First Sunday of Lent 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Coming to the “land” of Lent

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.” (Deuteronomy 26:1 – 2)

In the midst of the current political climate, these verses bother me. It has always bothered me when/if one person does well it means that another person has lost what they had. While the Hebrews might have been the inheritors of the land that the Lord God “gave” them, it meant the people native to that land lost something – either the land, their lives, or both!

“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.” (Verse 3)

I understand that these verses are meant to be reminders to the Hebrews/Israelites to respond to God’s promise and generosity. The Old Testament was written from the perspective that the only people who benefited from the monotheistic Divine were those who were called and chosen through the line of Abraham. But it still feels unsettling.

“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.” (Verses 4 – 5)

At some point in the bible (probably the New Testament) believers are prompted to be kind to the strangers in the land because they too were strangers in the land at one point. I guess that exhortation did not extend to taking over Canaan.

“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.” (Verses 6 – 9)

It is very possible that those who came to the shores of North America might have said the same thing. And yet, and yet . . . . . we also hear the voices of those who were native to those shores, and the violence that was done to them. In fact from many, many shores around the world those native to those lands have stories of great harm done to them.

“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.” (Verses 10 – 11)

The Israelites had become the prime residents of the land. Those who resided there but were not descendants of the twelve tribes were considered to be “outsiders.” Why, you might ask, does this bother me so much? One of the reasons, among several, is that we are entering the season of Lent where all of us are found to be lacking in some aspect of correct Christian living. Who are we, regardless of birthright and heritage, to call another not part of the “correct” group or people? Shalom!

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