The Shuvah Project #27 — Unworthy

New to The Shuvah Project? Find out what it is and why it’s necessary. 

If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine flour well mixed with oil.

-Leviticus 7:12 

Section One (Parsha Debrief):

This week’s Parsha (Leviticus 6:7-8:36) contained: further details on the ‘Olah, grain offering, the sin offering, the restitution offering, peace/fellowship offering, and the induction/ordination of the Priests. It also includes details on the thanksgiving offering (one of three categories of the peace/fellowship offering).

In the Midweek Reading Guide, we asked whether the relationship conversation we unpacked last week was the basis for the centurion’s approach to Jesus. That is, was the centurion in awe of God?

That question requires unpacking a lot of potential connections in the Text. As such, we’re going to focus mostly on the Luke Text.

However, to understand the possibilities raised in Section Two some foundation is required.

The most fun and most visual method to gain the needed foundation is to watch Rabbi David Fohrman’s short video on What does it mean to survive? There you’ll encounter how Rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud understand the below-the-surface conversation regarding the thanksgiving offering that shows up in our Torah portion (Leviticus 7:12-15).

For those who don’t want to jump into a quick video, we’ll use Rashi’s commentary as a foundation.

if [he is bringing the offering] to give thanks [to God] for a miracle that had happened to him, for instance, those who made a sea-voyage [and returned safely] or journeyed in the desert, or those who had been imprisoned [and were subsequently released], or a sick person who recovered. All these are required to give thanks [to God], for regarding them, it is written, “They shall give thanks to the Lord for His kindness and for his wonders to the children of men. And they shall slaughter sacrifices of thanksgiving” (Ps. 107:21-22). If on account of one of these one vowed [to bring] these peace-offerings, then they are “thanksgiving peace-offerings,” which require the [accompanying offering of] bread, mentioned in this passage, and they may be eaten only on the day [that they were offered] and the night [that follows], as is specified here.

– Rashi, quoting the Babylonian Talmud Tractate Brachot 54b

Essentially, Rabbis (using their Text), identified four specific persons that warrant bringing a thanksgiving offering. What Rabbi Fohrman goes on to suggest is that one of these persons is not like the other. To which, we as the reader/audience need to decide whether that odd person out is (1) unique or (2) if we need to rethink our umbrella categorization of all four (e.g. rethink the least common denominator among them).

Rabbi Fohrman makes the case for redefining the least common denominator. That, all four persons outlined in Psalm 107 are survivors of harsh physical environments. In the case of the sick person, their own body turned against them and created a harsh environment, unsuitable for life.

That’s neither here nor there, for our discussion we merely need to be familiar with the Rabbinic notion that the thanksgiving offering is associated with four specific persons/survivors, one of which is an extremely ill person facing death.

Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah):

With the above foundation… here’s my new question… what is the illness afflicting the servant in our Luke Text?

I think this matters. Here’s why:

Remember, if M.D. Goulder’s thesis is correct, the Luke Text is an expounding on ideas from the Torah portion. That means, if ancient Rabbis, like the forefathers of those who wrote the Mishnah, interpreted the Text a certain way then the author of Luke may be trying to get listeners to see those ideas in a new light.

Personally, the fact that the Luke Text often has sizable discrepancies from the Matthew Text helps make the case that the author of Luke is trying to connect and frame the stories in very specific ways. We showed it last week with the beatitudes and it appears again this week.

CenturionsFaith

Why does the centurion send a delegation of Jewish elders to beseech Jesus?

Why doesn’t the Luke Text specifically describe the illness?

Why in the case of the Luke Text is the illness fatal, marked by the statement “ready to die” when in the Matthew Text it can be lived with?

Why, in the Luke Text, is it almost always the author/narrator describing the healing and illness; whereas, in the Matthew Text, references to healing and illness are always by way of Jesus’ or the centurion’s words?

Why does the author of Luke use several different Greek words to describe healing, words that don’t appear in the Matthew Text?

Why does the centurion send friends to cut Jesus off in the Luke Text?

All these questions could lead someone to believe the Matthew and Luke Texts are actually describing two distinct stories. That’s fair. The scholarly debate remains unsettled. However, I think we gain more from recognizing that the author of Luke is describing the same story, but with specific details.

When taken together, these smaller questions create the possibility that the Luke Text is trying to convey a different application than the Matthew Text.

Which then makes me wonder if the Luke Text is suggesting the servant’s illness is perhaps related to that described in Psalm 107:17-22.

It turns out that one of the Greek words for healing (diasozo) exclusively used in the Luke Text shows up in the Septuagint in Psalm 107. It’s used in describing the deliverance of both the prisoner and the sick person (Psalm 107:13,19). And, one of the Greek words specific to the illness described in the Luke Text (astheneo) also shows up in Psalm 107. It is used in describing the weakness of the person in prison (Psalm 107:12). Additionally, the elders of the Jews only referenced in the Luke Text, connects to Psalm 107:32 in the Septuagint. Not to mention, the Luke Text differentiates the prognosis of the illness — as if to say “[the servant] drew near to the gates of death (Psalm 107:18b).”

Admittedly, this is a lot to think through. And, all this could be coincidental. 

But, is it possible that the author of Luke is aware of these under-the-surface Psalm 107+thanksgiving offering connections? If so, what are we supposed to gain?

Well, survivors of harsh physical environments warrant bringing offerings of thanksgiving and celebrating with a community. The survivor, for a period of time, was separated from the community. Steps are taking to reestablish community — through celebration with priests, elders, and friends.

Maybe that’s why the Luke Text adds people. Elders. Friends. A congregation of people (e.g. synagogue; Luke 7:5).

I don’t have open and shut answers, just more questions.

Like… is this what Jesus is so excited about? That a gentile (e.g. the centurion) would be honored to seek to restore someone to community. Specifically, a person with little means (an assumption I’m making because they’re a servant).

Section Three (missing the mark):

Now, I’ve spent the better part of my conscious life reciting the centurion’s re-formatted words prior to receiving the Eucharist.

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

-The celebrant together with the people (Soruce: Catholic Bishops’ Order of Mass)

I have just one question: does God view us as unworthy?

There has to be a psychotherapist out there that can weigh in on how a relationship (see Relationship with the Divine post) is negatively impacted by repeatedly telling yourself that you are unworthy.

I don’t think unworthy is the same thing as being in awe. I also don’t think unworthiness is what Jesus marvels at regarding the centurion’s faith.

Yet, 

Before receiving Holy Communion, the celebrant and assembly acknowledge their unworthiness to receive so great a gift.

-Part of Communion Rite, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Section Four (real-world applications):

Just a prayer for us as we move forward trying to figure all this out:

May we continually seek to be in awe of God and maintain confidence that Jesus thinks we have what it takes to be disciples of His (footnote #1).


Next Week’s Readings: Leviticus 9:1-11:47; Luke 7:11-17

Footnotes:

  1. You’ll really want to read this post on Peter’s faith when walking on water (and track down its sources). I think you’ll find the Gospel writers make a case for a more holistic view of trust and faith.


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