Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Monday, May 09, 2005

Expiation not Ransom

Daily Readings
Proverbs 16 + Numbers 35 + Deuteronomy 28 + Romans 10

Quote of the Day
The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:11-13

Daily Text: Numbers 35:1, 2, 12, 30-34
35
In the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2Command the Israelites to give, from the inheritance that they possess, towns for the Levites to live in; you shall also give to the Levites pasture lands surrounding the towns. 12The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, so that the slayer may not die until there is a trial before the congregation. 30If anyone kills another, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses; but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of a single witness. 31Moreover you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer who is subject to the death penalty; a murderer must be put to death. 32Nor shall you accept ransom for one who has fled to a city of refuge, enabling the fugitive to return to live in the land before the death of the high priest. 33You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and no expiation can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I also dwell; for I the LORD dwell among the Israelites.

Expiation not Ransom
Most crimes under the law could be ransomed. That is, an animal damaged could be paid for, property damage allowed for replacement, but murder could only be requited by a life for life. And the closest family member to the murdered one was automatically the blood avenger--with rights. Any death diminished the community, but intentional murder was a sin that defiled the whole people and God himself [cf. Vs. 34].

Consequently, an innocent slayer could flee to one of the six cities of refuge. When the time came he would be brought back to the area where the crime had been committed and with more than one witness could be judged innocent or guilty by local leadership. If innocent, he was sent back to the city of refuge, for the rights of the blood-avenger could not be abrogated. The lost life had to be expiated; it could not be paid for. Expiation still meant a life for a life. In the meantime, what sort of life could the innocent murderer have, locked up in this distant and perhaps socially difficult city of refuge? However, with the death of the high priest, and I presume this means the high priest from the temple in Jerusalem, there was expiation for all of those convicted of innocent murder. The high priest made offering once a year for the sins of the people, but even this could not provide expiation for murder. It had to be a life for a life. Upon the high priest’s death, he provided the life required and those relegated to the cities of refuge could return home; the blood-avenger’s rights satisfied.

Jesus was our high priest and his death made the expiation for our sins. But you say, we are not murderers. Ah, yes, but sin always leads to death. Even the smallest sin betrays first God and then our neighbor. Our sins nibble away at life bite by killing bite. We too require life for the death we have spawned. “And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”[Hebrews 10:10].
And if God has taken such care for the one who sins, how much more will he care for those of us who through Christ have been declared righteous!

The Debt
Paul Laurence Dunbar

This is the debt I pay
Just for one riotous day,--
Years of regret and grief,
Sorrow without relief.

Pay it I will to the end—
Until the grave, my friend,
Gives me a true release,
Gives me the clasp of peace.

Slight was the thing I bought,
Small was the debt, I thought,
Poor was the loan at best—
God! but the interest!
407:859

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