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2 February. Leviticus chapters 5-7
There were many kinds of “offering” (animal or grain sacrifices) in this Levitical law. Mainly the sin and guilt offerings (seemingly two different things, perhaps depending on whether the sin was deliberate or not). For those the priest “made atonement” and could assure the guilty person of God’s forgiveness – although that did not mean they had no other obligations, for if there was any actual loss that could be put right or given a monetary value, the guilty person had to pay it to the wronged party with an additional one fifth. In modern law that would be described as both compensation to the victim and a fine. The ritual law of religion is not intended to replace a secular liability, but is additional to it and might just help the guilty to “go straight” in future.
But the passage also lists other kinds of offering: votive, freewill and the “thanksgiving offering for well-being”. These could presumably be offered at any time rather than as an obligation. We tend to forget that. God is not only a lawgiver who demands that someone makes atonement for sin and puts wrongs right, he is also the source of all goodness and deserving of our genuinely voluntary thanks, backed up by gifts of money or possessions. As a well known Christian song puts it, “Freely, freely, you have received: Freely, freely give”.
Today is the Christian celebration of Candlemas when we remember Jesus being ceremonially “redeemed” by his parents by way of a small sacrifice of two turtle doves (as mentioned in today’s reading). This was because all firstborn sons were considered to belong to God and had to be “bought back”. But it could also be seen as an act of thanksgiving for the child. Mary and Joseph made an offering on behalf of Jesus, who would go on to become an offering for us all. Thank God!