When the topic is Lent, more than a few people initially ask the question, “What are you giving up?”
I suppose that’s understandable, although I think it misses the mark. Perhaps a better question would be something like this: “What are you pondering and examining within yourself this year, now that you’ve allowed some extra time/space because you’re not doing whatever it is you did before Ash Wednesday?” I know that’s a little wordy and awkward but maybe you can get where I’m coming from anyway.
This week’s Gospel reading from Luke and the first reading from the Hebrew Bible (OT) appear to have one thing in common: wilderness plays a part in both. But that’s where the similarity ends. Luke’s recounting of Jesus’ temptation narrative in the wilderness is juxtaposed with this from Deuteronomy:
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, 5 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. Deuteronomy 26:1-11 NRSV
The Hebrew tribes had spent 40 years wandering in the Sinai wilderness, which no doubt occasioned more than a few thoughts of “What have we been doing this for?” and “What comes next?” Well, the core teaching here is that God had been leading them through that wilderness, just as God had led their ancestor Jacob (aka Israel), that wandering Aramean, on the trip to Egypt in the first place. God had been with them all those years and had raised up a prophet/leader named Moses to lead them out of slavery. Through all that they kept alive the image of the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore, look what God had done for them in the past and present–and remember in the future to put their relationship with God at the forefront.
Their proper response at the time of harvest should be to offer to God their first fruits, not the leftovers. We Christians shouldn’t have too much trouble making a connection between this passage in Deuteronomy and our Lenten experience: Where has God been in our past and present? Where are we going next? What is the condition of our relationship with God? How do we begin to respond?
*Adapted from 2013 ForeWords archive