Our First Reading this weekend gives us an important part of the Jewish faith, as we hear what the people are to do when reaching the Promised Land. When they have received their inheritance, in gratitude they must go to the Temple and make an offering of the “first fruits” of their land. But that’s not all. There is a prayer that goes with it. This is a prayer that, in many ways, is primary among the prayers of the People – second, perhaps, to the Shema.
My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien. But there he became a nation great, strong, and numerous. When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labor upon us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and he heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. He brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders; and bringing us into this country, he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore, I have now brought you the first fruits of the products of the soil which you, O LORD, have given me.
This “little creed” that the people of Israel would recite is a reminder to each of them of where they came from. “My father was a wandering Aramean.” Now, settled in the Promised Land, they wander no more, because God has been faithful to them – to the promise that He made and has made possible. This is a powerful statement, and here we are, at the start of Lent, hearing it again as we journey with Jesus in the desert.
“My father was a wandering Aramean.” The heart of the message this weekend is that we are all “wandering Arameans.” The history of God’s People is marked by aimlessness in the absence of faithfulness to God, and security in their return to Him. This is the wanderer’s experience, and even Jesus entered into that experience. For forty days He wandered in the desert – however, He did not do so without an aim or purpose. Jesus was there “filled with the Holy Spirit,” preparing for His mission.
Our lives, like that of Israel, are marked by moments of “wandering” and aimlessness, as well as moments of tremendous grace and purpose. The goal of Lent is to increase our awareness of our direction – to get our bearings, and to set our hearts on God. Jesus knew this. Jesus was so firmly rooted in God’s love that nothing could shake or move Him; nothing could make Him waver. Even in the face of the devil’s persistent temptations (and do we ever know this!), Jesus was able to constantly turn him away and reassert God’s authority over Him.
For us to be able to do this, we must recognize that we are all “wandering Arameans.” We have all been on a journey – sometimes lost, sometimes aimless – and that we are still on that journey. Every single one of us is a migrant, moving from here to There – to Heaven, to the Promised Land. Jesus has gone before us; we are following. The acknowledgement that we were once “wandering Arameans” calls us to see one another as brother and sister. That no one has a claim on perfection, and we are all reaching for something better.
I was blessed to have dinner at the home of one of our parishioners who had recently bought their own home. He was so excited! Having come from Mexico years back, he knew that there was no way that he and a family that they established would be able to own a home in a neighborhood. However, there we were, gathered around his table sharing soup and tacos, thanks to God’s incredible goodness.
As I left that evening, I heard echoing in my mind, “My father was a wandering Aramean….”
Friends, we are on this journey of Lent together. But this is only a reminder that we are all on this journey of life together – migrants, looking for that heavenly homeland for which we are created. Any success along the way is thanks to God’s grace and love. Jesus shows what this looks like. And only an awareness that we are wanderers will allow us to see that goodness of God. Perhaps that is why Jesus began His mission with a journey through the desert: to reassert the Father’s authority over Him and His absolute trust in the Father.
This Lent let’s do the same – and wander together.