Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fresh eyes - Rich Man, Poor Man

In my effort to discover new and different insights from my Bible readings this year, I came upon these rather obscure verses today from the Old Testament book of Exodus:

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Whenever you take a census of the people of Israel, each man who is counted must pay a ransom for himself to the Lord' ".

Now, this verse may be one that various people have understood and debated for generations.  I tried to get a google answer about what paying God a ransom was all about, but quit after about 5 minutes of searching.  I do know that was in the middle of God's initial meeting with Moses when he was leading about 2 million people in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land, and was part of God's guidelines for exactly what He expected from His people.  Every male over the age of 20 had to pay a 'ransom' to God for his life, which was half a shekel.  From what I can tell, this goes along with the culture of sacrifice and redemption, and probably provides symbolism to how Jesus later ransomed everyone on the cross.  So, I'm sure it was a big deal.  But it was what I read several verses later that really made me think:

"When this offering is given to the Lord, the rich must not give more than the specified amount, and the poor must not give less".

Sadly, it is a fact of life in most cultures and social institutions that the rich (however that is defined) have more power, prestige, and position than the poor do.  This is unfortunately true in many churches as well.  But what this verse was saying to me is that the value God places on an individual life is the same for each and every person.  He does not want anyone to buy His approval, nor does He accept someone getting away with devaluing their lives just because they don't have as much to offer using the world's economy. Maybe that ransom was about providing a visible reminder to everyone involved that in His eyes, each person has equal worth, regardless of the number of sheep, goats, camels--or clothes, savings accounts, job titles--that a person has.

I don't think the New Testament focuses on this idea of paying God a specific amount for a ransom.  However, the idea of equal worth and importance was a message that was at the very heart of what Jesus believed and taught.  In Jesus's culture, women, non-Jews, disabled, poor, sick, children, and certain professions were second class citizens at best.  Yet, these were the very people that Jesus spent the most time with.  He met people where they were, and loved them regardless of their social standing.  And I'm pretty sure that this is still the way He works and thinks of people today.

How comforting is that?                                             (taken from Exodus 30:12, 15)

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