This is the law pertaining to land animal and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms upon the earth, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.
Leviticus 11:46-47 (NRSV)
Rules and laws are often culturally important for their time and place in history, but time moves on and so does culture. In retrospect, some old laws and rules seem silly to us.
In my home state of Iowa it is against the law for a moustached man to kiss women in public. It’s also illegal in the hawkeye state for a kiss to last longer than five minutes in public. In Iowa all one-armed piano players are required, by law, to play for free. Ministers in Iowa must apply for a permit to carry liquor across state lines. Reading palms in public is strictly (well, maybe not so strictly) forbidden by law in our state. My friends in Ottumwa should know that it’s against the law for a man to wink at a woman he doesn’t know within the city limits. The food service vendor at the Iowa State Capitol way want to remember that, by a resolution passed by the Iowa congress, they must serve cornbread.
In similar fashion, the Levitical laws in today’s chapter pertaining to what the ancient Hebrews could and could not eat were relatively important in their time. The dietary rules that categorized food into “clean” and “unclean” generally protected the population from a health perspective in an age when hygiene and health were not common considerations.
For the good, Jewish followers of Jesus, the dietary rules and regulations of Leviticus were repealed shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus had made clear to his followers that they were to spread his Message to all peoples, even non-Jewish Gentiles, and they were to tear down the cultural walls separating the cultures. In a vision, God made clear to Peter that God was making “clean” the foods that Leviticus had deemed “unclean.” The Levitical rules had served their purpose for their time and place. The times, they were a changin’.
This morning I’m thinking about laws and rules. From family rules to religious rules, from civic laws to social mores, we are guided throughout life by rules that govern our time and place. But times change and rules change all of the time. There are core rules like those in the ten commandments, that are applicable for all people in all times and places. Killing, lying, stealing and coveting are never a good thing no matter what time and place you find yourself. There are other rules that serve their time and place.
Wisdom is discerning the difference.