Qualified: Leviticus 21:1-15

Let’s spend a couple of days wondering about priests. In light of the last couple of days, let’s start by confirming that these are not judicial officials with powers of capital punishment, but ritual priesthood for sacrifices.

God says to Moses to say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, what the rules will be. There’s the pecking order of authorities. God first. Moses, of Exodus and Sinai, law and covenant, second. Only third in the pecking order come the priesthoods, and distinctions in turn among them. Who do you listen to? God. Moses. Then Aaron.

The distinction between Aaronite priests and lesser Levites is a later one. Ezekiel sets Zadok apart from the rest of the Levites. Josiah’s reform in 621BC separated Levites. In the second temple period, the priests and Sadducees took more authority for interpreting Torah, till the Pharisees resisted that monopoly, and Hasmonean and Maccabbean priests took political leadership. After the second temple, Kohanite and Levitical priesthood was hereditary by family, and ritual in responsibility.

What do you expect from a priest, and what then qualifies them? Is it simply an accident of birth, being a male child to a priestly family? Can they behave in ways to keep the due authority and dignity of the role?

Sex is predictably one set of behaviors to be restrained among the priests. But so is touching of dead bodies. Apparently, we are more deeply offended by priests breaking taboos and then presiding in rituals than we are by other people being unclean and participants.

Does any of that make sense to anticlerical United Church folks? Are clergy just parsons, or persons, with functional responsibility only, or other roles and identity?

Leviticus 21:1-15

The LORD said to Moses: Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them:No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his relatives,

2 except for his nearest kin: his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother;

3 likewise, for a virgin sister, close to him because she has had no husband, he may defile himself for her.

4 But he shall not defile himself as a husband among his people and so profane himself.

5 They shall not make bald spots upon their heads, or shave off the edges of their beards, or make any gashes in their flesh.

6 They shall be holy to their God, and not profane the name of their God; for they offer the LORD’s offerings by fire, the food of their God; therefore they shall be holy.

7 They shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled; neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband. For they are holy to their God,

8 and you shall treat them as holy, since they offer the food of your God; they shall be holy to you, for I the LORD, I who sanctify you, am holy.

9 When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death.

10 The priest who is exalted above his fellows, on whose head the anointing-oil has been poured and who has been consecrated to wear the vestments, shall not dishevel his hair, nor tear his vestments.

11 He shall not go where there is a dead body; he shall not defile himself even for his father or mother.

12 He shall not go outside the sanctuary and thus profane the sanctuary of his God; for the consecration of the anointing-oil of his God is upon him: I am the LORD.

13 He shall marry only a woman who is a virgin.

14 A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, a prostitute, these he shall not marry. He shall marry a virgin of his own kin, ‘

15 that he may not profane his offspring among his kin; for I am the LORD; I sanctify him.