Thoughts to Ponder are my musings regarding community, things of the Spirit, and living as a Christ-follower. I don't offer the words of a professional or an expert; just a fellow traveler and explorer. Please don't take my musings more serious than I do. I've discovered a long time ago that I do not hold the keys of knowledge or wisdom. If I did, I misplaced them somewhere...typical.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Bloody Sacrifice

" 'If he brings a lamb as his sin offering, he is to bring a female without defect. He is to lay his hand on its head and slaughter it for a sin offering at the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered. Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. He shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the lamb of the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar on top of the offerings made to the LORD by fire. In this way the priest will make atonement for him for the sin he has committed, and he will be forgiven.
.............................................................................--Leviticus 4:32-35 New International Version

Granted, Leviticus is not exactly the most exciting reading in the Hebrew Scriptures! In some ways it's like Sacrifices and Rituals for Dummies: a detailed instruction of how to carry out the various duties required of the Israelite priests.

However, I'm beginning to have a broadened view, I think, of these requirements. It seems to me every ritual action demanded by God is designed to make his people reflect. They are designed to remind Israel of something.

Perhaps all of these bloody animal sacrifices are supposed to remind Israel of the Pascal sacrifice: the symbol of rescue an deliverance from Egyptian slavery. But maybe these sacrifices are designed to take the Israelite community's memory further back to soon after the Creation when God must slaughter an animal to clothe the shame of Adam and Chava (where did you think he got the pelts?).

Perhaps these sacrifices serve to remind Israel (and us) that sin and the breaking of covenant have consequences. Most often those unintended consequences involve harm to the innocent. When I lie, cheat, or steal--when I selfishly seek my own comfort at the expense of another, then a victim is created by my action.

My father was a small businessman. Occasionally someone would owe him a large sum of money. Perhaps such a person was a gambler or a spend thrift and was forced into bankruptcy. He defaults on his debts thinking his action harms no one. But it does hurt someone. It hurts my dad and our family. He would have to absorb the costs. Perhaps he owed money and he was depending on the repayment of that defaulted debt to make ends meet. But now he and our family suffers as a consequence of someone's irresponsibility. Perhaps our grocery list has to be shortened. Maybe we have to sell the car or empty our savings.

Is there really any such of a thing as a "victimless sin"?

When we sin, we don't just sin to ourselves. The innocent suffer as well. Society suffers. The community suffers.

These sacrifices demonstrate how serious sin and covenant breaking really is: it involves death and death affects everything.

The bloody sacrifices also point forward to God's own ultimate sacrifice. They point to the future when God himself will put on flesh and reconcile all mankind to himself. In this event he will defeat the powers of evil by allowing them to kill him on a cross--the innocent again suffering for the evil of many. But by so doing, evil is defeated.

Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought
us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
-Isaiah 53:4, 5-

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