Thursday, February 22, 2007

Lent 1, Year C: Deuteronomy 26:1-11

First Fruits

The appointed lesson for this coming Sunday, the first Sunday in Lent, Year C, is Deuteronomy 26:1-11. The passage is about bringing some of the harvest fruits and offering them to God. It is about intentionally remembering God's mighty acts on behalf of us, raising up the people of Israel from meager beginnings.

In the theology of Deuteronomy, full life and full joy come from keeping covenant, from keeping God in the place of covenant-lord (suzerain). With God as covenant lord, we are freed from selfishness and egocentricity. With our fellow human beings as co-partners (co-vassals) in the covenant, we are freed to enjoy full human mutuality with our friends and neighbors.

Notice how Deuteronomy 26 charges us to recall and recite our history as God's people. No matter how much we may prosper, keeping ourselves focused on God's grace connects us to the divine source of our life. It charges and empowers us spiritually, allows us to grow in discipleship.

Along with reciting the faith history, bringing offerings from the harvest helps us strengthen our recognition of God's covenantal suzerainty ("lordship"). Deuteronomy 26 makes clear that God is lord of nature and physicial sustenance, not just lord of history. In this theology of Deuteronomy, we make God lord of every facet of existence. We don't compartmentalize life, recognizing God's power in one part but not in another.

The communal dimension of all this is central. A proper "vertical" relationship with God generates proper "horizontal" relationships within community. Verse 11 mentions the extended household, the the Levite, and the alien. These are core societal elements out of which Israel as an entire people is built up. The covenant of Deuteronomy upholds these elements, including the "weakest links" at society's edge. The good life is a shared journey, where we all recognize each other's full humanity and draw strength from our God-given mutuality.

3 Comments:

Blogger Muthah+ said...

Stephen,
I checked the Chabad translation and saw that it said that "An Aramean sought to destroy my forefather" where I have always understood that a claim" A wandering Aremean was my father..." What is the difference?

Lauren Gough

Mon Feb 15, 08:39:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Hi Lauren,
You raise a fascinating question. The Hebrew term here for "wander" generally means "to perish" or the like (cf. KJV "a Syrian ready to perish"; also cf. R. E. Friedman's translation), but a meaning for this Hebrew term along the lines of "go astray" or "be lost" is also attested. B. Levinson in the Jewish Study Bible notes that the reading that you have found in the Chabad translation, "an Aramean sought to destroy my ancestor," departs from the Hebrew grammar of the verse, yet this reading was deployed in the Passover Haggadah as a midrashic reworking of the original. He thinks this early reworking of Deut 26:5 reflects the politics of the Second Temple period, when the Seleucid rulers of Israel were referred to obliquely as Laban, the Aramean. Just like Laban, they persecuted "Jacob" and eventually triggered the Jewish Hasmonean revolt.
Hope this helps!
---Stephen C.

Tue Feb 16, 12:07:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Muthah+ said...

Thanks, Stephen.
I like to study the Jewish commentaries when I have a chance. I appreciate your reply. It certainly puts the present day situation in the Middle East in some perspective, doesn't it?

Sat Feb 20, 11:03:00 AM GMT-5  

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