Sunday word: Priests are under God’s scrutiny

Our priests should lead an exemplary life, leading people from the front in terms of morality and other factors of personal integrity.

Priesthood is a highly esteemed profession which requires a “calling”. Priests are supposed to stand-in for God, hence they should exhibit traits and characters that are in line with divinity. They are representatives of the Lord. In that respect, the Heavenly Father set some guidelines for a priest’s conduct and on the preservation of his sanctity. We used to identify priests from other people through some specially designed shirt collars which they would wear at all times, whether within the confines of their sanctuaries or when out among the people. Nowadays there is a tendency among the clergy to hide this form of identity, as many of them now prefer not to wear the collars in the public domain. We wonder what and who they are hiding from.

In Leviticus 10:8-11, God spoke to Aaron, the then head of the priests; “Drink no wine nor strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the place of worship, lest you die; it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the clean and the unclean; and you are to teach the people all the statutes, which the Lord has spoken to them by Moses.”

Apart from his personal conduct, the priest must disseminate all that which the Lord instructed the general population to do or not to do. We are talking here of the spoken laws and commandments. It is their duty to do so. Those who preach against these are acting contrary to God. They must also have the knowledge and vision to distinguish what is holy as opposed to the unholy. Alcoholism is definitely an abomination for the priests within the precinct of any religious sanctuary. Something which is punishable by death is no small matter, yet we find some people of the clergy freely consuming uncontrolled quantities of alcohol, openly mingling with common imbibers. In their drunken states, some enter the holy places reserved for worship, in violation of God’s instruction.

In Leviticus 21:1-3, the Lord proceeded to say to Moses, to tell the priests “Speak to the priests, and say to them that none of them shall defile himself for the dead among his people, except for his nearest of kin, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother, or his virgin sister (who is near to him) because she has had no husband; for her he may defile himself”. The Lord our God had already declared that dead bodies or graves are to be treated as unclean, hence coming into contact with them directly would desecrate a person and make him/her “unclean” also. While it may be priest’s duty to give the last rites for our dead, God does not want the priest to defile himself by touching the dead. However, the priest would be excused of it where for a very close relative.

In verse 4, the Lord says; “The priest shall not defile himself as a husband among his people by which he will profane himself”. The most probable way a priest may defile himself as a husband is through infidelity. By committing adultery, a priest takes away his sanctity. However, note that the biggest denomination of our Christian churches does not allow its priests to marry. Instead they take a vow of celibacy, to keep away from marriage altogether. Priests like all people, are humans after all. Can they then suppress the human feelings of intimacy so as to remain holy? I have personally witnessed and experienced acts of sexual immorality by a number of priests, with both single and married women at the centre of the transgressions. Breaking the vow of celibacy to me is by far a greater sin, since it’s a breach of a commitment to God.

Before I had the time to study the scriptures, I often wondered why leaders of some sects grow long beards. I disliked them. Jesus Christ is also portrayed to have kept both long hair and relatively long beards.  The origin of that practice came from an instruction for the priests and religious leaders from the Lord. Leviticus 21:5 reads: “They shall not make tonsures (shaving parts of the head) upon their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuttings in their flesh (tattoos).”

Adding in Leviticus 21:7: “They shall not marry a harlot or a woman who has been defiled; neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband, for the priest is holy to his God”. This is easy to explain. A woman who had sexual adventures out of marriage was considered defiled and assumed to have lost the sanctity of her body. A divorced woman losses her sanctity through the broken vows of her marriage, which would equally apply to the man. It is therefore meant to ensure that a wife of integrity is brought into the dominion of the priest’s sanctuary.

For the Chief Priest the Lord had corresponding sets of rules. It is written in Leviticus 21:10-12: “The priest who is chief among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil is poured, and who has been consecrated to wear the garments, shall not let their hair of his head hang loose, nor rend (split) his clothes; he shall not go into any dead body, nor defile himself, even for his mother or father; neither shall he go out of the sanctuary of his God; for the consecration of the anointing oil of his God is upon him. I am the Lord.” The expectations are much tougher and more restrictive than those of the ordinary priests.

For the chief priests, the Lord proceeded to say, “He shall take a wife in virginity. A widow, or one divorced, or a woman who has been defiled, or a harlot, these he shall not marry; but he shall take to wife a virgin of his own people, that he may not profane his children among his people; for I am the Lord who sanctify him.” Again, this is self-explanatory.

There is a seemingly controversial ruling by the Lord regards either disabled or diseased priests. Leviticus 21:16-17 reads: and the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, none of your descendants (priests) throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles; none of them who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s offerings; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God. He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy things, but he shall not come near the veil or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries; for I am the Lord who sanctify them.”  Although I am aware of the reasons behind these declarations, I shall not dwell on the arguments of the matter.

Our priests should lead an exemplary life, leading people from the front in terms of morality and other factors of personal integrity. They should reflect the image of God.

Prosper Tingini is the scribe of the Children of God Missionary Assembly — God’s messengers. Contact details: Mobile/WhatsApp: 0771 260 195. Email address: [email protected]

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