Deconstructing Shavuot

USBN Moment V6 N2 2018

“Blah blah blah deconstruction blah blah blah.” – A. Cretan

INTRODUCTION

Present times demand to dismantle the traditional jubilant celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit that we have long regarded as the “Birthday of the Church.” Leviticus 23:15-16 reads, “Beginning with the day after the Sabbath, the day on which you bring the sheaf for elevation, you shall count seven full weeks; you shall count to the day after the seventh week, fifty days. Then you shall present a new grain offering to the Lord.”

The “Feast of Weeks,” or “Shavuot” is one of the “Shalosh Regalim,” the three Biblical pilgrimage festivals. This annual feast was instituted in remembrance of the giving of the law upon Mount Sinai, the fiftieth day after they came out of Egypt.

The church has focused on the events of the Shavuot that took place fifty days after the Passover which took place after Our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection because it was then that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples in the upper room. Lost in the celebration of our present day Pentecost is the root meaning and symbolism of Shavuot as practiced by the pilgrims who gathered in Jerusalem in the event that was recorded by Luke.

INTERPRETING, AND DISSECTING THE ROOTS OF SHAVUOT

Over time, the celebration of Shavuot among the Hebrews was associated with the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. The instructions about the Feast that were given by Moses were explicit and the path to deconstructing Shavuot cuts to the chase about the holiday’s true meaning and symbolism. The Leviticus passage moves directly from thankfulness to justice with these closing instructions stated in verse 22: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the Lord, am your God.” (Leviticus 23:22)

In the Second Chapter of Acts, Luke reports that “devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem” were gathered to celebrate the festival of Shavuot, and in that context, those pilgrims were essentially celebrating a harvest festival for those who had been lifted out of poverty and slavery. Tradition taught them that the joy of harvest should express itself in charity to the poor. The poor were entitled to have their due out of the bounty the Hebrews had, as well as the first fruits of their harvest which were offered to God.

I believe that those pilgrims in Luke’s account were celebrating Shavuot as they understood it’s symbolism of mercy that they had received from God when their ancestors were liberated from Egypt’s bondage. Without grudging, they showed mercy to the poor and aliens by leaving the gleaning of the fields for them to collect. I imagine during the “Festival of Weeks” at the time when the Hebrews were in the wilderness, the priests would likely remind them that unless they were obedient by leaving the gleaning for the poor and aliens, that when they brought their first-fruits of their harvests for sacrifice, their offerings would not be accepted.

LEAVING BEHIND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SHAVUOT

Less than three months after signing into law a tax bill that drastically cuts taxes for the wealthy and large corporations, President Trump proposed a budget that will cut billions from key programs that are fundamental to helping empower and uplift the poor. Many of these people rely on the very programs President Trump is proposing to cut in order to meet their basic needs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicare, and Medicaid.

A few days ago, Bishop William Barber Tweeted this opinion: “On the campaign trail, President Trump asked African-American voters, ‘What the hell do you have to lose?’ Now we know. African Americans (as well as many more poor whites) stand to lose Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP, affordable health insurance, and much more under his new budget. President Trump & extremists in the Republican-led Congress rely on racist hatred towards communities of color, along with xenophobia and homophobia to try and split poor black, brown, and white voters to keep extremist politicians in office. Once they’re in, they prioritize policies that are detrimental to poor and working-class whites to cater to the top 1 percent. How morally bankrupt must a government be to use its power to dehumanize poor people? It is not enough to criticize this budgets priorities and allocations. We must call it what it is: evil in the sight of God.”

When I saw Dr. Barber’s Tweet, I recalled a passage from the Prophet Micah when he shouted: “Ah! You plotters of iniquity, who work out evil on your beds! In the morning light you carry it out, for it lies within your power. You covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them; you cheat owners of their houses, people of their inheritance. Therefore thus says the LORD:

‘Look, I am planning against this family an evil from which you cannot free your necks; Nor shall you walk with head held high, for it will be an evil time.’” (Micah 2:1-3) In his Tweet, Dr. Barber calls out the malicious nature that dwells within our nation and culture. He contends, “If covetousness reigns in the heart, commonly all compassion is banished from it.”

INVITATION FOR A NEW PENTECOST VISION

Thinking more about what Shavuot is, I think we should consider it as an annual remembrance of the “Year of Jubilee.” It would stand to reason that if the church is the Body of Christ, we would be empowered to embrace the Jubilee vision that Jesus proclaimed in his sermon of opening prison doors, setting captives free, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. Maybe Shavuot, or Pentecost, as we now celebrate it, could serve as a revival for all: resident and alien, landowner and landless, male and female, bound and free. We should evoke the roots of Pentecost–a harvest festival that was essentially a celebration for those lifted out of poverty and slavery. We should remember that abundance and freedom compel us to bring to mind and action, those who continue to live in poverty and chains.

In his “Poor Peoples Campaign,” Bishop Barber leaves us with this stirring message and appeal: “The abuse of the poor and downtrodden has gone on far too long, and it is time for a movement that will stand up and say, ‘We won’t be silent anymore!’ We must stand together against the war being waged on the poor. We must stand up and change the moral narrative in this country. We must do everything in our power to save the heart and soul of this democracy.”

My prayer is that we envision and embrace the courage to enact the true meaning of Pentecost as celebrated by those devout pilgrims who gathered for that miraculous and remarkable Shavuot that was recorded by Luke in the Second Chapter of Acts.