The First Sunday in Lent, 21 February 2010


Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8b-13
Saint Luke 4:1-13







BACKGROUND

The Lenten Journey is really a preparatory period for celebrating the great events of Holy Week, especially The Triduum (The Great Three Days), and even more importantly was a period of preparation for those who were to be baptized at the Great Vigil of Easter.  For those of us who have already been to the font, Lent can serve as a reminder of what we have turned from and what we have taken on in Baptism.  As we read through the lessons for these five Sundays, we will see a Jesus who teaches by both word and example, so that we can walk with him through these Forty Days.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

 

When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, "Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us." When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me." You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.



At various points in their national histories, the Jews who settled in Palestine made great efforts to remember how it was that they got there, and under certain of the kings, and certainly upon their return from their captivity in Babylon there were attempts to set all of this history and oral tradition down in writing.  In Deuteronomy we have an excellent example of what was attempted either in the reforms of King Josiah (8th Century BCE), or with the return from Babylon (6th Century BCE).  Tradition holds that Moses was the writer of the book, a series of “sermons” meant to inculcate Jews as to their origin and their freedom under God.  In this reading we have the stipulations for a “thanksgiving ceremony” followed by a remembrance of the deliverance from Egypt.  The verse that begins with “a wandering Aramean…” is an integral part of the Haggadah, the liturgy for the Passover Seder.  I shall discuss its relationship to the Gospel under the notes for the Gospel.

Breaking Open Deuteronomy:

  1. What did the Israelites call Palestine during their wanderings to get their – The Land of ______ and ___________.
  2. What was one of the biggest temptations as Israel wandered in the desert?
  3. Why does the writer suggest that a thanksgiving is due?
  4. Why would later priests want the people to remember this event?


Psalm 103 Qui habitat

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, *
abides under the shadow of the Almighty.

He shall say to the LORD,
"You are my refuge and my stronghold, *
my God in whom I put my trust."

Because you have made the LORD your refuge, *
and the Most High your habitation,

There shall no evil happen to you, *
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.

For he shall give his angels charge over you, *
to keep you in all your ways.

They shall bear you in their hands, *
lest you dash your foot against a stone.

You shall tread upon the lion and adder; *
you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet.

Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.

He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.

With long life will I satisfy him, *
and show him my salvation.

One commentator calls this psalm an “amulet psalm” because its recitation invites God to continue a providential care of the reciter.  In a way, it compliments the first reading where we hear of Israel’s God who delivers the people from slavery and oppression in Egypt.  Its use in the lectionary for this Sunday is obvious in that verses 11 and 12 are quoted in the Gospel reading for the day – quoted by Satan.  The psalm underscores the ordinary dangers of life in Palestine around 900 BCE.  It wasn’t until the Romans came with their great public works projects and provided the country with paved roads.  Traveling from one village to another on rocky paths represented a real danger, that the psalmist illustrates in his psalm.  God’s providential care was not just for the whole of Israel, but for its individuals as well, according to this writer.  This is a different ideal, that is developed in other psalms as well.

Breaking open Psalm 91
  1. What are all the protections that are offered in the psalm?
  2. Does God protect you?  How?
  3. What images come to mind in the first verse of the psalm?
  4. Who is the speaker in the last three verses of the psalm?

 

Romans 10:8b-13


"The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart"

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

Romans is the letter in which he makes his strongest arguments about the claims that he makes about Jesus, his ministry, and his sacrifice on the cross.  To do that, Paul uses images, quotations, and analogies from the Hebrew Scriptures.  In this reading Paul loosely quotes Deuteronomy 30:14, as he takes up the familiar theme: “today is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation.”  Here he uses the Deuteronomist to make the point concerning our present salvation by saying that the word is “near us” and “on our lips and hearts”.  More importantly, however, is Paul’s arguments about what results from this present salvation that God has accented and punctuated with the Resurrection of Jesus.  Now, because of what God has done in Jesus, there is no difference between Jew and Greek.  This does not mean that the Jew is left behind and forgotten, but rather that the Greek is taken in and welcomed.  Paul closes with the important understanding that “everyone…shall be saved.” 

Breaking open Romans:
  1. What prerequisites for salvation does Paul enunciate in this reading?
  2. What do you think is the background to the statement, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame”?
  3. To whom is Paul writing in Romans?  Jews? Gentiles? Both?
Saint Luke 4:1-13


Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written,

'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,

'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,'

and

'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"

Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.



Fresh from his baptism and John the Baptist, Jesus retreats to the desert.  It is almost the opposite of what is recounted in the first reading from Deuteronomy, where Israel is freed from the wilderness and its privations.  Jesus willingly takes it on – and it is here, in his spiritual quest that he meets the tempter.  Jesus is in full prophetic mode, for his is “full of the Holy Spirit.”  In Nikos Kazantzakis’ book, The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus continually retreats to the wilderness to escape a “dark angel” that pursues him relentlessly.  The “dark angel” is the Spirit, and his vocation.  Satan wants to draw him elsewhere – away from God, to worship at the tables of bread, power, and self-confidence.  Jesus will have none of it.  Luke, who is interested in the poor and dis-enfranchised, wants us to see a Jesus who has a “poverty of care” as well.  He does not walk into the wilderness and into temptation as the all-powerful Son of God, but rather as an individual, facing all the assaults and all the tempting possibilities.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Is Satan done with Jesus? (See the last verse)
  2. Have you been tempted with the same things with which Jesus was tempted?
  3. How does Jesus deal with Satan?
  4. How do you deal with temptation?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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