Repentance, Restitution and Reconciliation (Numbers 5:5-10)
An essential role of the people of God is bringing reconciliation and justice to scenes of conflict and abuse. Although the people of Israel bound themselves to obey God's commandments, they routinely fell short, as we do today. Often this took the form of mistreating other people. "When a man or a woman wrongs another, breaking faith with the Lord, that person incurs guilt" (Num. 5:6). Through the work of the Levites, God provides a means of repentance, restitution, and reconciliation in the aftermath of such wrongs. An essential element is that the guilty party not only repays the loss he or she caused, but also adds 20 percent (Num. 5:7), presumably as a way of suffering loss in sympathy with the victim. (This passage is parallel with the guilt offering described in Leviticus; see “The Workplace Significance of the Guilt Offering” in Leviticus and Work above.)
The New Testament gives a vivid example of this principle at work. When the tax collector Zacchaeus comes to salvation in Christ, he offers to pay back four times the amount he overcharged his fellow citizens. A more modern example—though not explicitly grounded in the Bible—is the growing practice of hospitals admitting mistakes, apologizing, and offering immediate financial restitution and assistance to patients and families involved. But you don’t have to be a tax collector or a medical worker to make mistakes. All of us have ample opportunities to confess our mistakes and offer to make up for them, and more. It is in the workplace where much of this challenge takes place. Yet do we actually do it, or do we try to cover up our shortcomings and minimize our responsibility?
Steve S. Kraman and Ginny Hamm, “Risk Management: Extreme Honesty May Be the Best Policy,” Annals of Internal Medicine 131 (Dec. 1999), 963-67. Further coverage is found in Pauline Chen, “When Doctors Admit Their Mistakes,” New York Times, Aug. 19, 2010.