When was the last time you sat down and read through Leviticus 11? Or maybe I’m asking that question the wrong way. Maybe instead I should ask, when was the last time you heard someone refer to Leviticus 11? If you are like me, it was probably from someone who used it to point to what they see as the folly of scripture. For some, this text is used by people to justify the exclusion of gay and lesbian people while not mentioning the prohibitions against shellfish, tattoos, polyester, and . . .  Oh my, can’t you see how ridiculous it all is! I find myself falling into that same trap and nodding my head in agreement, but wait, is this what the text is really about? Or is there more here than meets the eye? (as is usually the case)

One of our problems with understanding Leviticus is context. Scott Fillmer, a photographer who lives and works in Alabama and who posts on faith and theology on Medium offers this on Leviticus:

“The key here is understanding cultural context, something we toss aside today, perhaps because we don’t even understand our own cultural context, but it does matter. Understanding that objective moral truths do exist, such as murder has always been wrong no matter the culture or time, and some laws and customs are no longer historically accurate for our time in redemptive history, such as the atrocity of owning slaves. There is a difference between cultural historical laws and moral laws that transcend time.”

It is easy to get lost in the small stuff when Leviticus is really focused on the existence of a moral code that we need to follow. It puts forth a code that actually requires us to make sacrifices in our lives if we desire to experience the benefits of a life that pleases God. We are experts at getting lost in the minutiae, and in doing so, we often miss the point. For me, the point is how to look at sacrifice. Does it need to be a huge thing or is it a shift that we make in our mindset, viewing sacrifice as a small thing for me but a much bigger thing to the recipient? Actions such as: Giving a seat to someone on the bus. Staying late on Zoom because someone lingering there might have a need.

Leviticus is sometimes off-putting, but maybe this points to a greater truth about who we are as people of faith. And so I ask you, how are you keeping God at arm’s length because of language, stories, ideas that don’t fit your own narrative? How might your life and faith change if you were willing to acknowledge this? How can you read and understand the words of Leviticus today by understanding its context and message for its day? What riches might be revealed if you approach the text beyond what meets the eye?

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David Barnes

David serves as the Manager of Hospitality and Engagement for Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco.  Davis is a member of the APCE Advocate Ministry Team. E-mail David: davidbarnes@calpres.org.