So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me. — Deuteronomy 26:10a
This half verse snippet from the Old Testament passage from the Revised Common Lectionary for the First Sunday in Lent is taken from instructions for the proper celebration of the Harvest Festival. The people were to bring the first fruits of their land land labor as an offering to God and as a reminder that all things come from the Creator and ultimately belong to God.
Most of us are no longer farmers. We don’t till the soil unless it’s in our backyard and kitchen gardens. We earn our livelihood in other ways. So how, then, does this instruction apply to 21st century folk? Is it strictly to be passed off as left to the tithe–ten percent of our money? I think not, although I am a believer in giving as generously as possible of one’s financial resources, more than ten percent if possible. Besides, money is a tool; it isn’t “ground” in the sense that this passage is talking about. Money is not good soil, not rich humus, or reclaimed compost. Money is a value exchange, so there must be something more.
That something, I think, is each person, your very self, body and soul. Jesus commands us in the gospels of Matthew (22:37-40), Mark (12:29-31), and Luke (10:27-29) to love the LORD completely and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This completion of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloyhenu Adonai Echad,” reminds us that we belong to God and to one another and our lives should reflect this truth.
So if our body, mind, and soul are the “land” that God has given us, then it follows that we give back to God the very best parts of all that we are and all that we have.
- We must cultivate and tend to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being with diligence, intentionality, and care,
- We must nourish ourselves with good things–prayer, worship, study, relationships, and generosity (the five basic practices of discipleship), and
- We must return to the LORD the very best of ourselves.
I think it is this third point that is the most difficult for me, and probably for all of us. It is so easy to take “ownership” of our lives, giving the best of ourselves as we want, not necessarily considering God in the equation. Worse yet, we tend to give God the leftovers–an hour or two on Sunday when we want, whatever funds are left over after we meet our own needs and wants, and whatever service strikes our fancy or the empty spots on our already overbooked schedules.
God reminded the people of Israel to bring their best, their first fruits and say, “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” (Deut. 8-10).
Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, understood this concept of first fruits that come from God and belong to God when he said, “Let me offer you in sacrifice the service of my thoughts and my tongue, but first give me what I may offer you.”
How might we offer our first fruits this week? What is the best of your time, talent, and treasure that you may offer to God, in the name of Christ, and for the sake of the Gospel? Whatever you discern, remember these words:
Don’t give last, and don’t give God less.
Give to God first, and give your best.
Blessings on your week, on your continued journey into a Simple Lent, and on your generous sharing of your very best!