I admit that the theme for this reflection might appear to some as quite weird. But the message which follows should help us to put the theme in perspective. The passage before us is interesting. In the aftermath of their deliverance from the power of the oppressive pharaoh, God required the Israelites to offer a harvest of thanksgiving once they occupied the Promised Land. It might help to produce the entire passage:
When you come into the land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance, and have taken possession of it, and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place which the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, `I declare this day to the LORD your God that I have come into the land which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand, and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God. “And you shall make response before the LORD your God, `A wandering Aramean was my father; and he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. Then we cried to the LORD the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice, and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression; and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which thou, O LORD, hast given me.’ And you shall set it down before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God.
As the Israelite offered this harvest of thanksgiving, he had to make a humble confession about his origin and history. That history includes the fact that his ancestors were once refugees in Egypt. While in Egypt the people suffered oppression under a ruthless pharaoh. It is the Lord who delivered them and set them free. To this liberation by God, the chosen people of God were invited to offer a harvest of thanksgiving and bow before the Lord, worshipping in his presence. There is something very important happening here. And that is: God knows us absolutely well. He created us and he is familiar with our human story. He knows what we are capable of and what we are not capable of. This became especially clear at the Fall of Adam and Eve. God knows that we are fragile. We tend to forget who we are and our humble beginning. We forget that we have no power of our own, and that we absolutely need God. We forget that we are fragile. When we took the Devil’s bait at Eden, he exposed our fragility. We forgot that God formed us out of the dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); and that we are dust, and to dust we shall return (cf. Gen 3:19). In a word, we humans have a problem of forgetfulness. The Evil One knows this, and in his diabolical schemes, he wastes no time to capitalize on it. Whenever we have forgotten our humble beginnings, we have messed up. In my native language (Twi) we have a saying which goes: “Asetena pa ma awerefire,” which may be literally translated as “Prosperous times bring forgetfulness.” Indeed, during times of peace, security and prosperity, human beings tend to forget their humble beginnings. In order to save us, the Lord has found it helpful to remind us of our humble beginnings. More importantly, this reminder of God is salvific. Forgetting or not forgetting our humble beginnings can make the difference between life and death, heaven and hell. This brings us again to Deuteronomy 26:1-10.
Once the Israelites had been liberated, prosperous times awaited them in the Promised Land. Soon they would settle as a nation and be secure from oppression, hunger and tribulation. But being children of Adam and Eve, forgetfulness could set in at anytime. In many ways and through many ritual celebrations, the Lord sought to remind them of their origin (e.g., the Passover). He sought to remind them that their only source of life and prosperity was the Lord. The thanksgiving after harvest was yet another ritual that reminded Israel of their humble beginning and their absolute need of God. In the presence of God and the priest, the Israelite had to confess that his father was a wandering Aramean who once became a refugee in Egypt to escape from famine. In Egypt, an oppressive pharaoh enslaved him, but the Lord rescued him and brought him to the Promised Land. Therefore, the Lord deserves all thanksgiving and worship. It was as if the Lord wanted to say: Remember your humble origin. You are children of a refugee. Acknowledge the Lord as God. This is your only security against the temptation of pride. If you forget your humble beginning and Me your Maker and Deliverer, that will be the beginning of your ruin.
The storyline has not quite changed since then. When the Son of God came on earth, he chose a humble beginning. We have traditionally come to label Luke 4:1-11 (and parallels) as “The Temptation of Jesus.” There is no problem about that. But how about another label: “The Humility of Jesus”? Christ knew he was the Son of God. But he also knew that by his Incarnation, he had become the Son of Man who shares in our not-so-pleasant history of lows and highs. He chose to be part of our humble, fragile condition in order to show us that humility is the way to victory over the Devil. He showed us that humility consists in a) putting the word of God before our personal interests, b) worshipping and serving the only true God and c) not putting the Lord to the test. A close examination of the Fall of Adam and Eve reveals that they violated all the three principles we have mentioned. They rejected the word of God, and subsequently became incapable of serving him. Finally, by rejecting God’s word, they put him to the test. Christ taught us a lesson in humility when he put the will of his Father before any human consideration. As a Son of Man, he had become like us, fragile. Though he was the Son of God, he did not forget that he was also the Son of Man. He humbly refused to rise above the limitations of his human condition. This way, he submitted to the authority of his Father. And that humble attitude defeated the Devil.
The lesson is clear. Humility is the way to overcome the Devil’s temptations. Humility here means to recognize our humble beginning; that we are dust, fragile, easily broken; that we are children of a refugee, vulnerable. Humility also means to submit to the authority of the one true God to whom we owe our life and our salvation. The Devil would want us to forget our humble beginning so that he can strike. In the desert Jesus defeated him and taught us to remember that we are weak; God alone is our strength. To conclude our reflection, we may perhaps find it helpful to recall Paul’s words addressed to the Ephesians:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ . . . So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (2:11-13, 19).
And Peter adds: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble . . . Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you (1Pet 5:5-6).
Let us all remember our humble beginning: children of a refugee. Amen.
Invitation to Pray:
Dear Jesus, I praise your name. Have mercy on me a sinner. Cleanse me with your Precious Blood and fill me with your Spirit. I trust in your word. In your name I reject Satan and all his snares. Let me find victory in humility. You alone are my Lord and God. Amen.