Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Scripture Reflections: The First Sunday of Lent

First Reading: Deuteronomy 26: 4-10

Thereupon the priest will take the basket from thy hand, and set it down before the altar of the Lord thy God. In that divine presence, thou wilt continue thy protestation: My fathers were wanderers, hunted to and fro in Syria, when they made their way into Egypt and began to dwell there, only a handful of them; but they grew to be a great people, hardy and numerous. Whereupon the Egyptians treated us ill and persecuted us, and the burden we must bear was insupportable; so we cried out to the Lord God of our fathers, and he listened to our plea, and took pity on our affliction, the toil and oppression we suffered; rescued us from Egypt by force, with his arm high uplifted to strike great terror, and perform great wonders and portents, and brought us here, where he has given us a land that is all milk and honey. That is why I am offering first-fruits, now, out of the land which the Lord has given me. So leave them there, in the presence of the Lord thy God.

Second Reading: 10: 8-13

No, says the scripture, the message is close to thy hand, it is on thy lips, it is in thy heart; meaning by that the message of faith, which we preach. Thou canst find salvation, if thou wilt use thy lips to confess that Jesus is the Lord, and thy heart to believe that God has raised him up from the dead. The heart has only to believe, if we are to be justified; the lips have only to make confession, if we are to be saved. That is what the scripture says, Anyone who believes in him will not be disappointed.
                There is no distinction made here between Jew and Gentile; all alike have one Lord, and he has enough and to spare for all those who call upon him. Every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

Gospel: Luke 4: 1-13

Jesus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit, and by the Spirit he was led on into the wilderness, where he remained forty days, tempted by the devil. During those days he ate nothing, and when they were over, he was hungry. Then the devil said to him, If thou art the Son of God, bid this stone turn into a loaf of bread. Jesus answered him, It is written, Man cannot live by bread only; there is life for him in all the words that come from God. And the devil led him up on to a high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time; I will give thee command, the devil said to him, over all these, and the glory that belongs to them; they have been made over to me, and I may give them to whomsoever I please; come then, all shall be thine, if thou wilt fall down before me and worship. Jesus answered him, It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God; to him only shalt thou do service. And he led him to Jerusalem, and there set him down on the pinnacle of the temple; If thou art the Son of God, he said to him, cast thyself down from this to the earth; for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, to keep thee safe, and they will hold thee up with their hands, lest thou shouldst chance to trip on a stone. And Jesus answered him, We are told, Thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the proof. So the devil, when he had finished tempting him every way, left him in peace until the time should come.

For the first week in Lent, we have the Temptations of Jesus, one of my favorite passages…though I much prefer Matthew’s version, since I think it flows better dramatically (with the climactic “Worship me and the world is yours” coming at the end, rather than the middle).
                These three temptations correspond to the three great ‘desires’ of man, you might say: bodily needs, power, and trust. The first is most obvious: after forty days of nothing to eat, Jesus is hungry (for some reason). Since He is the Son of God, there is no reason why He should be hungry, except that He chooses to be. Therefore, the devil suggests that He use His divine power to provide food for himself. Seems reasonable enough, and no doubt Jesus’s human, bodily nature really, really wanted to do it. This also recalls the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert, where the people grumbled and demanded that God feed them miraculously. God obliged, but was clearly not happy with them. Jesus, taking the place of the Israelites, rejects the idea of demanding miraculous food, since, as He points out, God provides much better satisfaction than any bodily desires.
                The second temptation is to power. The devil shows Jesus all the world and claims it for his own, but says he will give it all to Jesus if He will bow down and worship the Devil. This speaks to the desire for power: the desire to participate in and affect creation. Now, the thing I want to talk about here is the question of whether the devil actually does have dominion over all the Earth as he says. The knee-jerk reaction is to say ‘no, he doesn’t, God does,’ but I’m not so sure. The devil is known as ‘the Prince of this world’ after all. Think of it this way; Adam and Eve were given stewardship over the Earth. But they succumbed to the devil’s temptation, choosing him over God. In effect, then, did they hand their authority to him? At the very least, I could see him making that argument. Jesus, for His part, doesn’t dispute the devil’s dominance over the Earth, but points out that God is still higher and has the greater claim to dominion. All efforts to gain power for its own sake, then, are pointless, for God will always be above us and not even the devil can change that.
                The final temptation is a bit more complex than the other two. The devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and invites Him to jump down, citing Scripture to support his idea. The temptation here is to test God, and the desire being tweaked is the desire for relationship. All relationship, you see, is based on trust; on knowing that you can believe what the other person says and that he won’t do anything to harm you. The most important relationship is with God, and hence trust in God is the most important form of trust. Now, what does it mean to put something to the test? It means, basically, that you don’t trust it, or that your trust in it is conditional. Testing a rope before you climb it is smart, because ropes are treacherous bastards. Testing a person is horrible. Just imagine if, at the start of a new relationship, you were to test their trust by, say, pretending to cheat on them to see if they believed you when you denied it. Sounds like a bit of a deal-killer, doesn’t it? Testing God, therefore, is a great sin because God is both the most important person to trust and the one thing that you know without a shadow of a doubt that you can trust. So, testing God involves a lack of faith; a desire to make sure that one’s relationship with Him is ‘real.’ Thus the devil here is striking at the very heart of the Trinity itself; he’s trying to damage the relationship between the Son and the Father. Jesus, of course, answers with the injunction against testing God, reaffirming His trust in His Father.
                At the end there’s an ambiguous little line that says “the devil left Him for a time” (or “until the time should come”). A sort of ‘I’ll get you next time, Gadget!’ moment, implying that the devil will make another attempt at Jesus before all is said and done. As, indeed, he will at Gethsemane.

Vive Christus Rex!  

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