From: Chris Dodds
Another day, another census. Two of them. This time the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari. Did anyone else wonder why it was just the 30-50 year olds? What about the able-bodied 18-30 year olds or the 50+ boomers? My mind jumped quickly to “middle-age” and then to “mid-life-crisis.” I’m sure these terms didn’t exist then, and perhaps for good reason. Every one of them knows their identity as the son of a father, every one of them knows their belonging as part of a community, and every one of them has a clearly defined role to play with very clear lines of accountability. All Levites, they are all part of the priesthood and all have a distinct role to play. On the face of it, the Kohathites seemed to have the more important task, taking care of the “most holy things” (4.4), and so being an interior decorator (the Gershonites) or a scaffolder (the sons of Merari) might have seemed a lessor task, but the detail with which their roles are prescribed, and the clear demand for order and regulation shows the importance of all tasks to the makeup of the whole.
Looking more deeply, there are two things that jumped out as I reflected on these strange details. The roles are both roles of service and bearing burdens (v.24 & vv.31-32). The word ‘service’ appears 10 times in just 12 verses, and ‘carrying’, and ‘burdens’, are mentioned 6 times. We live in an age where our roles seem far less defined and where we have far more freedom, but with that benefit can also come an anxiety as to who we are and what we are called to do. A mid-life crisis is now brought forward to a quarter-life crisis as we wrestle with our role in life and maybe even the honor of what we do, but in Christ, our belonging and our call is equally as clear as it was for the Gershonites and the Meribites. We too are a priesthood, know ourselves as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, and like Christ modeled for us, are called to roles of service and bearing burdens for the sake of the community. Some tasks may seem greater than others, but as Paul writes to the church in Corinth, there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone (1 Cor. 12.4-6). Like the Gershonites and the Meribites, each one of us is vital, and counted, and each one of us works under the clear authority and direction, not of Ithamar, the son of Aaron the priest (vv.28, 33), but under the direction and Lordship of our great High Priest, Jesus. In him, we too find our identity and are called to serve and to bear one another’s burdens. Crisis averted!
I’m husband to Kara, Father to an unborn son or daughter due in December, and part of the great New Zealand diaspora. I’m deeply thankful for the opportunity to serve as Assistant Pastor at Church of the Cross here in Boston. You’re a wonderful family to us.