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By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

3/18/2013 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

"Messire Dieu, premier servi!"  The Lord God must be served first.  But this service is not one of grain and fruits, physical firstfruits.  It is our own selves that we must offer in Christ, ourselves as firsfruits in Christ the firsfruits, Aparchē Christos.

Highlights

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

3/18/2013 (2 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: firsfruits, bikkurim, reshith, aparche, Christ, sanctifying grace, Andrew M. Greenwell


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - "Messire Dieu, premier servi!" said St. Joan of Arc.  The Lord God must be served first.  The notion of serving God first is deeply entrenched in the religious sentiment in man, so that it is a principle of natural or pagan religions as well as a central tenet of the Catholic Faith.

This principle of serving God first is reflected in the notion of "first fruits."  The deity is to be given the "first fruits," even the "first of the first fruits," of the harvest. 

In ancient Greece, the offering of the first fruits of the harvest was called aparchē.  In Latin the word for the first fruit offering is primatias.  Greek and Roman pagans offered the choice fruits of the harvest to their divinities.

While this sentiment is found in natural religion, it is also part of revealed religion, and was a practice among the Hebrews enjoined upon them under their revealed law.  Hebrew uses a variety of words for the first fruit offering, including reshith and bikkurim

The distinction between these terms is not very clear, though there seems to be a general but not absolute connotation that reshith relates to products created by human labor (e.g., bread), whereas bikkurim refers to products that are the yield of nature (e.g., grain).

Sometimes the Hebrew scriptures uses the words reshith and bikkurim separately.  Sometimes, it combines the two. 

For example, in Numbers 15:20, the law instructs that the Jew is to "offer the LORD a contribution consisting of a cake of your first batch [reshith] of dough."

In Leviticus 2:14, the law instructions: "If you present a cereal offering of first fruits [bikkurim] to the LORD, you shall offer it in the form of fresh grits of new ears of grain, roasted by fire."

On occasion, the terms reshith and bikkurim are joined, such as in Exodus 23:19, where the Jews are told: "The choicest first fruits [ראשית בכורי, reshith bikkurim] of your soil you shall bring to the house of the LORD, your God."  See also Ex. 34:26; Ez. 44:30.

The Greek word aparchē, and sometimes the word protogennemata, is what is used in the New Testament and in the Septuagint or Greek translation of the Old Testament to translate the Hebrew word for "first fruits," bikkurim or reshith.  When the Old Testament combines bikkurim and reshith, the Greek combines the words aparchē and protogennemata

The Jewish law concerning the offering of first fruits was a ceremonial or liturgical law that was abrogated, or perhaps better, fulfilled in Christ, rendering such law obsolete.

For this reason, the notion of "first fruits" is found in the New Testament in only a metaphorical sense.  Our sacrifice is no longer one of physical first fruits-but a broken spirit, a contrite heart.  We offer ourselves as firstfruits in Christ the firstfruits. 

Since Christ's sacrifice, there is no longer need for the ceremonial law relating to the offering of firstfruits. 

In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul uses the term "first fruits" to refer to Christ himself.  "Christ the firstfruits"   Aparchē Christos.  (1 Cor. 15:23)  Jesus the firstfruits has offered himself-the firstfruits-to the Father in a holy and unblemished sacrifice. 

Jesus ought to be looked at as the choicest of the choicest portion of mankind, the one and only reshith bikkurim, the one and only aparche.   Jesus-the word of God become man-is like us in all things but sin.  (Heb. 4:15)

St. Paul recognizes that, as part of the life of sanctifying grace, Christians become incorporated in Christ's body and thereby enter into the benefits of his passion and death and resurrection.  When we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:27), and become incorporated into the very body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). 

This is also the teaching that is found in the Gospels: "I am the vine," says Jesus, "and you are the branches."  (John 15:5).  When in a state of sanctifying grace, we are engrafted into Christ.  (Cf. Rom. 11:16-24)

By grace, we become adopted sons of God.  (E.g., Rom. 8:14-17).  As a result of the gift of sanctifying grace, we become, in that memorable phrase, sons in the son, filii in filio.

Our status as sons in the son, filii in filio, also means that we, like Christ, share in his firstruits status.  We become incorporated into "Christ the firstfruits," Aparchē Christos, and, indeed, obtain the "firstfruits of the Spirit" [aparchēn tou pneumatos] (Rom. 8:23) as part of our supernatural life. 

We participate-in God's great gift of sanctifying grace-in the very holiness of Jesus.  "If the first fruits [aparchē] are holy," says St. Paul in his epistle to the Romans, "so is the whole batch of dough."  "And if the root is holy, so are the branches."  (Rom. 11:16)  Since Christ the firstfruits is holy, so are those who maintain themselves in a life of sanctifying grace.

Living in sanctifying grace, then, makes us not only sons in the son, filii in filio, but also first fruits in the first fruits.  Through Jesus, St. James tells us in his epistle, God the Father "willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits [aparchēn] of his creatures."

"It is no longer I that live I, but Christ who lives in me," says St. Paul.  (Gal. 2:20)  This life of Christ in us gives us firstfruits status.

So intimately do we participate in Christ's firstfruits status, that St. Paul refers to individual Christians as firstruits.  For example, in his epistle to the Romans, he refers to Epaenetus as the "firstfruits in Asia for Christ" (Rom. 16:5), and in his first letter to the Corinthians, he refers to the household of Stephanas as the "firstfruits of Achaia" (1 Cor. 16:15).

This firstruits status, moreover, is what saves us, and we maintain it even in heaven.  St. John in Revelations has a heavenly vision of the "ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes."  These, the Apostle John states, "have been ransomed as the firstfruits [aparchē] of the human race for God and the Lamb."  (Rev. 14:4)

"Messire Dieu, premier servi!"  The Lord God must be served first.  But this service is not one of grain and fruits, physical firstfruits.  It is our own selves that we must offer in Christ, ourselves as firsfruits in Christ the firsfruits, Aparchē Christos.

This is exactly the sentiment behind St. Paul's teaching: "I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship."  (Rom. 12:1).

This Lent, let us re-offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, our spiritual worship, as firstfruits in the firstfruits Christ, and so render ourselves holy and pleasing to God.

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Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.

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