I have just spent the last 72 hours reading and grading the ordination exams of candidates for ordained ministry of Word and Sacrament for my denomination. My charge was to read the New Testament exegetical exams which were to determine the ability of candidate to translate, analyze, theologize and apply a given text.
Whew, is my brain overloaded at this point!
With that context in mind, I came to our reading for the day.
I'm just about saturated with all these rules and regulations around tabernacle furniture, rites and rituals. I must admit, I am growing tired of the Israelites' story in the wilderness.
As I was reading along, I came to this passage and had an "ah-ha" moment:
"And they shall be joined with you and attend to the obligation of all the tent, but they shall not come near to the furnishings of the sanctuary and the altar, lest both they and you die. So you shall attend to the obligations of the sanctuary and the obligations of the altar, that there may no longer be wrath on the sons of Israel."Numbers 18:4-5
Do you see what I see?
The main job of the priest was to tend to the furnishings and the structure of the tent/tabernacle. They offered sacrifices and kept to the code of cleanliness. But we don't hear about choir rehearsals, worship services filled with praise or a "tending" to the congregation and its needs, much less the needs of the surrounding community.
All of a sudden, I get it. I understand why Jesus and the Levitical priesthood were at odds. Jesus respected the synagogue and the temple but had moved away from the understanding of the priestly duties in his day. He saw the temple allegorically.
The Levitical priests were still tending the structures and the furniture. They saw rites and rituals as their main task. No wonder they were offended and appalled by Jesus.
As I work with my denomination in the tasks of ordination standards, polity and structure, it seems I am more like the Levitical priest. In the book of Hebrews, Jesus is said to be the high priest after the priesthood of Melchizedek. The only hint we have to that priesthood outside of Hebrews is in the book of Genesis where Melchizedek comes out of nowhere and blesses Abram.
Are there two types of priesthood in our churches, the priesthood of tending to the structures and the priesthood of blessing the people? Are both needed? Are both sanctioned by God? Is one subordinate to the other?
If I were a Levitical priest (which I never could have been because I am a woman and the whole blood issue), I think it would be very hard to see tending to furniture and structures as a life-giving vocation. And yet, this was their call from God.
I am grateful for Jesus' ministry, not only the whole salvation/redemption ministry, but the ministry of blessing. All of a sudden, stories like the blessing of the children, the calling of the prostitutes and tax collectors, and the personal conversations with the curious and the seeker carry much more power for me.