Engaging the Word: Readings for 2/14/16 (The First Sunday in Lent)

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By Barbara Klugh

Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text.

Lent image cross and candleLent (literally “springtime”) is the time when we Christians symbolically go into the wilderness with Jesus for forty days. We are called to contemplate the life of Jesus, his path of service and obedience to God, and how he lived out his identity as the Son of God. We prepare to celebrate the joy of the Resurrection of our Lord by means of repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, spiritual study, and giving to the poor.  As the God’s beloved children, what is God calling us to do as individuals and as a congregation during our Lenten journey?

Harvest in Provence by Vincent van Gogh (1888). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Harvest in Provence by Vincent van Gogh (1888). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11: The Book of Deuteronomy is presented as Moses’ farewell address before the Israelites enter into the Promised Land. This week’s reading gives detailed instructions for the offerings of the first fruits of the harvest. “Once you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance” is to remind the people that the land and all its bounty belongs to God. Having been given such a gift, they are to offer the first fruits back to God.

When the first fruits are given to the priest and placed on the altar, the worshiping community is to retell the history of God’s mighty acts on behalf of Israel beginning with Jacob/Israel (the wandering Aramean), then slavery in Egypt and God’s deliverance, and finally God’s gift of the land flowing with milk and honey. In response to God’s saving action, they are to bring their gifts and bow down to God in thanksgiving.

We continue this tradition of thanksgiving each week. When our offerings are brought to the altar we say the words from 1 Chronicles, “All things come from you O Lord, and of your own have we given you.”

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16: Our psalm this week is a song of deep trust in God’s protection. Verses 14-16 are the voice of God, assuring us of his presence and care. The Oxford Bible comments, “It is striking that there is no demand for absolute righteousness in order to be saved, only love and trust of God.”

St. Paul, by Ambrosius Holbein (1494 - 1519). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul, by Ambrosius Holbein (1494 – 1519). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Romans 10:8b-13: Paul’s Letter to the Romans became a gift to the world. Written c. 57 AD, it’s Paul’s longest and most important letter.

In this week’s reading, Paul gives the core message of the Christian faith. “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.” This is huge. Right relationship with God is a gift received by faith; it’s not based on what we do, but on what God did. Paul refers to Isaiah: “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” This includes everyone because God makes no distinction between Jews and Greeks—salvation by faith is available to all: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Temptation on the Mount by Duccio (1260-1318). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Temptation on the Mount by Duccio (1260-1318). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 4:1-13: On the first Sunday in Lent, we always read the account of Jesus being tempted by the devil.

After his baptism, and “full of the Holy Spirit” Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. For forty days he abstains from food and is famished. First the devil tempts Jesus to use his powers to satisfy his own physical needs (“command this stone to become bread”). Jesus answered, “One does not live by bread alone.” Then he tempts Jesus with worldly power and glory (“If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours”).  Jesus replied, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Finally the devil tempts Jesus to exploit God by making a  presumptuous demand (“throw yourself down from here”). Jesus answers, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” As we know, Jesus never caved.

The phrase “bread and circuses,” coined by the Roman poet Juvenal, came to mind. The devil tempted Jesus to imitate the Roman government that kept the people pacified and distracted by distributing free food and staging huge gladiatorial spectacles.  Since I’m writing this during the Super Bowl, I’m noticing some similarities.

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