Deuteronomy 26 contains instructions about how people are to deal with their wealth. Their first, and subsequent, harvests after coming into the promised land, has to be an occasion of gratitude. Each person must take a representative sample of their crops and offer it to the priest whilst reciting a poem that recalls how their ancestors were slaves, then nomads, then settlers in this lovely land. Asylum seekers of whatever faith often share this history: fleeing ill treatment; travelling long, hard distances; finally, the promised land, and most of those known to me show such gratitude!
So what went wrong with us? What persuades us that we can take what we earn, what we are given, without an intense show of gratitude? Unlike Jews, we have no recall of history to cling to. My ancestors travelled from their homes across the North Seas around the time of the Synod of Whitby; how bad must it have been at home for you to want to do that? How grateful must they have been to find a sheltered estuary, a welcoming river, and upstream, farmland to cultivate. What happened to the gratitude? Whence came the sense of entitlement? Why do I now feel that this is my country to be defended against others who, today, make the perilous journey from persecution and famine to our shores?
A pilgrim visiting a wise man in search of enlightenment remarked in surprise at his lack of furniture. “Well, where is yours?” The wise man replied. “I’m just a visitor”; “So am I” came the wise reply. Lent is the period during which Jesus tried to rid himself of dependence on material things, one consequence being that gratitude could once more show it’s flower head over the snow covering of complacency.
What ideas did Jesus come up with? We might learn something from Luke 6: 27-38: He didn’t trawl through the scriptures to discover all the instructions that he had to obey. He took the essence of them.He distilled them down to two simple commandments.About Love. How are we going to make sure that the world is a more loving place when we leave it? How are we going to make sure that the world is a nicer, safer, cleaner, kinder, more fertile place?
It is hard for us to remember that 2000 years ago, after forty days in the desert, after much soul-searching, after much hardship and persecution, the founder of our religion discarded some of the peripheral items of faith to which we now cling. He said little about sex, certainly not enough to justify some of our attitudes. He was vocal and active about issues that we choose to avoid to do with poverty and mental illness. He trod lightly on the earth and urged us to do the same.
So, here’s hoping that by the end of Lent, I will become a more grateful, more Jesus-shaped person more capable of empathy with the poor and downtrodden, less dependent on luxury and with a smaller sense of entitlement. Thanks for everything, Master!