Leviticus is a biblical book is one of those biblical books that can be difficult to have a healthy relationship with. The book is in the middle of the Torah, the first five books of the bible (with Moses claimed as its author), and contains very few narrative details. We don’t have the grand stories of Genesis and Exodus with people moving to new places, arguing with each other and with God, and with visuals that would make any summer blockbuster movie proud. Instead, we have a lot of words, delivered by God to Moses while Moses and the Israelites are camped at Mt. Sinai. The story stops but the words from God don’t.
And these rules can be weird, especially to our reading. It’s easy for us to focus on the language that has filled recent social debates (such as the debate on human sexuality) but skip over the volumes devoted to animal sacrifices and what they do. We might want to remove text from Leviticus so we can use it in the way we want but we really shouldn’t. This text should be taken as a whole with the parts we claim to understand kept alongside the parts we don’t. We don’t get to cherry pick Leviticus.
So what do we do with Leviticus? One way that helps us is to draw circles. As you read the book, imagine a blank page with God as a dot in the center. Then draw concentric circles outward. Each circle represents a boundary of holiness. We see this in the story of creation (i.e. the 7 days) and in the construction of the tabernacle (the holy of holies in the center). The closer you are to God, the closer we (and the world) match God’s divine sense of order and purpose. These rules about what to eat, drink, dress, and sacrifice help us get a sense of which circle we’re on. Much of this language is focused on the action of the priests, the ones who mediate between God and people. The overall goal is to try to match God’s sense of order. That’s why Leviticus is so concerned with boundaries. By establishing boundaries, Leviticus works to establish a sense of order and purpose that helps match our lives up with God. Boundaries and order help us stay in tuned and in touch with God.
But how do we read Leviticus in light of who Christ is and what he did? If boundaries are important, what do we do with a Savior who crosses boundaries, ate with the unclean, conversed with the unwanted, and even appointed Gentiles as his disciples? There is an order to God’s creation – but just what does that order look like?
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Transfiguration, 2/7/2016.