By Pr. Rhoda Klein Miller
One of the must see places on the big Island of Hawaii is Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park. The site features the ancient ruins and reconstruction of a place of refuge for those who broke “kapu,” the chief’s sacred laws. Kapu laws were held in such high regard that offenders were sentenced to death. Their only hope was to flee to a City of Refuge where the high priest resided, surrounded by thick rocks walls, jagged shoreline and rough surf. Once inside they were protected from punishment and could perform a rite of purification, eventually obtaining forgiveness and freedom to live a new life beyond the walls. Some historians believe these practices date back to ʻEhu kai malino’ the chief who ruled Kona around 450 years ago. I found the parallels to a cultural practice 1000 years older from the opposite side of the world fascinating. The Bible in the book of Joshua (chapter 20) describes similar plans for a loophole in the retributive justice system of the Middle East. God establishes six sanctuary cities within Israel’s territories. These places of refuge were Levite towns where priests and their families resided. Someone at fault for unintentional or accidental manslaughter could flee to one of these places and be protected from vengeance until a trial was held. These refugees were guilty of the most egregious of sins, robbing God by taking another’s life, but they found shelter among spiritual leaders until their motives and responsibility was examined and judgement passed. In these cities we find a community of “saints” and “sinners”, the blend of worship and justice.
A millenia would pass before Jesus would walk the Earth to fulfil and reset the priestly role. Letters to the early Christians commissioned them to be “A royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s people who proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)” In Revelation we witness a scene where Jesus is worshiped for rescuing people from every tribe and language and people and nation and establishing them as a kingdom and priests (Rev. 5:9,10). Christians who love and live for Jesus share in His cause, embrace His mission and the responsibility of priestly/pastoral care. Jesus is, has always been, will ever be, “our refuge and strength, a helper found in times of trouble” Psalm 46:1. Hebrews 6:18 says, “We might have consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” This is good news for those of us who recognize and repent of the damage we caused, the lives we’ve shortened (including ours) due to destructive actions. Our God has demonstrated over and again His immense mercy and grace. Now He longs to use us to be that place of refuge to other weary souls.