It’s not often that we hear from the Book of Deuteronomy. It tends to be lumped-in with the other four books that together we call the Pentateuch or the 5 Books of Moses, but it’s a little different. Deuteronomy’s thirty-four chapters are made up of three lengthy discourses from Moses, addressed to the Israelites at the very end of their forty-year sojourn in the Sinai wilderness. A generation had died in that time span, and many of the new generation were not born when God first laid out the terms of the covenant, the Law.
Deuteronomy means ‘second law’. At long last, they were just about to cross the Jordan river and enter the Promised Land, and Moses called the people together, as an assembly, to re-declare, and it went something like this:
“Before we cross over into the Promised Land, we need to remember who gave us life, who we are, and how we are to live in relationship with the One who gave us life. So please listen as I spell it out. We cannot move forward if we do not remember.”
Today we hear from the second of the book’s three discourses, specifically a section that speaks about what the Israelites are to offer to the LORD their God and how it is to be offered. In that first reading we heard, it explains that the people are to take the first fruits of their harvest, offer it to the priest in a basket, then to offer a prayer about how God has given life in place of death. Then, it explains, that the people are to bow before God as gesture of reverence.
It sounds a little like what we do at Mass: the tithing collection, the bread and wine brought to the priest and placed upon our altar. I remind us that all that goes to the altar represents us in our entirety, as though we are being placed upon the altar to be an offering, an oblation for God. The priest prays a similar prayer in the Eucharistic Prayer as we kneel and bow. But considering today’s reading that speaks of bringing the firstfruits of the harvest, let us ask ourselves: Do I bring my best to God? I don’t narrowly mean financial offerings. I mean all that I am, my state of mind, even my appearance. Ask yourself, “Am I giving God my firstfruits, in terms of my heart and mind? Have I taken any time to prepare for this Mass?”
I mentioned on Ash Wednesday the Exodus 90 program that I’m going through. A few days ago (Day 45) the reading for the day was from chapter 19 of Exodus, in which the LORD instructs Moses to tell the people how they are to prepare before they encounter God: “Go to the people and have them sanctify themselves today and tomorrow. Have them wash their garments and be ready for the third day; for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people” (Ex 10-11).
The meditation that followed that reading served as a challenge for how we prepare. Do we treat the sanctuary with reverence and respect, as though we are preparing to encounter the Lord on Mt. Sinai, or is this space reduced to a social hall? The meditation said (paraphrase): God told the Israelite people to wash their garments to prepare for the Lord. Today, grown men attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass wearing flip-flops, shorts and their game-day jersey, and their defense tends to be, “At least I’m here”.
I fully realize also that God loves us for who we are not our outward appearance. I realize that what’s in our heart is most important (1 Sam 16:7). I realize it’s not earning our worth in God’s eyes, because we already are His beloved sons and daughters. And we don’t want people to feel judged for what they wear or what they can afford. But we do well to ask ourselves: Am I demonstrating for myself that I take this encounter with God seriously and that I care? Am I bringing the LORD my firstfruits—inwardly and outwardly—of who I am? Maybe this is part of how we—as individuals and as a collective Church—seek to be reformed in these 40 Days.