[Moses] stood at the gate of the camp and cried, "Whoever is for the LORD, let him come to me!" All the Levites then rallied to him, and he told them, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Put your sword on your hip, every one of you! Now go up and down the camp, from gate to gate, and slay your own kinsmen, your friends and neighbors!" The Levites carried out the command of Moses, and that day there fell about three thousand of the people. Then Moses said, "Today you have been dedicated to the LORD, for you were against your own sons and kinsmen, to bring a blessing upon yourselves this day." (Exodus 32:26-29)From this day on, the Tribe of Levi was set aside. When the Israelites made their final preparation to enter the Promised Land, the men of fighting age were gathered and counted – except for the male descendants of Levi. The Levites were set aside for a sacred duty, the duty of the priesthood. They would tend to the sacrifices of the Law and they alone would carry the Ark of the Covenant. The Levites were not pacifists – they gave up one sword for another.
The slaying of the three thousand kinsmen, friends, and neighbors was also a kind of exorcism. Exorcism was first carried out by the angels when they cast out Satan and his demons from Heaven. It happened again when God flooded the world. The Levites themselves would undergo a kind of priestly exorcism with the rebellious priest Korah, and the Apostles – the priests of the New Covenant – would experience a priestly exorcism when Jesus exorcized Judas from their communion at the foot-washing on Holy Thursday.
In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the weeds among wheat. He describes how the two grow together and then says: “…at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.’” To prepare the Apostles and their successors for their mission as His harvesters, Jesus expels Judas and on Pentecost sends them the Holy Spirit. And in an apparent reversal of Exodus 32, Peter’s preaching on Pentecost drew three-thousand people into the life of the Apostolic Church (see Acts 2:38, 41). What a harvest indeed!
But we must not forget the weeds.
The Apostles and their successors (through the Sacrament of Holy Orders) fulfill and perfect the Levitical priesthood by being sacramentally configured to the Christ the High Priest and ordered for contest with the Evil One who prowls about seeking the ruin of souls. Jesus told the Apostles that they would sit on twelve thrones to judge (Matthew 19:28). And if the Levites went through the Israelite camp, slaying three-thousand kinsmen, friends, and neighbors, it should not surprise us that the priests and harvesters of the New Covenant will be just as responsible for casting the weeds into the fire as they are responsible for gathering and bringing the wheat into the barn.
Every priest must prepare himself for this two-fold eschatological act: (1) to gather those saved into the marriage supper of the Lamb and (2) to finish what the angels begun, completing the final expulsion of the Evil One and his minions into the fires of Hell.