Connections 02.14.2016: The Feast of Weeks

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Leviticus 23:15-22

Have you ever planted a seed and watched it grow into food? Sadly, I haven’t yet undertaken that experience—hindered by fear of failure and, to be honest, resistance to such a level of responsibility. But from the time my brother and his wife got married nearly nine years ago, they have kept some kind of garden. In the beginning it was a handful of plants sitting in a windowsill. Today it’s a small but thriving plot that produces sweet potatoes, butternut squash, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and other seasonal delights.

They work hard on the garden—turning up the earth, watering the seeds, trimming weeds away, tending to pests, and keeping a compost bin in the kitchen. Then they harvest the vegetables and enjoy them. What a miracle it is that the little seeds they plant contain the material necessary to grow into something that nourishes their bodies.

Our text describes the Feast of Weeks, a three-part celebration of the wheat harvest that took place fifty days after Passover (see last week’s lesson for more about that observance). In Old Testament times, of course, most people couldn’t afford to be fearful and lazy like me. Gardens and fields were a way of life in a time without grocery stores.

For the first part of the Feast of Weeks (Lev 23:16-20), God required the people to dedicate the first fruits—the earliest bit of the new harvest—as an offering of gratitude. Other first fruits included young animals that served as burnt offerings. The point here seems to be to thank God for the blessing of food before you eat it. For the second part of the Feast of Weeks (v. 21), God told the people to take off work and get together for a holy time of worship. The point is to recognize God’s gifts as a community and engage in public thanks and praise. And for the third part of the Feast of Weeks (v. 22), God instructed the people to move ahead with their harvest but to leave the edges of the field full for those in need. Hungry people could come and gather life-sustaining food. The point, of course, is to live out your gratitude to God by sharing God’s blessings with others.

Growing food is long-lasting, tiring, backbreaking work. But it’s also beautifully rewarding. In a similar way, cultivating a Christ-like life is lifelong, exhausting, and often spirit-crushing work. But it too is beautifully rewarding. May we be willing to do the hard work of being like Christ, may we thank God for the blessings that life brings to our souls, and may we share the love of Christ with others.

Discussion

1. Have you ever grown your own food? If so, what was it like? How did the experience affect you?

2. Most Christians today don’t celebrate a designated “Feast of Weeks.” Thanksgiving may be the holiday that is closest to the idea behind this feast. What are your Thanksgiving traditions? How do they reflect the three parts of the Feast of Weeks (gratitude, community, and giving)?

3. Today is Valentine’s Day. What blessings have you gained through relationships with friends, family members, and/or partners? How can you honor these and thank God for them? How can you reach out to people who have been hurt by relationships?

4. Today is also the first Sunday of Lent. How can you use this time leading to Easter? What might you give up that could help you focus more on what Jesus did for us? How can you share Jesus’ sacrificial gift of love with others?

Reference Shelf

The Feast of Weeks (vv. 15-22), also part of the “first fruits” requirement. In P, it is explicitly called “the Day of your Firstfruits” (Num 28:26), and it celebrates the wheat harvest. It is also called The Feast of Harvest (Exod 23:16).

Its name (“Weeks”) derives from the fact that it is to be held seven weeks after the previous festival. Since this would be fifty days later (v. 16), the celebration was later called Pentecost by Greek-speaking Jews (from the Greek pente, “five,” plus konta, “ten times”). Note the use of ideal symbolic number 7: (7 x 7) + 1 = 50.

Although it began as a harvest festival, later tradition identified it with the central event in God’s saving-history with Israel: the great revelation at Mt. Sinai. As the (Babylonian) Talmud explains it: “Pentecost is the day on which the Torah was given” (Pesachim, 68b).

Verse 22 is a curious but meaningful appendix. It repeats an emphasis found in 19:9-10. The effect of the addition is this: one cannot thank God for a bountiful harvest and at the same time neglect the hungry and the landless.

Lloyd R. Bailey, Leviticus-Numbers, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005) 281.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters, and watching television shows on Netflix.

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