Friday, November 20, 2009

WHAT IS TRUE RELIGION? (Lev 23:22)



While preparing for a lesson on Hebrew festivals, I came across an interesting observation in Leviticus 23. Leviticus 23 is also considered the Jewish religious calendar and in it, we find seven annual festivals which the Israelites were commanded to observe. The calendar begins in March-April with the observation of Passover, followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. After that comes the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks, more familiar to us as Pentecost. These are the Spring Feasts and following them are the Fall feasts, from Lev 23:23 onwards. The Fall feasts are Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and Tabernacles which are observed in September/October. Just after the Spring feasts (Lev 23:1-21) are declared we find the exhortation “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God." (Lev 23:22)

In fact, it seems that this verse stands right in the middle of the chapter after Pentecost in spring and before Trumpets in the fall. Pentecost actually celebrates the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. It is a time of joy and thanksgiving over the bountiful harvest that God has given. Perhaps, the verse is positioned here to remind the Israelites that when they go about their elaborate observations to worship their God, they should remember that there are people who are not blessed with similar abundance.

The lesson too for us is this - as we go about our regular worship and small group meetings and thank God for the bounty he gives us, we should give thought to those people in our midst who have little or nothing. True religion is a practicing sacrificial religion. In the verse, God commands the field-owner to give up what was rightfully his so that others less fortunate may also be provided for. That is exactly what Jesus did for us. When we were lost and poor, alienated from God, Jesus did not hold on tight to his rights as God but sacrificed his life so that we may be redeemed.

True religion is one that involves sacrifice on our part. And sacrifice means there is a cost involved. If we give up something that does not cost us anything, we cannot say we are making a sacrifice.

John Wesley once said “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” That is a good maxim that Christians ought to follow. Every Christian should strive to be a great ambassador for Christ to a watching world. We should examine ourselves to see whether what we do makes a positive impact on the people around us. Sometimes, our Christian community is the only witness to the world about what God is like. We are the ones who show that God cares for each individual regardless of the person’s gifts and abilities. That his compassion extends to those who are dispossessed, disenfranchised and marginalized. He expects those who have more to give to those who have little. When we do this, we are continuing a tradition of embodying God’s character and compassion to the world.

One of my TTC lecturers once said that God has no hands and feet. He was telling us that God’s agenda for this world can only be fulfilled by our hands and feet. If we do not come forward, the work is not done. In fact, as we reflect further, we should remember that each one of us is a Christian because someone took the trouble to share the goodness of God with us. It is therefore only right that we should go out and share God’s goodness with someone else. In doing so, we manifest what the true Christian religion is all about – caring sacrificially and sharing with those around us.

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