10 March 2019
First Sunday in Lent
Lent 1C (RCL)
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
I have read a number of commentaries in which the temptations of Jesus are compared to the temptations of Israel in the wilderness, implying that where Israel failed, Jesus resisted the temptation. Jesus recapitulates Israel’s history. Early christian authors (like Paul, for instance) certainly used the device of recapitulation to tell the story of Jesus (sea crossings and wilderness feedings recapitulate the Moses story). Forty days in the wilderness recapitulates forty years of wilderness wandering.
The trouble is, I can’t find these temptations in the wilderness experience. Certainly the people grumbled against Moses about water, about being bored of manna and a number of other things. It would be easier to see the temptations to power and worship connected with the monarchy. But, I don’t think there is any need to put a supersessionist reading on these temptations. These would have been temptations facing the early christian community. And they are temptations facing us.
I first I was puzzled by the lectionary’s placement of the Deuteronomy passage in juxtaposition to the temptation story. The Deuteronomy passage reminds the people not to think that they have, of their own doing, come into possession of the land and its riches. They are to give God thanks for God’s grace. But interestingly, the final instruction is to invite the landless Levite and the alien in their midst to join the party. This is a stark reminder that we are dependent upon one another in the economy of grace.
Satan tempts Jesus to feed himself without reference to the rest of the economy. Turn this stone into bread. If that was a temptation in Jesus’ day, how much more so now. We can turn this paper (money) into bread at any grocery story around. Jesus’ answer is that we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God — the same God who makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. Satan then tempts Jesus to power without reference to those over whom he would have power — in other words to enslave the world, much like the Roman Empire had done. And he tempts him to the illusion that he is safe without the help of others. Again, we are tempted to buy guns, bar our windows, and think we are safe without building a society that is just and safe for all.
The wilderness exodus force the people to acknowledge their dependence upon God, but they couldn’t stay there (imagine manna for ever!). Instead, God brought them into the land, and expected them to create an economy which supported all. Our temptation is to think we can go it alone, without God or others. Jesus might well have turned stones to bread, but that is not the salvation God had in mind.