“He may eat the bread of his God, both the especially holy and the holy; only he is not to go in to the curtain or approach the altar, because he has a defect – so that he will not profane my holy places, because I am ADONAI, who makes them holy.” (Lev. 21:22-23 CJSB).
In the reading today I kept stumbling upon the word “defect.” At first, I kept reading as if the people were speaking about their fellow brothers and sisters, but that was not the case. God was speaking to Moses. How could this be? How could the Creator of the universe speak so harshly against His perfect creation?
As my blood continued to boil, I decided to look at other versions to find out if the word “defiled” is standard across the different translations. According to both the Interlinear Bible and the NRSV, the Hebrew word is not “defect,” but “blemish.” So, the assumption that God created flawed human beings (physically speaking) does not appear to be accurate. In the cultural setting of the day, to have a blemish proved to be a reliable indicator of infectious disease. Perhaps the importance of the laws mentioned in Chapters 21-23 of Leviticus is to only allow those who are free of disease to touch or prepare anything so to prevent spreading leprosy and other maladies.
I breathed a sigh of relief until I remembered Lev. 21:17-20. The medical issues listed are not infectious diseases but are chronic issues many people face throughout their entire lives. How do we reconcile this passage? It seems very unfair and lacks compassion and understanding. I do not think this section of the Bible would go over well on a poster at a football game. There has to be some explanation as to the exclusion of some of God’s children.
One thought might be that the job of being a priest required mobility issues that might have been impossible for those living with the chronic conditions mentioned in the text. Other positions might be better suited to their abilities. Whatever the job, everyone may find a place to offer the best of their talents and loyalty to God. This is the highest goal of humanity.
Maybe the most essential part of the scripture is to realize that all of us are not capable of working in every ministry. What if the things mentioned are not all physical, but refer to a spiritual condition? We should not serve as counselors if we are blind to the verbal and non-verbal clues that others make known while in suffering. How can we run to our brother’s or sister’s side, when we cannot see their needs? Someone else is better suited for the job.
This is a challenging passage to even attempt to understand. I hope that no one finds this post offensive. I am trying to hold myself accountable to the text and pray that I may glean some knowledge regarding God’s providence. My anger is probably due to my sons’ bleeding disorders (hemophilia), and how as an advocate for my children, I have trouble with any language, scripture or not, that appears limiting and unfair to those who live with chronic conditions.
Maybe this portion of scripture reminds me to not limit my answers to “no,” but to expand the possibilities for others to serve the One, who brings hope to all of us. If someone is not capable of serving in a certain way, let us guide them to another. As the hands and feet of Christ, it is up to us to help discover talents.