Thursday, October 22, 2015

Priests and Levites

There's an interesting little sentence tucked away in 2 Chronicles 29. It's wrapped in the story of when Hezekiah rededicates the Temple of the Lord, having found some holy books buried deep within it and discovered the sinfulness of a long string of kings and, therefore, the people. The priests are very busy trying to make atonement for the years of abuse and disuse and disobedience, but the work is far too much for them to accomplish alone. So they call on the Levites to help them. And then, we're told:

The Levites were more diligent in making themselves holy than the priests were. v. 34

The Levites were the men of the tribe of Israel charged with the keeping of the Temple. In the Exodus story, they were the ones responsible for toting the Tabernacle from place to place, setting it up, tearing it down. They never got to do the so-called "priestly" work - prayer, sacrifices, offerings, incense. No, they were only responsible for making the space for all of this work to be done. 

It sounds like kind of a terrible job, especially when you consider the sheer weight of the Tabernacle. But it was incredibly important. Without the Levites, there's no place for the priests to do their work. Without the Levites, there's nowhere for Israel to gather in the presence of God. Without the Levites, there's no holy place. There's just...desert. Wilderness. Wandering. 

Maybe that's why they found it so easy to take their job seriously.

Of course, things were different once the Temple was constructed. We're not really told how this changed the duties of the Levites, now that they had no Tabernacle to carry. Now that the Temple was permanent, what is a tent-carrier to do with himself? And yet, when Hezekiah institutes some religious reforms and the restoration of the Temple, the Levites are all about it. They're into it. They're more diligent about the whole thing, the Scriptures say, even than the priests. 

Could it be because, for the first time in a long time, they were charged once again with making a holy place?

There's something special about being a place maker. Yes, yes, the Scriptures say that blessed are the peacemakers, but blessed, too, are the place makers. And I think we all understand that at some level. We can easily get lost in what we consider the "priestly" work of our faith - prayer, Scripture study, worship. These are the holy things that we do to show our affection and devotion and desire of God, and they are certainly important. 

But something changes in us when our lives become less about holy things and more about holy places. Something changes when we understand that we create the space for those around us to come to God. Something changes when we become aware that, as God's chosen people, we are tasked not with serving temples, but with building them. Being them. It's one thing when your own faith is on the line; it's another thing entirely when someone else's is, when you come to understand that someone else either comes to God, or doesn't, on the sheer basis of whether or not you've created a sufficiently welcoming holy space for them. 

Makes you a little more diligent about things, doesn't it? 

It's the difference between saying that we're going to come together to worship and saying that we're coming together to create the space to worship. It's the difference between saying we're going to gather to pray and saying that we're going to gather and create a space for prayer. There's something holy going on, but we don't have to do holy; we just have to create a space where holy can happen. 

It's the difference between going to God and making a space for God to come to us. 

It's not surprising that the Levites were more diligent in making themselves holy than the priests were. There's something special about the task of the Levite that the priest just doesn't get. The priest may do the so-called holy work - the sacrifices, the prayer, the ritual - but without a holy place, what good is the work? The holy place is the work of the Levites, and they know it. 

The holy place is the work of the faithful. Do you know it? 

Be diligent about making yourself holy, for you are a chosen people of God, called to be place makers. Holy place makers. 

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