An excellent way to focus our thoughts and deepen our understanding of the meaning of Lent is to turn to the Bible. Sometimes, however, it’s hard to know where to start. That is why the Catholic Church has provided us with the Office of the Readings, part of the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church. In the Office of the Readings, the Church has chosen scriptural passages that are appropriate to every day of the year.
Every season of the Church year has a certain theme or themes. During Lent, we see four themes in these readings:
- The need for proper repentance
- Israel of the Old Testament as the model of the New Testament Church
- Israel’s exodus from Egypt to the Holy Land as the model of the Christian journey out of sin into the Kingdom of Heaven
- Jesus Christ as the eternal high priest
Today, we leave the Book of Exodus and pass into the Book of Leviticus. In Leviticus 8:1-17 and 9:22-24, the Lord, through Moses, institutes the Old Testament priesthood, which is bestowed on Aaron and his sons. The priests will offer holocausts on behalf of the people of Israel.
As the high priest, Aaron has to offer a sacrifice of atonement on behalf of the people of Israel. As we see in Leviticus 16:2-28, the sacrifice is accompanied by great ritual, and it must be performed again and again to make up for the Israelites' sins.
In Leviticus 19:1-18, 31-37, we get another restatement of parts of the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant. The emphasis here is on love of neighbor.
Our brief stay in the Book of Leviticus has concluded, and today we move to the Book of Numbers. In Numbers 11:4-6, 10-30, we read another version of Moses' appointment of the judges. The Holy Spirit descends on the 70 elders, and they begin to prophesy.
Israel has come to the edge of the Promised Land of Canaan, and, in Numbers 12:16-13:3, 17-33, the Lord tells Moses to send a scouting party into the land. They return with the news that the land flows with milk and honey, as God had promised, but they are afraid to enter it, because it is occupied by men who are stronger than they are.
Having wandered for so long, the people of Israel are despondent over the news that the Promised Land is occupied by men who are stronger than they are. In Numbers 14:1-25, instead of trusting in God, they complain to Moses, and God threatens to strike them down. Once again, it is only through Moses' intervention that the Israelites are saved. Still, the Lord refuses to allow those Israelites who doubted His word to enter into the Promised Land.
Our time of exodus draws to a close, and today, in Numbers 20:1-13 and 21:4-9, we have another version of the story of Moses bringing water from the rock. Even after receiving this miraculous water, the Israelites continue to grumble against God, and so He sends a plague of serpents. Many of the Israelites die from their bites, until Moses intervenes and the Lord tells him to make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole. Those who were bitten but looked at the serpent were cured.