Sunday, February 23, 2014

When Good Temple Priests Go Bad: Corruption in High Places--I Samuel 2:12-4:5


 Shiloh, Ephraim Tribal Hill-Country, 11th Century BCE—
Call me Azanya; no, you will not read about me in any of your holy scrolls or parchments. I am no great warrior; I did not kill any Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone, as did that braggart, Samson—though he paid dearly for his dalliance with that double-dealing wench, Delilah—lost both eyes, and his life, to boot, in tearing down the roof of that Pagan Temple of Dagon; still, we’ll never miss that raucous mob of drunken Philistine bravos he took with him, down to Sheol, the Afterlife of Everlasting Silence.
            I am, if not a Kohen-Priest, at least a Levite slavey. I was, I thought, an athlete in my youth, and delighted in climbing up tall trees and onto the roofs of buildings, and jumping down. I was a foolish daredevil, as most young boys are, and, one day, chose to climb to the top of the tree overlooking this same Ohel Mo’ed-Tent-of-Meeting; this holy place, the one I sweep out daily—ironic, no?—and so, after watching the Holy Priests conduct their business, grew bored. I sought to jump the distance from the Terebinth-Tree to the ground, but I misjudged, and snapped my tibia. Since then, I walk with a limp.
            On the day of my bar-mitzvah, I stood before the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, Lord Eli himself, and thought to hide my limp from his sharp eyes—sharper then, than now: poor man! The years have blinded him, in oh, so many ways—but he saw then that I could not walk a straight and narrow line without limping—God paying me back for all those mindless, daring leaps I made in childish days. And so, being “damanged,” I could not be a priest: God wants only the “perfect” to serve Him—it’s in the Torah; you can look it up. Instead, I clean: I scrub the walls of the Sacred Shrine; I haul the ashes of the burnt-out offerings; I clean the incense-leavings from the the Lesser Altar, and do all sorts of filthy work. I’m happy, though, to be of service to my Lord, my God.
            Old Eli’s getting on; he’s fat and lazy, but still kind to me, remembering my earlier ambitions to be a Serving-Priest, to stand between the People and the Lord, and cause their offerings to smoke and rise before Him: a “sweet savour,” as it’s called. Instead, I stand in the shadows, unworthy to draw near, during the Sacred Service, the Avodah—but from the shadows, I can see how Eli’s years of service, and his sons, in whom he places such trust, such pride—are hardly fit to follow in his shoes. Chophni and Pinchas—how often does it seem, that sons of great men do not measure up? I watch in silence, from the Shrine’s far corners, as these two cheat and chisel the innocent worshipers who come to make their offerings at the Shrine.
            There is a cauldron, always at the boil, in which the meat-portions for the priests and their families are prepared. It is well-known which parts are meant for them, and which for God. It hurts my heart, and makes me grind my teeth, when these two sleazy customers come forth, long fork in hand, and stir amid the portions in the pot, picking and choosing, not the parts they should get, but others, more lean, more choice, which they gather up, lips smacking, and hide away. I hear that, sometimes, they take their portions from the raw carcass, even more forbidden! Worse: they take bribes, and favor the wealthy over the poor, in allowing folks to make their offerings, and, still worse: I see them try to fondle, and assault, the single women who come, all innocence, to pour their pure hearts here, before the Lord. O God! What shall be their punishment, and when?
            Whom shall I tell? There is another priest—a young man, Samuel, who always greets me cheerfully; a light of God seems to radiate from his face. Eli loves him, as well, although he hopes his own boys will improve—he turns a blind eye to their stratagems.
I tease the youth: “Well, young Sammy, will you be High Priest one day?”
He looks down shyly, and replies, “I will serve our God in any way our God may wish!” 
As if he shares a secret only he and God must know. I wonder: priest? Prophet? More than that? It hurts my head; I cannot think beyond, but still—
…There’s a rumor our troops must go out soon, to fight the Philistines. I don’t like what I hear—our men have swords made only of soft bronze, while our enemies’ blacksmiths have fashioned something new, a super-metal, called iron, which can cut bronze through and through. Still, God is on our side—at least, I hope and pray. If all else fails, Chophni and Pinchas, as High-Priests-Elect, can carry the Holy Ark onto the field, and rally our warriors. That, they’ll do, and God speed our victory! I worry, though….
           

Editor’s Note: Here endeth the Chronicle. To see what happens next, see I Samuel, 4:11-7:16. It is bloody, dramatic, and not for the young. Actions have consequences, as you will see.