God spoke to Moses: “Take the Levites from the midst of the People of Israel and purify them for doing God’s work.” Numbers 8:5 (MSG)
For me, one of the fascinating things about walking through these ancient texts is perceiving the ways that our culture and thinking are still rooted in the systems and concepts which were established thousands of years ago.
In today’s chapter, the tribe of Levi was singled out among all of the tribes of Israel for carrying out the work of the temple. In other words, “God’s work” was reserved for a special few. In any human system, I have to believe this is going to set into motion certain patterns of thought, creating classes within the culture. The special few who are given the religious tasks are going to think themselves special, even to the point of being better than the others. They will have a hard time not feeling that they are closer to God than those who don’t get this special task. Those who are not part of these special few begin to feel the opposite. They feel left out and dishonored. “God’s work” is not for them, so they dismiss the things of God as something above them. Jealousy, envy and hatred can even set in against those who seem to be “special.”
After Jesus death and resurrection, there was a major shift in God’s prescribed system. God’s Holy Spirit was poured out and into every person who believes and follows. No longer for a certain people or a select few, the Holy Spirit made no distinction. God gave the word picture of one body in which every believer is made a vital part, gifted in some way to help provide for it’s health and functions. Jesus presented a radical new paradigm.
We human beings are silly creatures, however. Once we get used to a system of behavior, we are loathe to go to the work of changing them. Within a short period of time, the followers of Jesus had organized into a system that looked much like what we read about in Numbers. There were special people set apart as priests and leaders to do the religious works of this organization now known as “the church.” Once again this human organizational system created a group of spiritual “haves” and “have nots.” 1500 years later a man named Martin Luther made a 95 item “point-of-order” to correct the mistake, arguing that what God’s Message presented was not a special “priesthood” for the select few but a “priesthood of all believers.” The reformers organized to try to get back to the prescribed organization of Jesus and his followers.
We human beings are silly creatures, however. Once we get used to a system of behavior, we are loathe to go to the work of changing them. For over forty years I’ve attended and been involved in a number of church organizations of all shapes, sizes and names. I’ve even led a few. We still like to treat our pastors and priests as “special” people who are spiritually above us. The common person in the pew still tends to think of “God’s work” as something relegated to the chosen few; it is something from which they are at best exempted, at worst unfit to carry out.
Today, I am reminded at how easily my human condition, culture, and systems can skew my thoughts and behaviors from those which God intended. Lord, have mercy on me.