Daughters of the Promised Inheritance
Reflecting on The Baptism of the Lord: Three Days After Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 106:1-12
Old Testament: Numbers 27:1-11
Gospel: Luke 11:33-36
Lord God, you revealed your Son in the waters of the Jordan and anointed him with the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim good news to all people. Sanctify us by the same Spirit, that we may proclaim the healing power of the gospel by acts of love in your name. Amen.
In many ways, the ancient world was a man’s world. Men were in charge. We see this in the Bible. There can be little doubt that when one reads the law of Moses, men and women are not viewed equally. Having a son was more important than having a daughter. Only men could inherit their father’s land. Women owned nothing.
But one thing that must be noted in the Old Testament are the glimpses of something different than a world of patriarchy. Their are cracks of light that poke out from between the pages of the Scripture that reveal God has something better in mind and is working toward a divine world where things will be equal.
In the Book of Numbers, the daughters of Zelophehad find themselves in a difficult situation. Their father has died and they have no brothers to receive their father’s inheritance. The daughters have an understandable concern that their father’s name—his memory— be preserved. They do something that up to that point in Israel’s history was unheard of. They ask Moses and all the leaders of Israel to grant them the inheritance of their father.
Moses consults God. In the Lord’s response, we see that God is willing and able to adjust, to revise the law for the sake of the people.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; you shall indeed let them possess an inheritance among their father’s brothers and pass the inheritance of their father on to them. You shall also say to the Israelites, “If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter” (Numbers 27:6-8).
Thirteen hundred years later, Jesus will reflect this same view that the divine law is not an end in and of itself, but a means to the end of the flourishing of God’s people (The Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath, Mark 2:27).
In the Old Testament, circumcision is the sign of God’s covenant with Israel (Genesis 17:1-14). Women are in the covenant by virtue of the men, for only men are circumcised. But, no doubt because of the influence of Jesus, the early church moves in a new direction. They revise the law for the sake of God’s people in the belief that now all persons—Jew and Gentile, man and woman—stand equally, side by side in the new covenant brought about by the death and resurrection of Christ. Circumcision is no longer the sign of God’s people; the new sign is baptism. Women no longer participate in the covenant by virtue of the men; they participate in their own right. They too are baptized. It is believed that the Apostle Paul is quoting words of baptism when he says to the Galatians, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
The daughters of Zelophehad are an ancient preview of what God had in mind for all women. That glimpse of the future has now become the present in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, all of us regardless of gender, race, and status share equally in the inheritance. We stand side by side. No one is above or below another. The only one with a title of status in the kingdom is Jesus; and even that title is one of humble service.
Jesus is Lord.
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