Chapter twenty-one opens with the case of a man found murdered, with the murderer unknown. The nearest community was held responsible – even though they were innocent of any direct crime – and sacrifice was required of the nearby town. The idea is, when sin happens, the community is affected. Nothing happens in a vacuum.
I’m reminded of the probably apocryphal story of New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. On a bitterly cold night in January, 1935, the mayor turned up in the night court of the poorest ward of the city. Dismissing the judge, the mayor took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a ragged elderly woman was brought before him and accused of stealing a loaf of bread. In her defense, she said her daughter’s husband had deserted her and her grandchildren were starving. The shopkeeper refused to drop the charges saying: “It’s a real bad neighborhood your honor. She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.” La Guardia replied: “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions. Ten dollars or ten days in jail.” As he spoke those words, he pulled ten dollars from his pocket and handed it to the baliff. Then he said: “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit and I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”
What LaGuardia, and in this passage, God, was saying, is that the community is responsible for evil that happens within it. We are responsible for making sure it doesn’t happen. We are responsible to God and one another when it does.