Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 17 February 2013
Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 91:1-2, 10-15; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13
We have entered the season of Lent, forty days for getting ready to come close to the Mystery of Easter. It is fitting that on this first Sunday of Lent we reflect on Jesus’ own forty days in the wilderness, a story which itself carries intentional echoes of the forty years that the People of God spent in the desert in their drawn-out journey to the land of promise.
The People of God’s self-understanding is always embedded in story. In the celebration of the first-fruits of the harvest prescribed in Deuteronomy 26, the worshipper is to recall the narratives of Jacob, Moses and Joshua, the history of guidance, struggle, deliverance and blessing. The juxtaposition of ancient story and present lived experience gives the worshipper a context in which to make sense of the everyday in light of faith. We are invited to do the same when we hear the Scriptures in the liturgy of the Word or in our private or communal reading of them.
In his time in the desert, Jesus is immersed in the story of the People of God’s journey to the land of promise. We know this because all three replies he give to the tempter come from Deuteronomy chapters 6 and 8. These chapters have Moses exhorting the people to live in the Promised Land in a manner mindful of their journey and of the God who led them. That is why when the tempter quotes a piece of Scripture at him – one from the psalm we read today promising God’s protection and deliverance – Jesus is not fooled. Jesus is learning about who he is and what he is to do, and forcing God’s hand to give him dramatic reassurance might sound like an attractive option. There is even chapter-and-verse to justify such an action. But Jesus sees through this. How does Jesus sift through the possibilities that even Scripture gives, to know what is right? His growing understanding of who God is and who he is, is grounded in a story which gives it shape. He isn’t taking words and twisting them to his own ends, but being shaped by the story of God and God’s people. It isn’t just that Jesus knows Scripture that keeps him on track. He knows his own story as part of the greater story, and so he can recognise a use of the text that does violence to the broader story.
If we believe in Jesus and confess him with our mouths, if we claim to be his followers, then we must embrace the way of Jesus, the way indicated clearly by the alternative paths that Jesus rejects in this time of testing in the desert. In refusing to turn stones into bread, he resists using power for his own benefit and recognises that hunger can lead us to God. The second temptation seems crazy – how did the tempter ever think that Jesus would bow down to him? Perhaps the temptation is actually more subtle – it is to grasp at the power that makes and breaks the kingdoms of this world. If Jesus had chosen the way of leading a violent resistance against the Romans, that might have been to give in to this temptation. Those who fight evil with evil’s weapons become evil. The third temptation is to force God’s arm to provide assurance that the path taken is the right one. But Jesus, unlike the People of God in the desert, does not put God to the test. Instead he chooses the more difficult way of faith, of doing what he is convinced he is called to without asking for a dramatic sign to send him on his way.
The Word that allows us to live according to God’s wisdom isn’t far away, but given to us. And it hasn’t just been given as an unattainable ideal, a set of instructions that we cannot hope to follow. It has been given to us as Jesus. We are invited into the story and empowered to live it faithfully.