Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lev 4 for Feb 17

Behind the specification of procedures to be followed is an interesting examination of types of various sins. The paragraph with 4:2 in it talks about doing something wrong unintentionally, including among priests. We're such a cynical age such things sound tinny to us, as a form of rationalization, but after all, this category here is to be dealt with by a sin offering (4:3). So to categorize unintentional sin is not a way of rationalizing it, in Leviticus. It's sin, with an offering that needs to be offered. But then, another part of our brains, fueled by another part of our culture perhaps, says, "oh, that's too much: we don't want to rationalize our sin, but we don't want to conceive of it as something for which an offering to God is necessary either." Sorry, but we're not trying to mirror our culture into Leviticus, or onto the Lord. But we must live with the fact.

The second category, mentioned in Lev 4:13-21, is becoming very interesting in our times once more, though in the past it was shunned as unfair because it doesn't follow a distributive justice model, a model that Scripture also uses (Ez 18:4). This second category is the sin of the whole culture, hitherto undiscovered, upon discovery. Upon discovery, the culture, the "assembly" of the group that commits the error ("the whole congregation of Israel commits error," 4:13) must make an offering. A present-day example would be the recent apology to the American Indian by the current U.S. Administration.

The third category (4:22-26) is very well known: unintentional sins of the leader. These need a particular offering, separate from the previous offering of a bull. This is the offering of a male goat without defect. Again, a separate category with its own procedure.

The fourth category (4:27-31) is the unintentional sins of the "people of the land" (4:27 lit). By calling for a female goat in this case, whereas the leader's sins require a mail goat (4:28; 4:23) the text is saying that both are sin, but also that the sins of the leader have a different quality than those of the non-leaders.

Of the many things that can be said about the pattern of the details of the procedures for these offerings in each case, let's not overlook what they have in common.

First of all, these offerings are triggered by committing of (unintentional) sin, or, the subsequent discovery of it. They are not triggered by a scheduled festival, even the Day of Atonement.

Secondly, these offerings point to forgiveness explicitly, if there is any question about whether or not the offering provides for forgiveness, it is explicitly stated to provide it (20, 26, 31). The first case is encapsulated in the second (20).

Anything missing here, thinking about the whole procedure? This whole chapter is about sin offering triggered by the committing of various sins. It is triggered whether known immediately as in the first case, or discovered later, as in the other three.

What about the actors in the event? Those who commit have one role: the killing of the animal. The priests have another: the offering of the animal. This division of labor highlights the distinctive function of the priest in the Old Testament portrayal of forgiveness. All the guilty party can do is kill, not offer what is killed. Someone outside the guilty party must do the offering. No self-forgiveness going on here.

No comments: