Going it alone

17 February 2013
First Sunday in Lent
Lent 1C (RCL)
Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8b-13
Luke 4:1-13

Jesus’ temptation takes place after 40 days in the wilderness with nothing to to eat. In many ways, Luke has written the story of Jesus as a recapitulation of the story of Israel. Jesus has been through the water of baptism (Red Sea), and is now in the wilderness. Jesus’ temptations will be the same as those of Israel.

The tradition looked back on the wilderness sojourn as the time when Israel best understood its reliance on God. The manna tradition particularly showed that without God, Israel could not survive. The devil’s first temptation to Jesus is to turn a stone into bread, to think he can do this alone. The devil prefaces the temptation by reminding Jesus that he is the son of God — a fact which both the baptism and the genealogy in Luke point out. Perhaps that is why Luke places the genealogy where he does — all of us are children of God because descendants of Adam, son of God. These are human temptations, not just specific to Jesus. Jesus replies by quoting scripture: humanity does not live by bread alone. He leaves off the next verse, which Luke adds, “but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

The second temptation in Luke’s Gospel is the temptation to power (this is third in Matthew). The devil takes Jesus up a high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms in the world, and offers their power and glory to Jesus. God had taken Moses up the mountain and showed him the promised land, even though he could not enter it. If we worship power for its own sake, we gain our the world, but lose our souls.

For the third temptation, the devil places Jesus on a parapet of the temple, and then quotes scripture to him: God will protect you. This was Israel’s greatest and last temptation. As long as the temple stood, many believed, God would not allow any harm to come to Israel. Luke is writing after the destruction of the Temple, which shattered that sense of security. Even now, we think if God is on our side, all will be well, but if we are thinking that as a test of God’s loyalty, we could be wrong.

The temptations ask us to examine our motives. Jesus could have fed himself alone, without a community gathered. Later in the Gospel, he will feed the 5000 in the wilderness, but not by changing stone to bread, but using the resources of the community already gathered. He could have had the power of all the kingdoms at the cost of true worship, and on his own. Luke ends his story with Paul preaching in Rome, and the Church spreading through the Empire, but the Church as community. The Temple may be gone, but God remains with us and gives us peace and security, just not the peace and security of Empire: where two or three are gathered . . . It may be the security of martyrdom.

The reading from Deuteronomy makes much the same point. All we have comes from God, so we have all we need. If we forget God and think we’ve done this on our own, we’re bound to mess it up. As it is, when we present it to God, we are to have a party with the Levite and the sojourner (both landless), so that we recognize how God is present among us — in joy meant for all. And Romans reminds us that this is meant for “all” even beyond our definitions of “all.”

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