still life from Old Woman Praying Maes

Just Say No More

painting of an old woman with shawl and cap reading a Bible
The daily lectionary for March 22 includes Numbers 33:40-35:34

Noticed in today’s reading: “Nor shall you accept ransom for one who has fled to a city of refuge, enabling the fugitive to return to live in the land before the death of the high priest. You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and no expiation can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it.” (Numbers 35:32-33). Setting aside all the death penalty implications of this text and its context for the moment, it seems odd that someone eligible to hide out in one of the cities of refuge in the first place – namely, not a murderer – would pollute the land, unless contained.

Unless it’s not that the fugitive himself (or herself?) would do the polluting. Maybe the problem is that taking a ransom and letting that person go back to their hometown would be an invitation to the “avenger of blood” to go after them, which would likely precipitate actual murder, and moreover, murder that’s going to be considered legitimate or un-avenge-able (per Numbers 35:27). So, it’s just inviting more of that bloody pollution. Sort of the way taking that glass of grape juice into the living room is just asking for a great big stain on the sofa …

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