The Shuvah Project #33 — Sowing the Kingdom of God

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

The seed is the word of God.

-Luke 8:11b 

Section One (Parsha Debrief):

This week’s Parsha (Leviticus 21:1-24:23) contained: another discussion of the holiness of the Priests, details for acceptable sacrifices, a listing of holy festivals, details about operating the lamp and showbread in the Tabernacle, and a story of blasphemy.

In the Midweek Reading Guide, we wanted to know why God repeated a very specific social justice law again this week. The repetition wasn’t the only thing that was of interest. The law, found in Leviticus 23:22, seems to interrupt the festival commandments, which themselves seem to interrupt a conversation about holiness with regard to the Tabernacle.

In fact, this section of Text seems to have some not-so-streamline topics. It starts describing the laws of Priest (which we’ve read through previously) and ends with laws around the elements within the Tabernacle. Yet, for some reason in between those two connected sections, a chapter on festivals is inserted. Why?

Well… some potential reasons…

One, the laws regarding Priests and the Tabernacle are about creating a holy space. But, making a place for someone else (eg. God) isn’t only about space… time is just as important. And, this isn’t news, we introduced this concept in Tabernacle, Creative Labor & The Sabbath, and Finish the Work. As we’ll see maybe the sections are more connected than at first glance.

Two, the section sandwiched in between the Priests and Tabernacle elements begins with God saying,

Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, These are the feasts of the LORD, which you will proclaim to be holy convocations, these are my feasts.

-Leviticus 23:2

Interestingly, the Priestly section just prior ends with,

You are not to profane my holy name; on the contrary, I am to be regarded as holy among the people of Israel; I am the Lord, who makes you holy, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the Lord.

-Leviticus 22:32-33

The Sages consider the above as applying to all of Isreal. In Jewish thought, sanctifying God’s name has several aspects that we will not address here (Footnote #1). Yet, Rabbi Haim Sabato is among those convinced that, 

Torah juxtaposes the commandment of sanctifying God’s name to the other commandments of the Priests in order to recall this comparison of Isreal to Priests… Each of Isreal is like a Priest before God, and commanded to sanctify His name.

-Rabbi Haim Sabato, in Rest for the Dove

A concept we visualized in The Holy Priesthood. Maybe the Sabbath and festivals are a mechanism for non-Priesthood Israelites to sanctify God’s name to the world around them.

Three, more to the point, remember our conversation regarding the Creation chiasm?

As a refresher,

The entire Creation story revolves around the Hebrew word mo’ad found in Genesis 1:14. The main idea of the whole Creation story, the beginning of the entire narrative, is that God designed festivals for His creation.

The Shuvah Project #3 — In the beginning

The feasts that God is so concerned with all of Isreal proclaiming as holy in Leviticus 23, are those same festivals God set apart from the very beginning –mo’ad. And, if the invitation into holy rest that was presented in The Shuvah Project #3 — In the beginning did not fully resonate, the Rabbinic commentary on our current Torah portion should help to seal the deal. These holy convocations are observed annually. Shabbat, on the other hand, is observed weekly. Yet, for some reason, God roots the discussion of the annual festivals with the discussion of the Sabbath. It’s as if the festivals are Sabbath like events. That’s exactly how Rabbi David Fohrman sees it:

The reason why the Torah introduces this section on [feastivals] with Shabbat is because Shabbat is the paradigm. In a way all of these festivals are just iterations of Shabbat; they are kinds of Sabbaths. The Sabbath, the prototype event exists in the weekly cycle; what the Sabbath is to the week these weekly holidays are to the year.

-Rabbi David Fohrman, What Is Sabbath All About?

Ok. That’s potentially why the festivals interrupt the Priesthood and Tabernacle commands, but what about the repeated agricultural social justice law?

The Sabbath paradigm also explains this.

In fact, Nachmanides connects the social justice law to the omer — an offering the Israelites are told to bring to signify the point in time when they can begin eating the new harvest (Leviticus 23:14-15). He says,

we must not shortchange the poor in order to fulfill the commandment of bringing that omer, by harvesting also the last corner of the field.

-Nachmanides on Leviticus 23:22, in Tur HaAroch

The Sabbath paradigm is trust. Rabbi David Fohrman puts it this way,

That same imperative to rest requires you to relinquish domination of your field. It teaches us that [it’s not all about us]. We cannot usurp [others], we cannot overshadow the poor, and we cannot overshadow God.

-Rabbi David Fohrman, An Epic Understanding of the Jewish Holidays

It seems like Rabbis recognize that there’s something in the design of the Sabbath and the festivals that should change the way God’s people act.

Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah):

Within Luke 8:1-21 we find the parable of the sower and the parable of the sower explained

Did you know, in the Luke Text, these verses have several Greek words that don’t show up elsewhere in the NT?

You see, in the Matthew (Chapter 13) and Mark (Chapter 4) Texts, the emphasis seems to be on soil — cultivate good soil. To them, good soil is the basis for God’s word to be able to take root and remain strong in one’s life. The Luke Text deviates from this image. Instead, the author points to a lack of moisture as the reason for withering (Luke 8:6). The Greek for moisture, ikmas, only shows up in Luke 8:6.

What’s more, the Parable of the Sower Explained also emphasizes something not found in the Matthew or Mark accounts… a word that first appears in the NT in Luke 8:15. That word — hypomonē — is defined as patience, endurance, steadfastness.

These seemingly subtle differences change the imagery.

The picture becomes clearer when turning to the Septuagint. Ikmas (i.e. moisture) may only show up once in the NT, but it is used twice in the Septuagint — Job 26:14 and Jeremiah 17:8.

With those contexts in mind, it’s likely the author of Luke was trying to paint a specific picture. That picture involves trusting even the smallest exhalation of God’s word (Job 26:14), so that we may endure heat (Jeremiah 17:8), be without worry in a year of drought (Jeremiah 17:8), and not cease to bear fruit (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

But, how are any of these connections relevant to the Torah portion?

Well, why did God design timely sabbaths and festivals? Think about that as we finish the whole story next week.

Section Three (missing the mark):

The Text doesn’t seem to mind connecting things back to the notion of Sabbath. Maybe this concept, and practice, are critical to sowing the Kingdom of God on earth.

Which begs the question… can the importance of Sabbath be conveyed or practiced by mere ad hoc events?

I don’t think so. I think Sabbath needs to be intentional and continual.

Yet, some pastors only talk about Sabbath when it’s convenient. Or worse yet, some pastors cancel church and invite their congregants to practice a Sabbath on the Sunday that aligns with the memorial day weekend. Which, just so happens to be one of the Sundays of least attendance. Seems like an interesting coincidence to me.

It’s unfortunate, but Sabbath has become a buzz word, with no roots for many pastors.

Section Four (real-world applications):

Sabbath takes sacrifice. It’s ironic that something so core to God’s design, could be so difficult to fully embrace.

While I can’t say there’s a right way to do Sabbath, there are definitely some telltale signs that Sabbath has taken root in our lives. Creating holy space and time for God should lead to transformation. And, if Sabbath is the place where the word of God is sown then continually providing that seed water through intentionally repeating and embracing Sabbath should free us to be attentive to things that matter to God.

For example, if Sabbath is acting as a source of living water in our lives — it should manifest in how we engage others. Our Sabbaths with God should extend to our loved ones. Rabbi David Block put it best, 

There’s a good illustration of this concept in the song, “Cat’s In the Cradle” by Harry Chapin… It’s a really, really sad song. The idea of making time for someone you live with seems absurd. You occupy the same space! You eat meals together, sleep in the same home together. But making a place for someone else isn’t only about space, it’s also about time. Making a place for loved ones in your life is the act of making time holy!

-Rabbi David Block, Holiness In Space And Time

Meeting our Creator during our weekly rest, or annual festivals, should lead to set apart time for people important to us.

And, the extension of our Sabbaths with God shouldn’t stop at loved ones… the gleaning laws teach us that Sabbaths should awaken us to the needs of the sojourner and people experiencing poverty.

So, it’s worth asking… does your Sabbath prepare you for another week’s labor or does it transform your relationships?

There’s a difference.


Next Week’s Readings: Leviticus 25:1-26:2; Luke 8:22-25

Footnotes:

  1. One aspect that seems very relevant to our crucifixion conversation “is that a Jew must not… murder — even when threatened with death (Rabbi Haim Sabato).”


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