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Vayikra/Leviticus 5:11 ... and if his hand cannot stretch to two turtledoves or to two young doves ...
This text offers a number of interesting ideas that should make us think about our relationship with G-d and the way we see the question of sin. The verse opens by making provision for a person who is too poor to afford the guilt offerings that have been described in the previous verses; asIbn Ezra comments, someone who is "devoid of possessions". Targum Onkelos changes "cannot stretch his hand" to "his hand does not fall" to show that such a person has nothing to hand, among his immediate possessions or within his reasonable grasp. Known as the sliding scale mechanism, the size of the offering that is required is proportional to the sinner's ability to pay. The sacrifice must be meaningful, but not unattainable. Chizkuni makes the point that the offender "is not required to borrow in order to bring a more expensive offering." Richard Elliott Friedman makes the telling comment that "a person is not to be prevented from getting atonement because of lack of money." It is not HaShem's intention that anyone should be unable to restore their relationship with Him; on the contrary, the levels are set so that they are appropriate for each range of income and position within society. No-one is excluded and everyone can make atonement for their sin.
The verse ends with the phrase, "he shall not place oil on it, nor shall he put frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering."Rashi comments "and it is not proper that the offering be splendid", based on Rabbi Simeon's teaching: "By right the sinner's meal-offering should require oil and frankincense, so that the sinner should have no advantage (by being spared the cost of those ingredients); why then does it not require them? In order that his offering be not sumptuous." (b. Menachot 6a). The guilt offering is a response to various kinds of both deliberate and inadvertent sin; when the offender becomes aware that he has sinned, he must bring a guilt offering to rectify the situation. It should therefore be a plain and simple offering, unadorned or dressed up in any way. The same austerity can be seen in the offering brought in the case of a woman suspected of adultery (B'Midbar 5:15). As Nahum Sarna comments, "It was thought that G-d took no delight in receiving such offerings and would have preferred, so to speak, that they had not been necessary in the first place!"
Yeshua spoke directly into these situations when He taught what are known as the parables of the Kingdom. Found only in Matthew's gospel, they go like this: "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. A man found it, hid it again, then in great joy went and sold everything he owned, and bought that field. Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for fine pearls. On finding one very valuable pearl he went away, sold everything he owned and bought it" (Matthew 13:44-46, CJB). The pattern of telling two parables together, back to back, is a common technique that Yeshua used in His teaching; they are referred to as "partner parables". On some occasions the parables have been split up in the gospel records, on many others they have remained together.
The first parable concerns a treasure hidden in a field. We are not given the background or the exact circumstances of the find - they are not interesting - we are simply told that it is found by a man who does not own the field. "We are not told what the treasure was, but the man was dumbfounded. He had never seen such a valuable treasure before. It could be his if he owned the field."1 He quickly hides the treasure by burying it and negotiates to purchase the field. But he has a problem: the price! To buy the field will cost everything that he has. In order to make the purchase, he has to sell everything else that he owned. His knowledge of the value of the treasure makes this worthwhile and - perhaps to the amazement of his friends and neighbours - he completes the transaction and rejoices with great joy.
The second parable, although similar, is slightly different; this time the focus is on the man rather than the treasure. The man is looking for pearls - a commodity of no small value, then as now - and in the course of his normal business transactions, examining and inspecting merchandise, he finds a pearl that he instantly recognises as being outstanding. Even to an experienced merchant, dealing with run-of-the-mill pearls every day, this pearl was exceptional. He does not have enough money with him to buy the pearl, so he goes away to perform some calculations and make sure that he can meet the price being demanded. Once he is sure, he too sells everything that he has and returns to purchase the pearl of great price, "the sort of pearl that dealers dream of getting their hands on."2 Obviously, the means of a man working in a field, perhaps on day-work, and the means of a merchant routinely dealing in pearls, will be significantly different. Yet both give everything they have - and it is enough in both cases - to complete their purchase and own the item of desire.
Brad Young asks, "What price must the disciple be willing to pay? When he or she decides to answer the challenging call of Yeshua, the cost involves everything he or she owns, as well as all relationships with other people. How is it possible, on the other hand, to measure the worth of G-d's reign? The kingdom is infinitely beyond human value, but these parables teach that the kingdom is within one's grasp if one is willing to sacrifice all to obtain it."3 The Rabbis have connected the pearl with Torah learning and used similar parables to depict the relationship between G-d and Israel, but the common thread of both parables is the passion of the finder to make the purchase. It is not simply that the treasure or pearl has a large price; or even that however high the price may be, it is affordable by everyone who is committed to paying it. Rather, it is that the finder of the treasure, the merchant who found the pearl, sold everything, left no stone unturned, withheld nothing, in order to secure the item. Their passion and joy in pushing through family objections, social mores, the practical difficulties of realising that amount of money, to complete the purchase, was what enabled them to reach their goal and fully enter in to the kingdom of heaven.
So for the poor man who cannot afford a sheep or a goat, or even a pair of turtledoves or pigeons, an simple offering of flour is enough to restore relationship with G-d. But the offering must be unadorned, undecorated, with all the value contained in the offering itself so that nothing is for show but all is for G-d. Atonement must be affordable by all, but stretch everyone to their limit so that G-d is certain of being everything in their lives. We must not only accept Yeshua as our Saviour but fully invest in Him to make Him L-rd in our lives as well. Only then will we be able to fully enter the kingdom of heaven.
1 - Simon J. Kistemaker, The Parables - Understanding the Stories Jesus Told, Baker 1980, 0-8010-6391-4
2 - David Wenham, The Parables of Jesus, IVP 1989, 0-8308-1286-5
3 - Brad H. Young, The Parables - Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation, Hendricksen 1998, 1-56563-244-3
Further Study: 2 Corinthians 8:9; Proverbs 23:23; Revelation 3:18
Application: Where do you stand in the kingdom of G-d? Have you fully invested your life and know that you now own that pearl of great price, or have you offered only a token and remain unsure whether you have been accepted or not? Perhaps it is time to review your portfolio and determine where your assets are for "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:21, NASB).
© Jonathan Allen, 2010
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