Salvation? No matter who we are, one price.

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jan 28, 2015

In reading through the Bible again I’ve ploughed far enough into Exodus to get to the ceremonial material—which is, let’s face it, pretty boring. That’s not to say its emphasis on the holiness of God, and how careful we must be in His Presence, is not enormously important. But this does not make a good story, and it is not full of specific lessons to take away.

One way medieval commentators dealt with this material is by emphasizing the metaphorical or symbolic senses of the text. Sometimes this can impose a very uncertain reading, but it can still awaken spiritual and moral insights in the reader. But a simpler way—a way far more suited to my own lack of imagination—is to maintain concentration, to avoid missing the nuggets of wisdom which sometimes get slipped into the otherwise dry ceremonial account. When the eyes, ears and mind glaze over, these escape our notice.

I used one example in a recent Insights message when I quoted a passage which explained the condition of the Israelites in Egypt. “The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad,” writes the sacred author, “and the Egyptians were in dread of the sons of Israel” (Ex 1:12). As a result of this dread, they oppressed the Israelites even more, until God delivered them. If that is not a message to Christians today, I don’t know what is.

Of course I am sure I miss a great deal. But I spotted another one of these little illuminators the other night while reading Chapter 30, part of which recounts the Lord’s instructions to Moses for counting the people:

When you take the census of the sons of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord…. Every one who is numbered in the census, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the Lord’s offering. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you give the Lord’s offering to make atonement for yourselves. And you shall take the atonement money from the sons of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tent of meeting; that it may bring the sons of Israel to remembrance before the Lord, so as to make atonement for yourselves. [Ex 30:11-16]

There is a general connection between sin and redemption here, but something more particular caught my eye. I refer to the precise stipulation that “the rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less.” Surely this is meant to stand out, for reasons to raise the rich man’s price leap out at us: (1) He has more to give, so he can afford to make a more generous offering for his sins; (2) His sins are very often less excusable than the sins of the poor, so he should give more; and (3) He is in any case more important than the poor man, and his atonement ought to reflect that status.

So why, for this offering, is absolute parity demanded? Perhaps the answer is this: We are all sinners; we must seek neither increased importance nor reduced liability through the process of redemption.

Here we have one of those exquisite instructional moments embedded in the Old Covenant. Our Lord did not, does not, and will not pour Himself out more for one than for another. Contrary to human standards, and no matter who we are, our blood price is the same.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Ave Maria - Jan. 30, 2015 6:59 PM ET USA

    Or could it be that relatively speaking, the rich give less proportionately, as their gift is of their surplus wealth versus the poor who, after all, give from their means of living, as we learn from The Widow's Mite parable. So perhaps the rich typically give nothing and the poor too much, so the amount asked is actually a fair amount and exacted from all the same.