Archive for the ‘First Sunday in Lent’ Tag

Thoughts and Questions About the Temptations of Jesus   4 comments

Above:  The Temptations of Jesus

Image in the Public Domain

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For St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia

Lent 2019

Texts:  Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13

Reading the Bible for spiritual formation is an ancient Benedictine practice.  My primary purpose in writing this short piece is to ask, how do the accounts (mainly the Lukan and Matthean ones) of the temptations of Jesus challenge us, both as individuals and a parish, to follow Jesus better than we do.

The Temptation to Turn Stones into Bread

Bread was especially precious in ancient Palestine, with relatively little arable land.

We are blessed to be able to purchase our bread inexpensively at stores.  Bread is abundant in our context, so we probably take it for granted more often than not.  We can, however, think of some tangible needs related to scarcity.

One challenge is not to permit tangible needs to overtake intangible necessities.  We all depend entirely on God and dwell within a web of mutual responsibility and dependence.  According to the late Henri Nouwen, this temptation is the temptation to be relevant.  Relevance is not necessarily bad; in fact, it is frequently positive.  However, maintaining the proper balance of tangible and intangible needs is essential.  Furthermore, Christ’s refusal to cave into the temptation to use his power to make bread—to cease to depend on God—ought to remind us never to imagine that we do not depend entirely on God.

Questions

  1. Do we permit tangible needs to distract us from intangible necessities?  If so, how?
  2. Do we manifest the vain idea that we do not depend entirely on God?  If so, how?

The Temptation to Jump from the Pinnacle of the Temple

Many scholars of the New Testament have proposed what the pinnacle of the Temple was.

That matter aside, this temptation is, according to Nouwen, the temptation to be spectacular.  It is also the temptation to attempt to manipulate God by trying to force God to intervene in a miraculous way.  That effort, like turning stones into bread, would indicate a lack of faith.

We humans frequently like the spectacular, do we not?  We tell ourselves and others that, if only God would do something spectacular, we will believe.  We are like those who, in the Gospels, only wanted Jesus to do something for them, and not to learn from him.

Questions

  1. Does our attraction to the spectacular distract us from the still, small voice of God?  If so, how?
  2. Does our attraction to the spectacular reveal our lack of faith?  If so, how?
  3. Does our attraction to the spectacular unmask our selfishness?  If so, how?

The Temptation to Worship Satan in Exchange for Earthly Authority

Many Palestinian Jews at the time of Christ thought of Satan as the power behind the Roman Empire and of the Roman pantheon as a collection of demons.  Jesus affirmed God the Father as the only source of his identity.

This temptation is about idolatry, power, and morally untenable compromises.

Many well-intentioned people—ministers, politicians, and appointed office holders, for example—have, in the name of doing good, become corrupt and sacrificed their suitability to do good.  They have sacrificed their moral integrity on the altar of amoral realism.

Some compromises are necessary, of course.  As Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us, we cannot help but commit some evil while trying to do good, for human depravity has corrupted social systems and institutions.

Questions

  1. Have we established our identity apart from God?  If so, how?
  2. How have we, with good intentions, committed or condoned evil?
  3. Have we made morally untenable compromises?  If so, how?

The Good News

The good news is both collective and individual.

I discover the principle, then:  that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach.  In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outward actions a different law, fighting against the law that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law of sin which controls my conduct.  Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?  Who but God?  Thanks be to him through Jesus Christ our Lord!  To sum up then:  left to myself I serve God’s law with my mind, but with my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin.

–Romans 7:21-25, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Jesus has modeled the way to resist temptation—to trust God and to understand scripture.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 10, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF MARIE-JOSEPH LAGRANGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT AGRIPINNUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT GERMANUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; AND SAINT DROCTOVEUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OGLIVIE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACARIUS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/03/10/thoughts-and-questions-about-the-temptations-of-jesus/

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First Sunday in Lent, Year C   Leave a comment

Above:  Migrant Workers Cutting Cabbages Near Lake Harbor, Florida, 1939

Image Source = Library of Congress

“My Father was a Wandering Aramean”

FEBRUARY 14, 2016

MARCH 10, 2019

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Deuteronomy 26:1-11 (New Revised Standard Version):

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.

Psalm 91 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

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.”

He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter,

and from the deadly pestilence.

4 He shall cover you with his pinions,

and you shall find refuge under his wings.

You shall not be afraid of any terror by night,

nor of the arrow that flies by day;

Of the plague that stalks in the darkness,

nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.

7  A thousand shall fall at your side

and ten thousand at your right hand,

but it shall not come near you.

8  Your eyes have only to behold

to see the reward of the wicked.

9  Because you have made the LORD your refuge,

and the Most High your habitation,

10  There shall no evil happen to you,

neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.

11  He shall give his angels charge over you,

to keep you in all his ways.

12  They shall bear you in their hands,

lest you dash your foot against a stone.

13  You shall tread upon the lion and adder;

you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet.

14 Because he is bound to me in love,

therefore I will deliver him;

I will protect him, because he knows my name.

15 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.

16 With long life will I satisfy him,

and show him my salvation.

Romans 10:5-15 (New Revised Standard Version):

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that

the person who does these things will live by them.

But the righteousness that comes from faith says,

Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?”

(that is, to bring Christ down)

or

“Who will descend into the abyss?”

(that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?

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.

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written,

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!

 Luke 4:1-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

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 him only.”

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.

The Collect:

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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Some Related Posts:

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-first-sunday-in-lent/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/prayer-of-confession-for-the-first-sunday-in-lent/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-first-sunday-in-lent/

Prayer:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/prayer-for-the-first-sunday-in-lent/

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 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor it is far away.  It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us what we may hear it and observe it?”  Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it so that we may hear it and observe it?”  No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

–Deuteronomy 30:11-14, New Revised Standard Version–Catholic Edition

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Among the benefits of having converted my Bible study program into a lectionary-based blogging project is covering texts repeatedly–usually in different combinations.  Thus parallels, contrasts, similarities, and shades of meaning emerge.  Nevertheless, a frustration arises:  Sometimes I have difficulty not being redundant in my analysis.  Sometimes I am redundant in my analysis.  So, when I read the Lukan version of the temptation of Jesus, I ask myself how I can avoid repeating what I have already written.

The readings fit together nicely.  Luke 4:1-13 quotes Psalm 91:11-12.  Moses, in Deuteronomy 26:1-11, reminds the descendants of escaped slaves what God has done for them before they enter the Promised Land.  God is like what God has done.  Such grace requires of its recipients a favorable response to both God and fellow human beings.  Paul, in Romans 10:5-13, provides one of the famous passages about there being no distinction between Jews and Gentiles in Jesus.  Salvation is available to all via Jesus, who resisted temptations successfully.

The word of God is in each of us.  The Word of God has made the word of God manifest.  Jesus, of course, is the Word of God.  The word of God is everything God says–from our temporal perspective, has said, is saying, and will say.  We have benefited much from grace, so we must not hoard it for ourselves.  My ancestor was not a wandering Aramean; no, he was a Virginia farmer with eighteen children, most of whom did not live to adulthood.  But the principle holds.  There are “wandering Arameans” wherever we turn.  May we resist the temptation to treat them and to think of them scornfully.  God also loves them.  The word of God is also within them.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 7, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMITION OF HUY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP

THE FEAST OF HARRIET STARR CANNON, COFOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF SAITN MARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROSE VENERINI, FOUNDER OF THE VENERINI SISTERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEODARD OF NARBONNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP, AND SAINTS JUSTUS AND PASTOR, MARTYRS

First Sunday in Lent, Year B   Leave a comment

Above:  Baptism of a Child

Image Source = Tom Adriaenssen

Holy Baptism

FEBRUARY 18, 2018

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Genesis 9:8-17 (New Revised Standard Version):

God said to Noah and to his sons with him,

As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.

God said,

This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.

God said to Noah,

This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.

Psalm 25:1-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;

my God, I put my trust in you;

let me not be humiliated,

nor let my enemies triumph over me.

2  Let none who look to you be put to shame;

let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.

3  Show me your ways, O LORD,

and teach me your paths.

4  Lead me in your truth and teach me,

for you are the God of my salvation;

in you have I trusted all the day long.

5  Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love,

for they are from everlasting.

6  Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;

remember me according to your love

and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD.

7  Gracious and upright is the LORD;

therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

8  He guides the humble in doing right

and teaches his way to the lowly.

9  All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness

to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

1 Peter 3:18-22 (New Revised Standard Version):

Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you– not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Mark 1:9-15 (New Revised Standard Version):

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven,

You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying,

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.

The Collect:

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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Some Related Posts:

First Sunday in Lent, Year A:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/first-sunday-in-lent-year-a/

First Sunday in Lent, Year B:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/first-sunday-in-lent-year-b/

Take My Life, and Let It Be Consecrated, Lord, to Thee:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/09/13/take-my-life-and-let-it-be-consecrated-lord-to-thee/

Genesis 9:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/week-of-6-epiphany-thursday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/week-of-proper-1-thursday-year-1/

1 Peter 3:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/thirty-sixth-day-of-easter-sixth-sunday-of-easter-year-a/

Baptism of Christ:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/first-sunday-after-the-epiphany-the-baptism-of-our-lord-year-a/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/first-sunday-after-the-epiphany-the-baptism-of-our-lord-year-b/

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The theme of Baptism holds this Sunday’s readings together.

There is a link between Genesis 9:8-17, which tells of aftermath of the mythical Great Flood, and 1 Peter 3:18-22.  1 Peter tells us that the flood prefigured the baptism, something, the epistle tells us, saves us.  This was an odd prefiguring, for, even as 1 Peter admits, only eight people (plus animals) survived that deluge.  I notice these details, and they bother me; maybe that is why I felt out of place in some Sunday School classes while growing up.

The very concise lesson from Mark 1 covers the baptism of Jesus, his temptation in the wilderness, and the beginning of his ministry–all in a few verses.  The baptism of John the Baptist was a one-time ritual act demonstrating repentance.  Yet Jesus was perfect.  So why did he undergo this rite?  He identified with us, mere mortals.

It is also true that rituals play important parts in individual lives and in societies.  Rites mark the passage from one state to another.  We hope, for example, that two people who marry have already committed themselves to each other before their wedding day, and so are already married in the spiritual sense.  But the ceremony, aside from having legal, tax, and benefits consequences, marks the transition for those getting married and for those who look upon them afterward.  Likewise, our Lord’s baptism at the hands of John the Baptist marked the beginning of a new phase in his life.

Lent, in my tradition, is the forty days-long period of preparation for Easter.  As a historical matter, this was when people prepared for baptism at the Easter Vigil and when those severed from the church prepared to reconcile with and rejoin it.  It is also that season during the Church Year that we are not supposed to baptize–just prepare for it.  So the placement of baptism in the readings for the First Sunday in Lent is appropriate; it establishes a theme for the season.

Baptism, when it is what it ought to be, is a ceremony marking what God has done.  The modern Christian ceremony is one of initiation into the Christian community, in which we are responsible for each other.  If we are adults when baptized, the rite marks our response to what God has done; if not, it signifies the recognition of adults responsible for us of their responsibility to raise us to respond favorably to God.  In the case of the latter, confirmation will follow at an appropriate age.

May we take our commitments to God and each other seriously.

KRT

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Published originally in a nearly identical form at LENTEN AND EASTER DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on July 24, 2011

First Sunday in Lent, Year A   Leave a comment

Above: Temptations of Christ, a Byzantine Mosaic which Resides at St. Mark’s, Venice, Italy, because Knights of the Fourth Crusade Stole It from Constantinople (But Who Is Keeping Track?)

Interpreting the Temptations of Jesus

MARCH 1, 2020

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Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man,

You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman,

Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?

The woman said to the serpent,

We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.”

But the serpent said to the woman,

You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Psalm 32 (New Revised Standard Version):

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,

whose sin is covered.

Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity,

and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.

For day and night your hand was heavy upon me,;

my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,

and I did not hide my iniquity;

I said,

I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,

and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all who are faithful

offer prayer to you;

at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters

shall not teach them.

You are a hiding place for me;

you preserve me from trouble;

you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;

I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,

whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,

else it will not stay near you.

Many are the torments of the wicked,

but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.

Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous,

and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Romans 5:12-19 (New Revised Standard Version):

As sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned– sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Matthew 4:1-11 (New Revised Standard Version):

After Jesus was baptized, he was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him,

If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.

But he answered,

It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him,

If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”

Jesus said to him,

Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him,

All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.

Jesus said to him,

Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

The Collect:

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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It is appropriate to have this Gospel reading on the First Sunday in Lent, for the number “40” for days of this season comes partially from the 40 days the Gospels say Jesus spent in the wilderness.

There is something mythic about a great religious leader having to face three temptations at the hand of an evil spiritual figure as a rite of passage.  At least one Buddhist version of this tale says that Siddhartha faced down fear, lust, and ego before the became the Enlightened One.  And we read that Jesus faced three temptations, also.  I suspect that this story is part of mythology, just as much as are the early chapters of Genesis.  (All the Bible is true, and some of it happened.)

As I write this devotional nine months early, in the energy-sapping heart of Summer 2010 (with the weather certain to become worse before it improves), I turn to the late Henri Nouwen, the Dutch Roman Catholic priest and wonderful spiritual writer for his cogent interpretation of Christ’s temptations.  In The Way of the Heart (1981), Father Nouwen wrote of harried, compulsive ministers:

Just look for a moment at our daily routine.  In general we are very busy people.  We have many meetings to attend, many visits to make, many services to lead.  (Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks filled with engagements, and our years filled with plans and projects.  There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do, and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not even take the time to rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say, or do are worth thinking, saying, or doing.  We simply go along with the many “musts” and “oughts” that have been handed on to us, and we live with them as if they were authentic translations of the Gospel of our Lord.  People must be motivated to come to church, youth must be entertained, money must be raised, and above all everyone must be happy.  Moreover, we ought to be on good terms with the church and civil authorities; we ought to be liked or at least respected by a fair majority of our parishioners; we ought to move up in the ranks according to schedule; and we ought to have enough vacation and salary to live a comfortable life.  Thus we are busy people just like all other busy people, rewarded with the rewards which are rewarded to busy people! (page 12 from the 2003 reprint)

Then Nouwen defined the false self, or secular self, which, Thomas Merton explained, social compulsions have manufactured.  Instead, Nouwen wrote, one’s true self, which is spiritual, requires solitude for the purpose of transformation.  Solitude, he wrote, is “the solitude of transformation.”  Then Nouwen continued:

Jesus himself entered into this furnace.  There he was tempted with the three compulsions of the world:  to be relevant (“turn stones into loaves”), to be spectacular (“throw yourself down”), and to be powerful (“I will give you all these kingdoms”.  There affirmed God as the only source of his identity (“You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.”)  Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter–the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.  (page 16 from the 2003 reprint)

That is one truth we can take from this mythic story and apply in our lives.

KRT

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/first-sunday-in-lent-year-b/