Monday, March 4th
Today I begin commentating on passages of scripture assigned for the coming Sunday in Lent – in the cast the first Sunday in Lent.
As Christians, who follow a Jewish Rabbi, our roots are in Judaism. Today’s reading comes from the book of Deuteronomy, the last book of what Jews call Torah. After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Moses addresses the people as they are about to enter the long-awaited “promised land.”
When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.
You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.”
When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God.
Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.
Moses sets forth a “spiritual practice” that the Hebrew people are to keep once they settle into their new life. This practice is intended to resist the human inclination to take our blessings for granted and to settle into a posture of arrogant entitlement. The people are to call to mind the larger story of which they are a part: how once upon a time their ancestors wandered about in tents without a home. Over time they became slaves to Pharaoh suffering under his cruelty. The home and the outward freedom they now enjoy are not something they earned: it is theirs by the grace of God. They are to call to mind this story to cultivate a sense of humility and gratitude. Recognizing their roots, they are called to empathize with advocate for those who suffer at the hands of oppressors like Pharaoh once oppressed their ancestors. They are to offer hospitality to the stranger in their midst, for they too were once strangers in a strange land.
In Lent, we recognize our inclination towards ingratitude, especially when our lives become hectic. We acknowledge within us the capacity to feel entitled. Ingratitude and a sense of entitlement are both forms of inner bondage we ask God to free us from.
Each of us has a “story” – both our individual story that began with our birth, as well as, the larger Christian story in which we are invited to find our place. As you look back over these stories, what do you feel gratitude for? Is there a part of your story that comes to mind that would be essential for someone to know if they were to understand the person you are today?