47. THE PROMISED LAND. A land flowing milk and honey

A land flowing milk and honey

1. Faith experience does not remain in the deep dessert’s loneliness (Dt 32, 10). The dessert is a place to go through towards the Promised Land “a land flowing milk and honey” (Ex 3, 8). But, does that land exist? Is life a dessert? On the other side, is there any exodus without a land? Is the land the exodus´ culmination? Is it the place of total freedom? Is it the recovered garden? What sense has the land? Are there necessary some laws of the land? How do we place ourselves amidst the land? What experience do we have?

2. Human life relies entirely on the land. In the Bible the land is the providential frame of life. At the beginning the land is and empty and barren dessert (Gn 2, 4 – 6). To place the man in it, God plants a garden. (2, 8). The man is soil, he is tied to the ground, he comes out from it (Gn 2, 7; 1 Co 15, 47) and his destiny is to rule over it (Gn 1, 28). The land is a garden that the man should take care of (Gn 2, 15). With his work, the man leaves his stamp on the land. At the same time, the land is a vital fact that shelters, wraps and models him

3. God has the habit to walk through the garden, but the man hides himself (Gn 3, 8 – 10). Relationship with God is so altered, and the relationship of man with the land is also altered. The land is not anymore a garden for man. Love relationship becomes domination of man upon woman; motherhood is lived without hope, like a weight, with pain (3, 16). Work is a hard task, thorny, enslaving (3, 17 – 18), labour relationship degenerates into exploitation. Without a relationship with God, man has no future, not any hope, abandoned to death’s natural process (3, 19). He is out of the garden (3, 24). This was not in God´s original project.

4. Between Babylon, the land from which Abraham goes out (Gn 12),and Egypt the land from which the Lord takes his people out (Ex 13, 9), Israel finds a land flowing milk and honey (3, 8). It is the covenant’s gift, a present from God to his people. In it, there are not only pasture and wells, there are signals of his presence, and in it God demonstrates himself: in the oak wood (Gn 18), in the well (24, 11), in Jacob’s dreaming place (28, 10 – 22). In the land of Macpela (23, 18) Abraham acquires the property of a field that will be the patriarchs´ tomb. That land will be his homeland.

5. The Lord is the one who gives the land to his people: “he gave their land as an inheritance to Israel, his people” (Psalm 135). The people gets excited: “It is a good country, very good” (Nm 14, 7), “a place that misses nothing that can exist on the earth” (Jue 18, 10). The promised land is the recovered original garden: “a good land, a land of streams and rivers, of subterranean waters that gush forth in the valleys and mountains, a land of wheat and barley, of grapes and figs, of pomegranates and olives, a land of oil and honey, a land where the bread you eat is not rationed” (Dt 8, 7 – 9)

6. The land with its goods is a signal of the love of God. “When the Lord your God led you into the land… do not forget Yahweh who took you out from Egypt, where you were slaved” (Dt 6, 10 – 12). The people, which is “foreigner and host” on the land” (Lv 25, 23; Hb 13, 14), must raise his blessing to God, his thanksgiving, his dependence: “The land is his” (Psalm 24). The first commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength” (Dt 6, 5). The people are God´s “personal property” (Dt 7, 6) and the Lord is “the part of his inheritance” (Psalm 16). Israel learns from the Canaanites the laws of the agricultural life, but they should not follow their idolatry habits (Jdg 2, 11 – 12)

7. The promised land is given to Israel as a possession (Dt 12, 1), a possession that should give him happiness and full freedom, but not without an effort. The work is a law for the one who is willing to receive God´s blessing. There are hard words for the lazy hand (Pr 10, 5; 2 Ts 3, 10). The laws of the land indicate their sense in relationship to the neighbour. Every sabbatical year, every seven years, debts must be cancelled: “The creditor shall pardon any debt of his neighbour or brother, and shall stop exacting from him because Yahwe´s pardon has been proclaimed” (Dt 15, 1 – 3), “do not harden your heart, or close your hand”, “when you give something, give it willingly and Yahweh, your God, will bless you for this in all your work and in all that you undertake”, “the poor will not disappear from this land, therefore I give you this commandment: you must  be open-handed to your brother, to the needy and to the poor in your land” (15, 7- 11; 2Co 9, 6 – 7) Every jubilee year, every 50 years, the law indicates something similar: “you will recover your property” (Lv 25, 13). Laws of the land against the hunger, against the large social differences, humanitarian laws indicating the universal sense of the goods, are necessary. The world is everybody’s home, we are all brothers.

8. There is nothing outstanding in the love to our own family. In the Bible the poor, the foreigner, the widow and the orphan are the object of the fraternal love: “You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not harm the widow or the orphan. If you do harm them and they cry out to me, I will hear them”, “if you lend money to any of my people who are poor, do not act like a moneylender and do not charge him interest. If ever you take a person’s cloak as a pledge, you must give it back to him at the sunset, for it is all the covering he has for his body. In what else will he sleep? And when he cries to me I will hear him”. (Ex 22, 20 – 26) The worst menace is that of the loss of the land (Dt 28, 63)

9. The prophets denounce to those who add house after house and field after field (Is 5, 8). The true fast is this: “to break the fetters of injustice”, “to set the oppressed free, to break every yoke, to share your food with the hungry, to bring to your house the homeless, to clothe the man you see naked and do not turn away from your own kin” (Is 58, 6 – 7). The large social differences are an injustice and a social risk: “You hope to postpone the evil day; in fact you bring about a status of violence.” (Am 6, 1 – 3)

10. At the proper time, the prophets announce that the whole land will participate in the salvation: “All the nations shall stream to it”, “from Jerusalem the law will come out and from Jerusalem the word of the Lord”.( Is 2, 2 – 3), the kid of Jesse “will be a signal raised among the nations” (11, 12), Israel will be “the land of delight” (Ml 2, 12) where nations find the main unity. The origins offer images of that land transmigrated, the “new heavens and new land” who God creates (Is 65, 17) present features of the original garden, it is to say, of the world wanted by God: “That day I shall raise David’s tent that has fallen down” (Am 9, 11 – 15)

11. The land is the same for everybody. Nevertheless, the righteous will possess the land in inheritance: “those who hope in the Lord will possess the land”, “the humble will possess the land and they will enjoy an immense peace”, “the righteous is compassionate and he gives, those that he blesses will possess the land”, “do good and shun evil, so that you will live secure forever”, “the righteous will possess the land and they will make it their home for ever”, “hope in the Lord and follow his way, for he will exalt you and give you the land as your inheritance” (Sal 37).

12. Jesus is tied to the land where he was born. In his parables he often refers to images that reflect it. The land comes according to the kingdom of God. The people may use it to forget God, to dig a hole and place his talent into it (Mt 25, 18). Jesus gives back its sense to the land: it is the work of God´s hand, a signal of his presence and love. God speaks in many ways, God acts in human history. Fraternal love is fundamental: “The second commandment is similar to the first: You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt 22, 39; Lv 19, 18). The kingdom of God does not come through the power and strength ways: “Fortunate are the gentle, they shall own the earth”.(Mt 5, 5)

13. There are those who give up the fields (Mc 10, 29), those who leave everything and they receive a lot more: “Now, in the present, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, sons and lands in persecutions; and in the world to come, eternal life” (10, 30). First communities share all their goods (Acts 4, 32). They are like “a city placed on the top of a mountain”, “light of the world” and “salt of the land” (Mt 5, 13 – 14), like “yeast in the mass” (13, 33). They are signals of what the society should be. Being a community the Church is “the light of people” (LG 1), “a sign raised amidst nations” (SC 2), “universal salvation sacrament” (GS 45). It is necessary to fight hunger in the world (GS 69), to overcome the large social differences (GS 66), to recall the goods universal destiny: “God has assigned the land and whatever is in it for use of all men and peoples” (GS 69).

14. Jesus comes to bring fire upon the earth (Lk 12, 49). Raised upon the earth, he attracts everybody towards him (Jn 12, 32). Evangels experience extends from Jerusalem to the confines of the earth, according to the plan indicated by Jesus: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1, 8). Resurrected, raised to the highest, Jesus shares God´s dominion upon the earth: “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go and make disciples from all nations” (Mt 28, 18 – 19). From then on “the resurrected is in the heart of the small things that make up life in the earth” (K. Rhaner)

* Dialogue: About the Promised Land, a land flowing milk and honey
- that land exists
- life is a dessert
- is there an exodus without land?
- the land is the culmination of the exodus
- it is the place of full freedom
- it is the recuperated original garden
- the sense of the land
- laws are necessary in the land
- how do we place ourselves amidst the land
- what experience do we have?

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