The first reading today is taken from the Book of Leviticus and is paired with the memorable passage from Matthew 25. Leviticus is likely the least read book of the Old Testament. It is long and seems to be filled with all kinds of arcane information. The opening verse starts out with instructions on how to perform the ritual of burnt offerings while the people are still in the beginning of the wilderness trek of Exodus. Not the best “hook” to draw one into the book.
At the end of the Book of Exodus, after chapters and chapters of instructions about the Tent of Meeting, we read: “Moses could not enter the tent of meeting” – indicating that the relationship between God and his people that went “off the rails” with the golden calf incident, has not yet been “fixed”. The Book of Leviticus explores how the sacrificial rituals and purity practices allowed for morally corrupt Israelites to be restored as God’s covenant partners – and to enter the tent, into the presence of God. It is the “fix” to the problems created in Exodus. In Leviticus, God invites Israel to live in close proximity to His holy presence. God provides the means to live in his presence with laws surrounding ritual, priesthood and purity laws – centered around the Day of Atonement (Lev 16-17). All the arcane and detailed instructions were the means to “fix” the problem encountered at the end of Exodus and again let the people live in God’s presence.
The first reading sounds like a recapitulation of the 10 commandments. In a way it is and largely continues “thou shalt not.” But these were all the things the Israelites were doing, should not have been doing, and that was all part of the problem keeping them from being joined to the covenant with God. And you know what, the commandments are still things to avoid if one is to become “perfect, just as your Heavenly Father is perfect” – in other words, being holy. Becoming holy was the whole purpose of Leviticus allowing them to enter into the presence of God in the Tent of Meeting.
In our day, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we enter into the presence of God. The church is the “tent of meeting” for the New Covenant people, a covenant formed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As people also called to holiness, a greater holiness, it is no longer sufficient to have only lived without having done “things.” Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 calls us to action.
What if at the end of days, this is the dialogue:
“Lord, I may not have fed the hungry, given water to the thirsty, welcomed a stranger, helped those without the basic necessities of life, or visited the ill or imprisoned, but look at the whole long list of things I didn’t do!”
Jesus will answer us, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” And off we go to eternal punishment, while the righteous, those who acted in his name, will go off to eternal life – forever in the presence of God.
There are still 40 days until Easter.
If you would like to know more about the Book of Leviticus, take six minutes and watch this great introductory video from the good people at Bible Project.
Image credit: Bible Project modified with Canva, CC