Consider how these reading occur in the desert…the quiet, the barren, the emptiness…
1st Reading: Deuteronomy 26: 4-10
One of the greatest gifts the people of Israel have given the world is their assurance that God’s love is active in our lives – even in the negative times – even in our limitations. How is this reading reminding us of this truth?
From W&W, Birmingham, 125:
This was part of a liturgy of thanksgiving. The people offered their prayers and thanks for the first fruits of the harvest. How might this reading remind you of Eucharist? First fruits were considered sacred. Before moving forward in God’s grace, we must first pause to offer up what we have and give thanks.
The exodus proved that God was in relationship with a people. The desert and God’s plan for Israel were intimately bound together. Connected with this is the oldest ‘credo’ of ancient Israel. It is a profession of faith rooted in the saving acts of Yahweh, their God.
- Yahweh established the southern kingdom of Judah.
- The Lord God delivered Israel out of bondage, forming a people in the desert.
- Yahweh gave them possession of the promised land.
2nd Reading: Romans 10: 8-13
Faith needs to be both deep within our hearts AND spoken out loud by our lips. What did this mean to these early Christians?
To be ‘justified’ means to be in right relationship with God. To trust that our God claims us as his own. This free gift of God’s acceptance is just that – free, un-won, unmerited. In Jesus we find a God who assures us that his justice is filled with love. It is in responding to this love and acceptance – faith – that we find true life and power – a power that can live even beyond our own handicaps and deaths. (John C. Dwyer, The Lost Gospel of Paul, 43+)
Paul’s message is clear: in order to become transformed, all one needed to do was embrace the message of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit, then would slowly begin the process of transformation. Jesus proves this in the Gospel reading! (W&W, Birmingham, 126)
Paul insisted that Jesus died once and for all people. It was a complete act of gratuitous, unmerited, unconditional love. The response to such love can be nothing less than the complete offering of one’s entire life to the God who loves so greatly. Human beings are justified by faith, not by observance of the law or by their own merits. It was a difficult message to accept. Justification through the law was ingrained in the people’s consciousness and history.
This is seen in Vatican II! “Following the desire and command of Christ, the Church makes a serious effort to present the Gospel to the whole world so that people can share in God’s love. Everyone who is baptized is charged with this mission. The Church works and prays diligently with great hope that everyone in the whole world will ultimately join together as the People of God, “ (Vat II in Plain English: The Constitutions, p. 38).
The Gospel: Luke 4:1-13:
Jesus said that “One does not live by bread alone.” For what do you hunger? How do these things nourish you?
The Greek word for ‘to tempt’ – periazein – means to test more than it means to entice someone to do wrong. How is this meaning important here? In Jesus’ day, devils were ‘seen’ everywhere. Today, we might understand evil and sickness differently. How can this story of wilderness and devils speak to us today?
Jesus left the desert convinced of three things:
- His power is for love; it is not to be used for self-satisfaction.
- He is called to serve, not to be served.
- He will not bargain with evil, even if it means suffering.
(From Mark Link, S.J. “We Believe in Revelation: Preministry of Jesus,”, 1989, Tabor Publishing)
From Living Liturgy, 2004:
During Lent we can remember that in a desert we are in a place of isolation and desolation where we need like Jesus to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit – we cannot rely on our own means to overcome the problems we face in a desert. Like Jesus, we can find God’s Word to be a source of wisdom and strength. Because of this, Lent can also be a springtime of renewed relationship with God – a time to allow ourselves to be warmed and strengthened by God’s Spirit.
In our desert of ‘daily demands’ and pressures we will find new ways to open ourselves to God’s power which will help us to ‘take up the cross’ of daily living as we attempt through acts of kindness, justice, and encouragement to ‘lay down our lives for others.’
Here is a great truth: what we call temptation is not meant to make us sin; it is meant to help us conquer sin. It is not meant to make us bad, but good – not to weaken, but to strengthen, to refine and to purify. Jesus’ time of testing took place in the wilderness, an area between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea called the Devastation. It stretched over 35 miles by 15 miles – a place of yellow sand, of crumbling limestone, of scattered shingle. Contorted strata, warped and twisted ridges, jagged and bare rock ran in all directions. It glowed with daytime sun and heat; it chilled at night with darkness and cold. It was a place of ‘aloneness’ and danger: a testing place. And Jesus was tested right after his baptism – right after the powerful joy of hearing, “You are my Beloved.” His call to react to all of this was the Spirit driving him into this desert. It seems to be sort of a law of life that just as we come to a high point in our lives we can then nose-dive into danger. Also – we should remember that we are often tempted – tested – through our gifts. If we have charm, a gift for words, a vivid imagination – these talents can also lead us to problems: false pride, sensations, lies and excuses. Jesus, too, was tempted to use his powers for ‘showing-off’ in stead of showing forth God – for compromising with evil rather than trusting in his Father’s love. Jesus was tested as we are. Jesus was strengthened to turn away from the path of sensation, self-gratification, and compromise. As he will ultimately do on the cross at the end of his life, Jesus puts his life into the hands of his Father. (Wm. Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: the Gospel of Matthew, vol.1, p. 62-70)
The Spirit prompted Jesus and provided the scriptures that Jesus needed to combat his enemy. The word is the weapon but the Spirit engages in the battle (W&W, Birmingham, 130). How might scripture be a weapon and the Spirit do battle in your life?