Genesis and Exodus provide us with some powerful themes to remember and take into our baseball lives. As we move into Leviticus, I believe that baseball players might be the people group best positioned to understand the book of Leviticus through the spirit of the game. The themes and ideas presented in Leviticus still exist in our game in many ways, and I hope you are able to connect to this difficult book of the Bible.
Again, I am sure you are somewhat familiar with the stories of Leviticus, but take some time to read Leviticus and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of the book as well (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/leviticus/). In addition, watch the Bible Project’s exposition on the theme of “Holiness” (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/holiness/) as we dive into this week’s “Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide.”
Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- Rituals, Priesthood, Purity
- The Scapegoat
Whether we want to admit it or not, every baseball player has a desire for perfection. A hitter wants to go 4-for-4 every day. A fielder wants to make every play that comes his way. A pitcher wants to throw a perfect game. The hardest thing to accept is that those glimpses of perfection are often years apart. The last perfect game in Major League Baseball was thrown on August 15, 2012 by Felix Hernandez, the 21st in MLB history. That occurred 6 1/2 years ago now. That’s a long time to wait for perfection.
One thing that Leviticus can help us understand is God’s perfection, God’s holiness, and God’s heart. In spite of being so unique, set apart as the Creator of every ounce of reality, God wants to invite people into His holiness so they can experience true life. This is the heart behind the Levitical law - our purification so we can experience the perfection of God.
But our impurities make God’s presence dangerous. He’s so good, any level of impurity cannot come near to Him. That lack of perfection leads to immediate death in His presence. Moses being unable to enter the temple created the need for an articulation of how one can enter into God’s presence. God’s desire is to be close to us so He lays out the way for us to be closer to Him.
The solution He presents is for us to become morally and ritually pure so we can step back into the temple and get closer to the center of the temple, the most holy place in proximity to God’s holy presence. Now, on this side of Christ’s resurrection, this is mind-blowing and life-altering. The temple is no longer in one place in the Middle East, it’s in the heart of every believer that Jesus is the Son of God. Whoa. Through Christ’s perfect sacrifice, purity is transferred to us and we become His temple. Streams of living water can now flow through each one of us. We should reflect on this more often and stop worrying about rituals, priesthood, and purity the way that we do.
Rituals, Priesthood, Purity
Classic baseball films capture the baseball culture’s obsession with rituals, priesthood, and purity. Bull Durham talks about curses and chicken-bone crosses. Major League throws in live animal sacrifices. Those films and others have an obvious hierarchy for those who operate with higher standards. We’ve all tried to seek purity or unity by wearing the same clothes under our jersey, or some other thing that represents our purity of purpose on the field. These three things seem to be our way of dealing with the tension between a desire for perfection and the absence of it in our baseball lives.
Rituals, Priesthood, and Purity are the three ways the corrupt Israelites can get close to God’s goodness without being destroyed. There are rituals with lots of animal sacrifices to thank God, provide offerings, or ask for forgiveness. There is a priesthood called and ordained to higher standards, those who must live at the highest level of moral integrity and ritual holiness. Then there are ways to become pure so you can be near God’s presence. The Levitical Law is the way for the Israelite people to find their way into God’s presence.
It’s strange how these things, which have been a part of our faith tradition for hundreds of years, still enter into our Christian and baseball cultures. Our rituals, the priesthood, and our pursuit of personal purity often become idols before He who proved to be the Lord. We are too quick to forget about the sacrifice of the Scapegoat and rely on things we can see and even control like rituals, priesthoods, and purity.
Baseball lovers are quite familiar with the term “scapegoat.” Unfortunately, Bill Buckner wore that title for the Boston Red Sox after 1986. Steve Bartman was tabbed the “scapegoat” for the Chicago Cubs after the incident in Wrigley Field. Both of these events are highlighted in the ESPN Film Chasing Hell as well as the idea of the “scapegoat.”
In the middle of Leviticus, we see an outline for the Day of Atonement. We are presented with two goats. The first goat is killed and covers in blood the sacrifice as the purification offering. Sacrifice was the way of buying favor from the gods in the ancient world. The second goat, the scapegoat, represents the sins of the people and God’s desire to remove sin from His people. The people would yell and scream hatred at the goat as their sins sat symbolically upon the goat. All of the sins of the people are thrown on the goat and that goat is sent out of the town to die.
When you watch replays of the Bartman incident, this idea of the scapegoat becomes intensely clear. People yell profanities at him, spit at him, and throw beer and other items at him. He has to be escorted from his seat amid screaming fans and people threatening violence. Bartman slips into a life of anonymity after the incident in order to survive. It’s so absurd when viewed from afar, but all too true when you realize that you could be one of the people submitting to the mob mentality.
The picture becomes ever more vivid as we recognize that Christ was our scapegoat, the one sent to atone for our sins forever. Jesus endured the same things, and more, as the scapegoat and Bartman in order to provide a clear way to live safe and near God’s presence. So close, in fact, that He dwells in us through the Holy Spirit.