You have made void the Brit of Levi, says the NAME of the procession of Heaven. I, therefore, have made you contemptible and base before all the people, since you do not keep my ways, but show partiality in your decisions. Have we not all the one father? Has not the one God created us? Why then do we break faith with one another, violating the Brit of our fathers? First Reading for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time.
The key phrase for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time is the Brit of Levi. What is it and what does it mean? First, we must note that Matthew, more than the other Gospels and the Gospel we study this year is a leadership manual more than it is anything else. This week’s Gospel reading and next weeks is directly at the leadership of his day, and ours.
In Torah and Prophets, this is the only time Brit of Levi is mentioned. So, what does it mean? Psalm 133 and Numbers 18 define what the Brit, the Covenant of Levi is. So, in a sense, do Genesis and Exodus 30:23-26
Leah conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now at last my husband will join with me, since I have now borne him three sons”; that is why she named him Levi/to join. Genesis 29:34.
Levi means to join, as Leah says in Genesis. Carpenters join things. They connect joints. That is why Jesus was a carpenter. He joins things the way the Levites were supposed to join the community. As Machiavelli points out in his Prince, priests, political and civic leaders can’t do that if they aren’t in and among the people. That is why the Levites did not get their own share of land. They needed to be in and among the other 11 tribes. That is why, after mentioning the priests as judges, it mentions the qualifications of a king, a secular ruler. The first item mentioned is that he must be from the people and be among the people.
Do we pick our leaders from among ourselves, or from among the wealthy? Do our leaders mingle among us during coffee and doughnuts and other times, or go off to the casinos for food, or the rectory? They need to be among us.
Take the finest spices: five hundred shekels of free-flowing myrrh; two hundred and fifty shekels, of fragrant cinnamon; two hundred and fifty shekels of fragrant cane; five hundred shekels of cassia—all according to the standard of the sanctuary shekel; together with a hin of olive oil; blend them into sacred anointing oil, perfumed ointment expertly prepared. With this sacred anointing oil anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the covenant, the Aaron/arch of Witness. Exodus 30:23-26
Exodus 30 contains five dissimilar elements. The role of the Levite, the priest, is to be the leader bring the love of God through the people to disparate people through sacrament and preaching.
St Augustine writes in his City of God, Book 2, Chapter 21:
Now Scipio, at the end of the second book, says:
As among the different sounds which proceed from lyres, flutes, and the human voice, there must be maintained a certain harmony which a cultivated ear cannot endure to hear disturbed or jarring, but which may be elicited in full and absolute concord by the modulation even of voices very unlike one another; so, where reason is allowed to modulate the diverse elements of the state, there is obtained a perfect concord from the upper, lower, and middle classes as from various sounds; and what musicians call harmony in singing, is concord in matters of state, which is the strictest bond and best security of any republic, and which by no ingenuity can be retained where justice has become extinct… Scipio reverts to the original thread of discourse, and repeats with commendation his own brief definition of a republic, that it is the good of the people. The people he defines as being not every assemblage or mob, but an assemblage associated by a common acknowledgment of law, and by a community of interests. He shows the use of definition in debate; and from these definitions of his own he gathers that a republic, or general welfare, exists only when it is well and justly governed.
From this Augustine, like Cicero in his Republic, argues that when there is not this harmony and concord, when the general welfare is not promoted, there is no Republic. The covenant of Levi is to be the conductor of this one-hundred-piece orchestra, creating harmony and concord out of one hundred musical instruments of different pitch, timbre and volume, for all the world to see, so that all will want to become Catholic. It is to making the true E Pluribus Unum, from the many dissimilar parts, one.
Every day or priests, in reciting the Liturgy of the Hours, recites Psalm 133 which includes, “How good and how pleasant it is, when brothers dwell together as one! Like fine oil on the head, running down upon the beard, Upon the beard of Aaron, upon the collar of his robe. Like dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion. There the NAME has decreed a blessing, life for evermore!”
The goal of the Levites, the priests to cause brothers to dwell together as one. As in Deuteronomy 30, the commandment is for life evermore.
As stated in an earlier article, conservatives to not know what life is. Some argue it is about having a future. Wooden Indians in smoke shops have a future. It is to sit, unmoved, until it is bitter and thrown into the fire. Life is not this.
Life, Vivos, Vivere, vivacity, means more than having a future. It means having a Natural vigor, vital force, a tenaciousness. It means, animated, lively, vivid. Life has potential to be what is possible. Both potential and possible come from Latin terms meaning a power or force. Exodus 30 and Deuteronomy 30 speak of the command for the blessing, to promote life, the life of potency, fulfilled potential for all people from cradle to the grave. In Hebrew, as in Latin, letters also stand for numbers. The Hebrew word for life is Chai. The letters as numbers stand for 18.
Don’t we speak of the living and the dead, the quick and the dead, the quick current president and the late President Kennedy, with late meaning he’s dead? There is something quick about life and something late/non-moving about non-life.
Numbers 18 is about what to do with the offerings the people give to the NAME. As such, it’s about the offerings of liturgy. In the middle of this chapter we read… “This is a Brit of salt to last forever before the NAME, for you and for your descendants with you… To the Levites, however, I hereby assign all tithes in Israel as their heritage in recompense for the labor they perform, the labor pertaining to the tent of meeting.
The tent of meaning is where offerings were performed. ““You are the salt of the table. But if salt becomes tefel, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light Oar of the Olam. A city set on an Are cannot be hid. Nor do they light Oar a lamp N-Oar and then put it under measure; it is set on a menorah, where it gives light Oar to all in the house. Your light must shine before others, that they may see your beautiful deeds and hold as important your heavenly Father.
The Hebrew word for “Salt,” is “Molech.” The Hebrew word for an angel or a messenger is “Molech.” You, the assembly of believers, are the messengers of/to the earth.
I was raised a Lutheran and as such we read, “Augsburg Confession Article VII – Melanchthon penned, “It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.”
Our readings for today will at least in part agree with this understanding. The Catholic Church is where the assembly of believers meet, the Gospel is preached in its purity, and the sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. The covenant with Levi is about leading this church or house of Kyrie.
This Aaron of Witness, this covenant of the Levites is to give the life-giving sacraments and to preach, be the salt for the world, to radiate our light to make each of us a candle on the menorah radiating God’s love to the world.
In a previous article it was pointed out how Deuteronomy 30, through Aristotle, is a founding point for our Natural Law Theory. One of the documents espousing this theory is our Declaration of Independence.
The separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. To secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Life is about pursuit, striving to become what God intended us to be. When we read about the parable of the Talents we read that the master give each according to his ἀπεδήμησεν, or “according to his nature.” Promoting life means helping each other in our mutual pursuit of Happiness, to live according to his, and not our nature. The covenant of Levites, the covenant of Aaron is about helping to promote life for all people, the mutual pursuit, the harmony, and the concord of all people, from conception to the grave.