us to the community of faith. And while we do not have to physically journey outside of the community, sin does create a gulf between the sinner and God. God does not cast us out. It is we, ourselves that distance ourselves from the source of our living. Atonement, the act of Jesus on the Cross, gives us the grace to return us to the company of the faithful. And since we are all sinners, all redeemed by the grace of God, this reuniting with the community of God sets us free to be the heirs of God. I am thankful I don’t have to shave my head just because I have dandruff or have to have my right ear anointed in order to have lunch with my friends. God is good, all the time.